Aside from the free food I’ve been procuring, and pleas for help in my first independent research project, I haven’t spent all that much time talking about my PhD program (except for brief references to my classes and allusions to the extensive amount of reading I’ve been doing).
Much of this semester has involved studies of disordered eating behavior: theory, diagnostic tools, previous research, interventions. The reason I find it so fascination is because it is something for which I am still in recovery.
I didn’t tell y’all, but after confessing to my nut butter binging, I continued to have a summer binge-free. My patterns of restraint were still a bit present, but for the most part, I was free and eating like a normal person.
The move and the start of my PhD program led, however, to a week or so of relapse that left me feeling out of control and guilty. (Many texts were sent to some of my closest supporters.)
When, for my health behavior theory class, we were assigned a months long “behavior change journal” assignment, in which we would apply theory to patterns of our own behavior, I knew exactly what I wanted to work on changing: overcoming disordered eating.
This may be of no interest to you, but I wanted to take some time to share excerpts from my journal over the past few months. I may cut out most of the theory, or I may include it. At this point, I don’t know. What I do know that it always helped me to hear other people’s stories, and so someone out there might be helped by (at least portions) of mine.
Today: the background of the ‘why’ behind my behavior change, and the first entry in my journal.
For years I’ve been a restrictive or restrained eater—scholarly classifications I’m just now learning to use as a replacement for what I (and others) call “the diet mentality.” I don’t know when it began, but the first time I remember being on any sort of ‘diet’ (which, in this case, does not mean my regular, daily food intake, but a restricted plan of eating for losing weight or ‘getting healthy’) was when I was a teenager and decided that Sugar Busters—a plan my uncle and mother were following—would be a good thing for me to try, too.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about healthy eating and cooking, and have tried to incorporate both variety and moderation into a nutritious diet. Two (or so) years ago, I became a vegan, which further restricted my choices. Although I’m no longer a strict vegan, the holdover from that practice—and attempts to stay healthy by tracking my daily nutritional intake–was an obsession with calorie counting that truly took over my life in many ways.
Although I have—for the most part—overcome the need to know all of the numbers, I still find myself in the practice of carefully restraining my food intake during the day, and then at night overeating. Disordered eating patterns are widely common among young women, and I am familiar with many of the approaches for helping people return to a more ‘normal’ way of eating, an act that shouldn’t require conscious thought, but, for many psychological and socio-ecological reasons actually does for many people (women especially).
Ellyn Satter defines ‘normal eating’ as:
Although at the start of this project, I have already stopped counting calories and, in general, returned to a healthier, more ‘normal’ way of eating, I still find myself going much of the day ignoring hunger cues, worrying about timing of my meals (or snacks), and undertaking other restrained or restrictive eating behavior. My goal now is to focus on making and enjoying three ‘real’ meals a day, so that I don’t end up so hungry that I overeat at night.
I want to eat normally.
September 8, 2013
The basic premise of Lewin’s Field Theory is that individuals exist within a ‘field’ of forces that both promote and resist change. While Hollywood has transformed this theory into an angel and a devil perched firmly on one’s shoulders, and decision makers utilize it for weighing pros and cons, the concept of restraining forces and promoting forces very easily applies to behavior change (or lack thereof).
People and their surroundings depend on and influence each other. Because of these ecological influences, I will have to make sure my environment (both physical and social) is conducive to reinforcing my goals. This may mean reducing the option of distracting sugary treats in my kitchen, and making sure I have all of the necessary ingredients to make a well-balanced meal on hand.
Over the summer, I was incredibly successful having a more regular pattern of eating. I attribute that to being with my family more often than not and, consequently, eating regular meals with them. Lack of that familial structure in my life now, and being single, means I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want, without thinking about others who might be impacted. Structured family dinners might seem like a small “driving force,” but they have a huge stabilizing impact. That lack of routine is a bit of a restraining force for me.
Along with that lack of stability and routine come the unexpected and unforeseen events (that seem to be compounded as a student) that could throw off any attempts at a schedule. Lack of time, or skipping a meal inadvertently, are true-life obstacles for which I must be prepared
The biggest restraining forces, however, are completely mental.
My history with disordered eating—restriction, calorie counting, timing my meals and snacks instead of tuning into hunger signals—make it extremely hard to simply eat ‘like a normal person.’ I don’t want to be so restrictive that I end up back into calorie-counting obsessive mode, and fear of going back there can make it oddly difficult to plan strategically.
I also can’t explain why the knowledge that I never gained weight even when I would eat half a jar of peanut butter at night, and therefore won’t gain weight—and will have a lot less digestive trouble—if I space out my calories and food intake throughout the day doesn’t always seem to register, but I still have an unfounded ‘diet’ mentality towards eating. Call it “former fat kid” syndrome and distorted body image perception.
Despite the potential forces dragging me backwards, I thankfully also have many driving forces to help me overcome any ‘devil on my shoulder’ (or in my mind).
As I alluded to above, I have occasional digestive issues, and they often come—I believe–from overeating at night. Certainly avoidance of this should be enough of a driving force to help me make a change. Because I love being fit and active, it really does behoove me to eat more consistently throughout the day, improving my energy and making for more effective workouts.
In addition to these internal motivators, I also have constant positive forces from peers who know what I have already overcome, and am still hoping to achieve, with whom I can check-in for encouragement, accountability, and support.
Perhaps the greatest driving force is the fact that I really do love good, healthy food, and the opportunities to diversify and get creative in the kitchen are a favorable inducement for my planning and success.