A little while ago I wrote a blogpost about How Eating Sugar Made Me Healthier. It’s totally true! The interesting thing is that eating sugar was relatively easy for me compared to challenging myself to add dairy back to my meals and snacks. That was HARD. Really. Hard. It took me a long time. I would add it in and then freak myself out and then take a break for awhile and try again and again and again and again.
The food rules around dairy were super deep for whatever reason. I also think it took my digestive tract time to get used to it again. But optimal digestive function, with a diverse and well populated gut flora, is dependent on inclusion of a wide variety of food. I knew if my meals could be more balanced and flexible (including all foods and food groups) that I would feel better. I knew I needed to challenge ALL foods rules and make peace with ALL foods. But at the time dairy in particular created so so so much anxiety for me. Life felt so out of control whenever I ate dairy and then everything felt manageable if I didn’t. I’m not being dramatic - that’s Orthorexia.
The subject of this blog isn’t dairy per se though, it’s actually the fact that recovery takes time. Anyone who is hoping to make peace with food needs to have realistic expectations. While you might have a few breakthroughs or specific turning points, it really happens one meal and one day at a time. To truly overcome food rules, build a more positive body image and inoculate yourself against diet culture, you’ve got to trust the process. Part of that process is time and you can’t speed up recovery and cheat yourself of the time you’ll need to truly make peace with food and yourself.
It’s common for people to push themselves to tackle challenges they aren’t ready for. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t challenge yourself, but you’ll want to make sure you are meeting yourself where you are with patience and self-compassion. There might be days or weeks that you feel capable of more and then others where you need to take a rest. The only thing that matters is your trajectory and the way your facing. Keep your face toward recovery but make sure you aren’t being overly critical of yourself. There’s a point where this process becomes counterproductive if you are pushing yourself into things you aren’t ready for.
For example, I disagree with the idea of surrounding yourself with all the foods that feel scary or overwhelming as a way to make peace with them. Most people find they just spend 3-4 days bingeing and overeating and then feel the need to put themselves back on a diet. You don't start there. All it does is reinforce the beliefs about food and your lack of self-trust.
Or maybe you are like I was and have a specific food or food group you’ve been restricting for awhile. There were a lot of foods I tackled before I even felt ready to think about dairy. Going straight to *that* food will cause a level of anxiety where you can’t feel, hear, see or think about anything else.
Instead we want to be systematic and reasonable about how we approach recovery, ideally creating an environment where you are more likely to have positive experiences with food. If you struggle with trust and self-moderation with food, it’s likely that your all-or-nothing mindset effects all food, not just the "avalanche foods" or those which are particularly triggering. Start with the foods that feel less scary. Increase the window of tolerance for what you consider rigid or chaotic behaviors. Depending on your level of restriction or chaos, we may need to redefine that over and over again as you progress to including a wider variety of foods without guilt.
That’s difficult to do on your own so I would also like to take this opportunity and speak to anyone who will be working with me. I would want you fully prepared for the fact that learning how to eat intuitively, overcome food anxiety or disordered eating behaviors and accept and respect your body is a process that takes time. You’ll do well to commit to that process, letting me help you process emotions and situations that are bound to come up. There is no where you need to be in that process except where you are, especially when considering making an appointment or keeping follow up appointments. Instead of feeling like you haven’t made progress, remember to be realistic about what progress to expect. It’s hard to do this on your own, but no matter how you do it, be sure to patient with yourself.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD