February 2010

Disordered Eating Tip Sheet for Teens and Their Parents

In anticipation of the upcoming National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and since I have been doing so much work with teens and parents of teens lately,  I decided to write up a little tip sheet with some things to consider: 

1) Full blown eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder are somewhat rare, but disordered eating can get started fairly easily and is very common.  Disordered eating, i.e. an over-preoccupation with food that impacts on your daily life, consistent on-off eating, dieting, and then bingeing, and compulsive eating for emotional purposes. 

These are habits that can start fairly innocently; thinking you just want to lose that 5 or 10 lbs.  Diets often can trigger disordered eating that can be hard to break out of. 

2) Being unhappy with your body is very common and basically your body image might suck.  Often how you see yourself though is not how you are seen by anyone else.  Understand that FEELING FAT is often just that.  A FEELING, not necessarily a FACT. 

3) Understand that there are always parts of ourselves that we are not thrilled with, and parts we feel better about.  This is part of good self esteem; dealing with the feelings that come with the BAD, without behaving in ways that reinforce whatever way you feel lousy about yourself.  There is no perfect.  DON’T MAKE THE FEELING INTO A FACT WITH YOUR BEHAVIOR.  (Don’t eat your feelings, feel them; then you keep them as feelings, not facts.) 

4) Try to be as conscious as you can about what your eating HABITS are like, basically, not just WHAT YOU EAT, BUT HOW YOU EAT. 

5) Aside from hunger, do you eat when you are bored, tired, unhappy, nervous, just slightly jittery nervous, usually at night after dinner?  This is totally common and again, can become really habitual and result in feeling that you have no control over your eating.  A couple of tips: 

a)  Don’t deprive yourself of what you truly love to eat.  But promise yourself that you will eat it consciously.  Don’t check out and then binge on it because you think you ‘SHOULDN’T eat it.  Stay conscious.  Enjoy it.  Eat some, save some for later.  Practice that. 

2)  Practice learning how to WAIT  through the feeling.  Make sure you eat in a well balanced way, you are getting your major nutritional needs met with protein, carbs, vitamins, calcium and eat from these food groups when hungry.  Save the sugar and/or junk food for the add -ons that you enjoy but don’t try to fill up on. 

3)  Don’t let yourself get overly hungry.  Too often people wake up and don’t want to eat and aren’t hungry all day, then binge at night.  It is hard to stop when you are overly hungry.  Try to eat every 4-5 hours and not get overly hungry.   

4)  Don’t restrict.  Restrictive eating leads to on-off patterns and habits that make you feel out of control.  Resist the urge.  If you want to lose weight, just reduce overall your intake by 20% and walk more.  Eat everything and don’t overly focus on any one day of eating. 

Eating disorders are serious mental and physical problems.  They are treatable and if you are worried about your own habits veering toward an extreme, or are worried about a friend, talk to an adult or professional.   

Above all, enjoy your food!  

Thorns and Roses? Believe it or not, Mrs. Obama, This Game is a Childhood Obesity Buster!

I had to laugh while I watched Michelle Obama on the Today Show yesterday. She was describing a game that her family plays called “Thorns and Roses.”

I laughed because when my kids were young, I instituted a game that I called “Good Thing, Bad Thing” that we played at mealtime. Basically we would go around the table and say one good thing and one bad thing that had happened to us that day.

The reason I instituted this was that as a therapist treating eating problems, I know for certain, (and this does not take a rocket scientist or a professional of course), that people use food for many reasons other than for nourishment. We eat when we are bored, anxious, sad, irritated, you name it. Kids can easily develop a habit of using food to help themselves to feel better, almost without us knowing. It can happen that insidiously. Interestingly, with brain imaging studies, we now also understand that even restricting food, (anorexia) acts on the system in the brain to reduce anxiety.

When we talk about creating healthy eating habits in children, I am always interested in focusing on not just WHAT we eat, but HOW we eat. There is thankfully, alot of focus now put on the fact that 1 in 3 children are obese. There is no doubt that we need to look at WHAT people are eating; at the food industry and how food is made, the additives that create the opposite of the feeling of full that helps us stop eating, but rather induces more eating. The profit margins in the food business that has driven an industry that has supersized portions to capture market share. Getting 30 % more lulls the consumer to think that they are getting a deal. Unfortunately, this supersizing of portions over the last roughly 20 years, has truly set Americans up to have major weight problems. When you get used to bigger amounts of food to be a portion size, you are basically training your stomach, eyes, senses to stop eating, or be FULL, at twice the amount of calories we were getting ten to twenty years ago. Not a surprise that most people in this county are overweight.

