Thoughts on Overeating on Thanksgiving

Dreading Thanksgiving tomorrow? I can relate. Maybe family dynamics are difficult and bring pain. Maybe you have no family to celebrate with tomorrow (I am so so sorry if this is your circumstance). Maybe you’re afraid of how to navigate conversations around food and body. Maybe you’re terrified about all of the food that’s going to be available. Or maybe you’re already dreading the shame and guilt you foresee yourself experiencing. For me, Thanksgiving (and any food gathering) brought on so much anxiety, shame, and guilt.

I remember one Thanksgiving in particular that we spent with my sister’s in-laws. The morning of, I bathed the day in prayer, asking the Lord to give me discipline around the food that was going to be there. I asked him to help me focus on the people and conversations instead of the food available. I begged him to help me put food in the “proper” place and to eat until comfortably full instead of stuffed. And don’t get me wrong, these are not wrong prayers; in fact, I think they are wonderful in the right context. But I fundamentally misunderstood something—my overeating in these occasions was not due to a lack of love for the Lord or lack of discipline. My overeating in these occasions was simply due to the fact I WAS HUNGRY. I would feel so much spiritual shame and guilt about eating high caloric foods, desserts, and overall too much. What I didn't realize was that my body was hungry and wanted food and therefore drove me to eat too much on occasions like these. Food was an idol, but not because I loved it more than God. Food was an idol because I restricted it and made the size of my body the most important thing in my life.

 
Thoughts on overeating on thanksgiving
 

So I want to encourage you about tomorrow. If you have been manipulating your food intake, reducing portion sizes, exercises solely for caloric burn, OR if you’re a normal eater, you may end up overeating tomorrow. And that’s OKAY. In fact, if you’ve been underfeeding, it might actually be a good thing (getting out of calorie deficit is absolutely essential for eating disorder recovery). Realize that it’s not some moral flaw. It might be because you’ve been undereating. Or restricting. Or simply because you love a certain food or were enjoying time with family. Give yourself permission to eat tomorrow, and to possibly eat until you’re uncomfortable. And then move on and continue to feed your body regularly and enough. It might just impact your experience next time.

In defense of sugar

I kid you not, as I'm beginning to type out this blog, I'm eating a chocolate chip cookie...and it's delicious.

 
In defense of sugar
 

There is a lot of controversy in the health and fitness world over what diet is healthiest, what foods should be avoided, what should be consumed, the optimal ratios of foods, etc. But what most people can seem to agree on is their take on sugar. I mean, there seems to be an all-out war on it. I hear people talking about it ALL the time: "that has way too much sugar," "that yogurt is practically like eating ice cream," "sugar is the cause of all of our health problems, and we should cut it out", and on and on. 

And while I don't encourage people to eat donuts for breakfast, Little Debbies for lunch, skittles for a snack, and cake and a coke for dinner, I do think we need to give sugar a break. You guys, ANYTHING in excess is harmful. You can drown by drinking too much water. Vitamin A in high doses can cause tumors. Too much calcium causes painful bone deposits in the joints. So I would agree that too much sugar is not a good thing. But sugar in itself is not the problem--it's about the totality of the diet. 

It's interesting to me that major proponents of cutting out simple sugars or refined sugars often turn to alternative sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, organic sugar, dates, etc. because they are "healthier" (don't get me started on people who say we should cut out fruit because of the sugar content...). But can we break those things down for a second? All carbohydrates--I'm talking ALL of them--regardless of whether they come from table sugar, maple syrup, white pasta, or beloved sweet potatoes (side note: did you guys know sweet potatoes are rated the #1 most nutritious vegetable?) are eventually broken down into the same three molecules--fructose, glucose, and galactose. The foods we eat are a complicated combination of those three molecules with varying linkages. Some have linkages that are easily digestible and some have linkages that our body can't actually digest (fiber). BUT, they are all going to be broken down into fructose, glucose, and galactose.

In defense  of sugar...carbohydrate breakdown

I get that this is an oversimplification and that a lot of other factors come into play. And I'm not saying that we should just forgo our veggies and whole grains and instead eat all refined carbs and simple sugars, but what I am saying is that we need to let go of the fear of refined sugar. It's broken down into useable energy, just as our sweet potato is. And energy isn't a bad thing. And if our sweet potato is broken down into glucose and fructose, then why do we fear table sugar that is broken down into glucose and fructose? The fear and morality we form around eating sugar is going to do far more harm that the sugar itself. Restricting sugar and then overeating/bingeing on it is far less healthy physically and emotionally than having moderate amounts on a regular basis. Fearing any food is going to wreak havoc physically on your body (um, hello cortisol!), your ability to foster relationships, and your ability to truly nourish yourself.

