Get Yourself A Dietitian
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
When I started seeing my Dietitian (Amy), I hadn’t quite figured out how to feed myself. I was past the really bad eating disorder stuff: the purging and starvation and inevitable binges. I had stabilized my body weight enough that it didn’t cause concern, but as anyone with an eating disorder will tell you, the body is only a small part of it. Fixing the real problem requires fixing the brain. I had started fixing my brain but I hadn’t even come close to healing myself enough to feel like a happy, whole person all on my own.
When I first started seeing Amy she asked me if I wanted to weigh myself. “No,” I answered. “Definitely not.” Amy was a tall, broad shouldered woman, a former collegiate swimmer and a mom. Sometimes you know someone is a mom before you really know if they’re a mom. She was warm and welcoming, with a big smile and a quirky but honest way of talking. I saw her every other week, and she slowly but surely dismantled false beliefs I held about food, like that all carbs were bad, or that eating a sweet would make me gain weight. Amy asked me, every visit, if I wanted to be weighed. She wanted to take away my fear of the scale and prove to me, with numbers and data, that the weight of my body was nothing to be ashamed of.
My body and I were in a contentious relationship, and I used to weigh myself obsessively, sometimes multiple times per day. I’d get agitated if the scale went up even half a pound, and become unreasonably happy if my weight dipped even a bit. Eventually, I let Amy weigh me but not tell me the number. Then, months into seeing her, I allowed myself to look down at the scale. 156. For the duration of almost a year, I maintained that weight without even trying. I was shocked. I always had to fight to lower my weight and keep it low. I always believed that I was at war with my body, that without my control tactics, I’d spiral out of control. Amy taught me that if I listened to my body and ate intuitively, I would maintain my weight and stay healthy.
She also challenged me to eat a brownie with her, which I avoided as long as possible. One day, I walked across the street from my office to the medical building where she worked and saw a brownie sitting on her desk. “Eat half with me,” she said. I was angry at first, then scared. Fear often hides beneath a cloak of anger; so many of us aren't really mad, we're just afraid. And as I faced my brownie, I felt myself becoming very afraid. Amy took a bite of her brownie, and I gamely took a bite of mine. I started to cry. I did not like this exercise. I did not like my body. I did not, honestly, like me.
“It’s okay,” Amy said. “It’s just food, and food can’t hurt you. You need food.” We slowly ate our brownies and I began to calm down, guilt seeping into my stomach. “Did it taste good?” Amy asked. I considered this. Taste was not something I considered often when choosing food. In fact, I often ate very bland food exactly because it did not taste good. That way, I wouldn’t eat too much. But that brownie did taste good. “Yes,” I said. “It wasn’t bad.”
“Not bad.” Became my new phrase for everything food related. “Not bad” felt easier than "good," more accessible and less scary. And if I was ever going to fully shed my eating disorder, I had to shed my fear. I had to shed every voice in my head that instructed me to doubt myself and my body. That brownie was the best brownie I’ll ever eat.
Amy and I met for many more months, and I credit the help of a real, certified dietitian with helping me finally step outside my eating disorder. Therapy helped too, but Amy knew the science of food. She could tell me exactly how food would interact with my body, and I like facts. She carefully deconstructed my food beliefs and helped me time my carbohydrate intake for athletic performance. She showed me, with detailed data, how different foods had different purposes. She deconstructed the BMI chart and explained why it’s a bad measure of health, especially for a muscular athlete like me. She helped me release anxiety around food and tune into my hunger cues. She even suggested I get my body composition measured to prove exactly how much muscle I carry.
She was useful in helping me overcome my eating disorder, but she was also useful in helping me understand food. And once I understood food, I couldn't fear it as much. Knowledge really is power, and if you're feeling unsure about your diet, or like you don't understand nutrition, seek the help of a professional. There are so many people who want to tell you how to eat or what foods are good/bad, but most of them are pandering bullshit products with little to no scientific backing. If someone is trying to sell you something, it's probably bullshit. Seeking the help of a certified professional was the only useful dietary investment I've ever made.
P.S. Read about the difference between dietitians and nutritionists here, read up on body composition here, or watch some funny stand up bits about food here.