So, to get back to why I say Michelle Obama’s family game is an obesity buster: She allows for the option to express the BAD, not just the GOOD. If you can talk about things that make you feel bad, you build a tool for your child to feel it, rather than eat it.

One of the most important things parents can give their kids, is to allow for all feelings. The positive and the negative. Most people with eating problems have difficulty what we call in the biz, PROCESSING FEELINGS. Particularly, the negative ones.

Basically, if as a parent you demonstrate to your child that you can allow for and tolerate them feeling what they feel, you give them these tools:

1) a way to recognize a particular feeling,

2) language to verbalize and symbolize that experience

3) support, validation, understanding, soothing, and

4) a tool to learn to WAIT until the feeling gets less intense so that they can begin to use rational decision making abilities to figure out what to do.

The capacity to ‘WAIT’ is probably one of the most important tools you can teach your child. Validating a feeling gives them a process whereby you are helping them develop the ‘muscle’ to WAIT TO ACT UNTIL THE INTENSITY OF THE FEELING DIES DOWN. THEN YOU CAN PROBLEM SOLVE TOGETHER ABOUT HOW TO HANDLE ANY PARTICULAR SITUATION.

Teaching kids how to WAIT, is a cornerstone of postponing gratification. We are now learning that this skill, which can be taught, can be a single predictor of success in life. Forget just dieting!

So yes, Michelle Obama, you are contributing in many ways to combat childhood obesity. It is starting in your own home, not only in the food you serve at the table.

Find your own way to play this game with your family, and you will be sending a strong message that helps your kids know they can talk with you. A true eating problem buster.

Happy mealtimes!

Hey All You ‘Foodies’ and Vegans!

This is a ‘Shout-Out’ to the Vegan Community; since my “Help!  My Daughter’s a Vegan” piece: (which I have to say, I got tons of attention for, mostly negative, but hey, they say no publicity is bad publicity, right?) I have come a long way, baby!

For the last few months I have observed my daughter’s commitment to vegan-ism and have made a real effort to support her in her efforts; buying the right foods, figuring out how to cook some meals that we can all eat, and finally, accompanying her to her favorite vegan restaurant yesterday.

Now I have to admit, I went grudgingly.  I have had some negative associations with the idea of a vegan restaurant, mostly based on past experiences where there seemed to be little, if no flavor to the food served.

My life has been changed.  No, I don’t mean that I have sworn off meat and dairy; that will probably never happen, as I love all foods equally.  However, the object of my passion is now a restaurant called “peacefood café” on the upper west side.

From the moment we stepped in, I was happy.  I know you will be suspicious of this.  I am always skeptical of any ‘new age-ey’ think positive messages’; they always bring out the irreverent brat in me.  But this place is first off, a beautiful space.  And dare I say, it has a great vibe. Every person who works there is incredibly nice. Not in a treacly sweet or obsequious way either. Just simply and genuinely, nice.  (‘Nice’ being an underrated, under-expected, and underappreciated quality as to its effect on daily life, I might add.)

Eric Yu, the owner and manager, was, prior to this career, an antiques dealer.  The restaurant itself is airy and open, with beautiful pieces on the walls.  I sat there contentedly drinking my brazilian nut chai latte, sharing my daughters’ concoction, and awaited our food.

My expectations were not high, I must admit.  But from the moment I had my first bite of the chickpea fries, I was in heaven.  Foodie heaven.  The fries had a bite to them that was utterly satisfying, and then there was the Caesar Salad.  The combination of salty to mild flavors with the proportion of crispy freshness in the romaine lettuce and croutons all under the perfect amount of sublime creamy dressing, was pitch perfect.  There are other ingredients in the Caesar salad I think, onions perhaps, but hey, I never claimed to be a restaurant critic.

We shared a sandwich that had carmelized onions and of course pumpkin seeds in the perfectly mashed pumpkin; again, I don’t have the exact ingredients, but at that point in the meal, I knew that anything I would eat at this café would be good.  

It is just that fabulous.  You know the feeling when you go to a restaurant and you aren’t disappointed by anything?  Isn’t that incredibly rare?  There is usually something; the ambiance, the décor, the surly waiter, or one crappy entrée.  Then there are the restaurants that you can truly relax and settle in because you know that every bite will satisfy.  There are those chefs who can create a balance and combination of flavors and tastes that are always pitch perfect.

This is one of those rare gems.  So all you foodies, (and you don’t have to be a vegan to appreciate this restaurant),  it is called “peacefood café”  and is on 460 Amsterdam Ave. at 82nd St. in New York City.  212-362-2276


 Happy Eating!