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Wednesday
Aug072013

How Does Disordered Eating Influence Weight Loss Coaching?

Hate is a strong word. As a weight loss coach, I too often hear those striving to lose weight aim it at themselves. The sentiment is frequently accompanied by a significant preoccupation with weight and a distorted body image. Although we’re all exposed in some way to a complex web of risky societal, familial and environmental messages about weight and self-worth, for at least one out of ten Americans, these messages play out  in some form of eating disorder. While different patterns of disordered eating with varying triggers exist, there are a few non-negotiable concepts when working with a weight loss coach if you are at risk for or living with any type of disordered eating.

Change the way you look on the outside by changing how things function on the inside.

Weight loss success is more likely to be long term when we accept that a leaner body composition is a mere side effect of improved internal health. Metabolic function impacts behavior, and behavior impacts metabolic function. When you have the opportunity to sit down and take an objective look at the metabolic functioning (e.g. comprehensive blood and saliva assessments), you will be able to take action over half of that cycle. For example, optimizing thyroid function or sex hormone imbalances can improve mood. This change, in turn, can support your emotional journey. Additionally, addressing imbalances in your hormonal stress response and cortisol curve can help improve serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter involved in controlling eating behavior and satiety. Translation? You can learn to be more in tune with your body’s nutritional needs over time, which can give you that much more of the upper hand in handling or staving off compulsive patterns.  

You must have a team behind you.

If you struggle with a chronic eating disorder, do accept a team approach. A physician, therapist, registered dietitian, spiritual leader and group support system can help you overcome and manage the condition to preserve your long-term physical, emotional, and mental health outcomes. Draw on resources such as Overeaters Anonymous and the various programs that include your local Life Time Weight Loss Support Group.  You are not alone, nor should you feel like you are. Any disordered eating condition is complex, and any weight management program should provide support for every facet of your journey.

Changing habits, not calories, can change your life.  

The time it takes to work through the healing process and weight management journey may seem daunting.  However, remember this mantra by a well-known author: “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”

Weight loss coaching should aim at habit change instead of exclusively looking at calories, grams, and measurements. In nutrition coaching for people who have disordered eating patterns, oftentimes it’s beneficial to avoid a focus on numbers and counting. The metrics and measurements will take care of themselves with overall healthy changes. A registered dietitian can help you set a weekly practice-based goal to focus on and apply consistently in order to shape healthier habits without triggering an obsession over specific numbers.

For example, half of a dinner (and lunch/breakfast) plate should be filled with colorful, non-starchy vegetables. While it may seem simplistic, maybe we focus on doing that for dinner this week- every day. The next week, perhaps we add in a hand-sized portion of high quality animal protein at meals, and so on and so on. The habit changes over time will lead to a new eating pattern that may be unrecognizable from what it used to be, and if we looked at the numbers and grams they would be appropriate. Habits form over time, and they change over time. Give yourself the self-accepting patience to get there in stepwise fashion.

I have also found that hand-written food logs, food photos on a phone camera, or use of companion journals are better trackers in disordered eating situations over electronic food diaries that present calorie, fat, carbohydrate and protein counts, which for some people can trigger obsessive behavior patterns or anxiety. Awareness of your triggers is a blessing, and a healthy program will help you be proactive in avoiding them.

Accept that you will encounter challenges, not failures.

Success in weight management will not be linear. Let me repeat: it will NOT be linear. Know that, remember that, and be self-forgiving.  A weight loss coach doesn’t expect you to be perfect, so why should you? And guess what? Your weight loss coach isn’t perfect either. Our common human “all or nothing” attitude can perpetuate extreme behavior.  One poorly chosen meal, binge, purge, or restrictive episode will not un-do all of your progress, just as one healthy, balanced breakfast or positive food choice will not change your body composition in an immediately noticeable way. 

Think of your nutrition choices like a bank account: every positive choice you make is a deposit, and we want that account to build up over time. However, there will be withdrawals here and there. If you fell short of your behavior goal at lunch, it’s great news that dinner is right around the corner with a brand new opportunity to make a healthier choice. 

Another creative approach involves examining the environmental/situational factors that appear to contribute to choices not in line with your goals. Were you famished at the end of a long work day? Did the hormonal cues of intense hunger then trigger you into isolating yourself in your car with large amounts of drive through food? In this case, let’s strategize: have FastFuel ready to consume in a pinch before major hunger sets in, or have a plan B to call a friend for dinner to avoid isolation. Challenges are going to happen. They do not mean you failed. You are still here on the journey, aren’t you? That in itself is a continual mark of success.

My experience as a dietitian and weight loss coach has lead me to believe that many more people are struggling with disordered eating patterns than the statistics lead us to believe. If the discussion of weight obsession, poor self image, fear of food, practice of binging/laxative abuse/purging, or any combination of the above resonates with your thinking or history, seek the help of a team that can rally with you to restore your health, spirit, vitality and emotional wellbeing. A whole and healthy life is waiting.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Have you experienced or overcome disordered eating patterns? Do you know someone who has? What have been the most beneficial resources, supportive communities, and guidance for you or your loved ones? Share your thoughts and comments below. Live happy, be healthy!

Written by Samantha Bielawski, Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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