Lexi Petronis | Glamour
Lori Lieberman, RD, MPH, CDE, LDN, is a dietitian, so she knows food. But as the co-author of "Food to Eat: guided, hopeful & trusted recipes for eating disorder recovery," she also knows people--and how important it is to have good relationships with food.
Here, Lori talks about the book itself, and ways for all of us to improve our relationships with food.
How did you come up with the book idea? And what steps did you need to take to execute it?
Lori: "Food to Eat" was Cate's idea. And who is Cate? She's an awesome Australian woman, a mother of three girls, on her journey to recovery from anorexia, who followed my blog, Drop It and Eat. Reading the posts, I think she felt like I got it--that I understood her struggle and the torturous relationship others like her have with food and eating. She’d read recipes on my blog and trusted they were “safe” to make--and to eat. She proposed that we collaborate on a cookbook to help others, to include a handful of recipes she had relied on to move toward recovery.
"A cookbook for eating disorders? What a fabulous idea!" That was my first reaction. But she and I had different perspectives about what this project would look like. While she asked me to give the nutritional spin on the recipes she was rotating through eating, I wanted to expand it to include foods that individuals living with food rules--fear of fat, of carbs, of white flour--would be able to make and enjoy. I needed to steer her away from including such light items as miso soup and salads as entrees.
It was a slow process--much like recovery itself. We wanted this book to not be overwhelming--but we needed to give readers enough to work with. And we wanted it to be approachable by everyone--regardless of their readiness for change.
We each had to make the recipes and try them. Now that may not seem like such a challenging task to you, but for someone living with an eating disorder, it was far from easy. It pushed Cate out of her comfort zone, and resulted in many starts and stops. There was even a recipe of mine that Cate said she'd never make it again--only to change her mind in the end. Her honest reactions to making these recipes and addressing her thoughts and fears is, in part, what makes this book refreshing for those struggling with their eating.
What did writing this book bring to light about eating disorders specifically--and our relationships to food overall?
Lori: As much as I knew about eating disorders from working with clients for the past 26 years, writing Food to Eat and working with Cate enlightened me more than I could have imagined. I don't think I was aware how challenging and overwhelming the many aspects of getting ready to eat can be--from planning, to food shopping, to engaging with food, to eating.
I also learned how important hope and trust are to making change and recovering. Imagine you're told that you'll have to live with your compulsive eating, your food preoccupation or your struggle with restricting for the rest of your life? Or that no one you know knows you have an eating disorder, so they can't support you, or that nobody believes you can recover? Reading Food to Eat can help, because both Cate and I know that recovery is possible, and give you tools to support you along the way.
So many struggle with their eating--not just those who meet criteria for eating disorders. The guidance on listening to your body's signals--to not fluid load to block out hunger, for instance--is as essential for dieters to observe as for those diagnosed with anorexia. We have moved so far from listening to our bodies and trusting what they need. Instead, overwhelmed with myth-information about the best diet or what's healthiest, we restrict and deprive ourselves, then struggle with the consequences--rebound overeating. We need to move away from counting and overanalyzing our intake, and get back to trusting it's OK to eat what we enjoy, eaten mindfully.
Tell us about your food philosophy.
Lori: Foods shouldn’t be classified as either good or bad, healthy versus unhealthy. You can be healthy and include cakes and cookies and pizza, for instance, as part of a healthy diet. I've seen too many patients eat what looks, on the surface, like a healthy diet--whole grains, high in fiber, low saturated fat, lots of veggies--and they’re anything but healthy. Why? In part because they are not eating enough to meet their calorie needs. It might look like they’re eating plenty, but given their body's requirement for growth, or for their activity level, they may be falling short.
We need to move from reliance on food rules to learning to trust our body and its signals; to differentiate physical need for fuel from our use of food to manage stress, boredom, loneliness, you name it. We need to move from analyzing and limiting our calorie intake, to trusting our hunger--regardless of what time it occurs.
Many people are so fearful that they are different, that while others may be able to eat sweets or carbs, or “fill-in-the-blank” in control, that they are not capable. Rigid rules and deprivation will contribute to their experience of feeling out of control with food. But that's not to say they can't change that relationship. Food to Eat helps readers break the rules, to let go of the misinformation about what's acceptable to eat--while providing sensible justification for broadening their food selection and enjoying what they eat.
OK, so you have a “top ten” list of how to improve our relationships with food, no matter our past eating experiences. What’s on it?
Lori: First of all, give yourself permission to eat--whenever you need to, regardless of the hour. It allows you stop when you've had enough--knowing that you'll have another chance, that it's not now or never. And you'll learn to honor your hunger--which is the first step in learning to honor your fullness and knowing when to stop eating.
2: Cut back on fluids, so you can learn to distinguish your hunger from other eating triggers. At least, don't start drinking non-caloric drinks when you're feeling hungry!
3: Mix in realistic goals that match your readiness for change. Taking on more than you're prepared for only sets you up for failure, making it more challenging to get back on track.
4: Spice up your diet with foods you really enjoy and see as forbidden. Otherwise, you'll continue to long for what you feel you can't have, and overeat when you finally do have a "weak moment." That's what happens with deprivation. And why would you stick with a way of eating you don't enjoy?
5: Add patience as you shift your approach and relearn how to eat again. It took many, many years to develop your unhealthy behaviors, so be kind and patient as you relearn how to eat mindfully, and to distinguish your physical need for food, for fuel from all the other reasons we find ourselves eating.
6: Don't rely on willpower. Rather, avoid going more than 3.5 to 4 hrs without eating to increase control around food. It will help your energy level and make you less vulnerable when confronted with food. And it will allow you to better meet your needs without getting uncomfortably full.
7: Pre-plan--even if you don't pre-prepare, allow for flexibility and spontaneity. Having a mental plan for what you're going to eat, or having snacks on hand can help and make mealtime less overwhelming.
8: Stop comparing yourself--your size, your food intake--with others. Everyone's needs are different so comparing is dangerous. Our needs depend on height, muscle mass, our activity levels, whether we are growing in pregnancy, whether we need to be gaining weight or not. Everyone seems to be an expert on what you should be doing, but you know what's not working for you, and when it's time to change direction.
9: Let it go and strive for a clean slate versus a clean plate. Compensating for overeating with restricting, or with continued overeating. Try to be as compassionate to yourself as you'd be to your best friend.
10: Add supports, such as friends and loved ones. Too much information, including the wealth of misinformation we're bombarded with, may make you feel like a deer in headlights, unable to make any change. So be selective about where you go for nutrition information and who you call on for support. Bad information can be more damaging than no information!
What do you think? Does any of this ring true to you? By the way: this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so we'll have some more on this important topic ASAP!