So I encourage you to challenge those beliefs you have around sugar. It's broken down into the exact same molecules as other types of carbs, and your body knows how to handle those other carbs. Again, I'm not promoting eating sugar all day everyday--your body is not going to feel good, and I promote eating in a way that makes you feel energized and good. But let's stop the fear-mongering that is going on around sugar and just eat our food, enjoy it, and move on. 

Dear parent Of a child in eating disorder recovery: please don’t go on a diet

Dear parent, I have been seeing your child—both adolescent and adult—for the past few months for recovery from an eating disorder. We have been doing a lot of work together to introduce all types of foods in adequate amounts at regular times throughout the day. We’ve challenged many different food rules that have gotten in the way of your child being able to truly listen to their body and take care of it well. We’ve challenged fears around foods that are seen as “unhealthy” or might promote weight gain. We’ve worked on incorporating foods that they like regularly so that they feel competent around all foods. We have even worked on learning to accept their body’s natural size instead of fighting it and hating it. Your child has been making so much progress, but recently I’ve noticed a difference in your child’s anxiety around food and increase in the need to restrict quantities or types of foods. I’ve noticed your child go back to old behaviors that we’ve been working hard to decrease. And then I discovered what might be playing a role in that.

 
Dear parent of a child in eating disorder recovery
 

Your child told me that recently you chose to go on a diet (or “lifestyle change”) that includes cutting out some food group or macronutrient, eating only certain portion sizes, watching what you eat, or starting up a vigorous exercise routine. I get it—just as there are enormous pressures for your child’s body to look a certain way, there are enormous pressures for your body to look a certain way. You have been told that health is certain size and that you are more valuable at a smaller size. I know that your intentions are pure. But here’s the problem, it feels like complete hypocrisy for your child to be told that he or she can’t diet while you can. When she sees you dieting and pursuing a smaller body, she receives the message that restricting and getting smaller is something to be valued and pursued. The one thing she thinks makes her most important or allows her to best cope, she’s not allowed to do. She receives the message that certain foods are bad or unhealthy, and that she should avoid them. She receives the message that she shouldn’t trust herself around food. I know that your new eating style seems innocent enough or you may even think you’re hiding it, but you’re not. Your child notices when you leave the bun off your burger. Your child notices when you skip on dessert every time while the rest of the family is eating it. Your child notices when there are no “fun foods” in the cabinets or when there are “healthy” food replacements in the fridge. Your child is hyperaware of every bite that goes into her body and yours. Unfortunately, your diet is brining feels of jealousy, inadequacy, guilt, and shame because your child is “less than” for no longer trying to change her body or restrict her food intake.

 
Dear parent with a child in eating disorder recovery
 

What your child really needs is an environment where food freedom and flexibility is encouraged. They need support at meal times to eat scary foods or scary amounts of foods. Eating food with someone is a lot easier than eating it alone. It gives them a sense of permission if you’re doing it as well. I’m not saying that you have to eat every meal with them or match their intake, because they do need to learn to take care of their own needs, which are different from everyone else’s around them. What they do need is an environment that is free from language about good and bad foods, who is losing weight, or guilt for food consumed. They need an environment that celebrates diverse bodies and celebrates people for who they are instead of what they look like.

Parents, I don’t want this letter to be condemning or shame-inducing. I don’t think you’re a bad parent for doing what everyone in our culture says is normal. But I do want you to see how your behaviors are impacting your child’s recovery. Home is place that should be the safest for your child to recover and I want you to be able to connect that environment with an environment that is free from weight loss pursuit. Please put aside your desire for weight loss and instead foster an environment where your child is fully supported for recovery—I promise, you’re child’s recovery is worth every “extra” pound.

 

*I mainly used the pronoun she, but know that I do not believe eating disorders only occur for females. I do not want to promote the belief that eating disorders only occur in females because it is a growing problem in the male population as well.

**If you struggle with knowing how to support a family member struggling with an eating disorder, check out the Parent Toolkit by NEDA, or schedule an appointment with your child’s therapist or dietitian to talk through how you can support them.