Sunday, October 28, 2007

New York Times blogger Judith Warner wrote recently an interesting post about migraines and her attempts to get off medication for them. Her new approach included an extremely restrictive diet, which eliminated coffee, chocolate, MSG, nuts, vinegar, citrus fruits, bananas, raspberries, avocados, onions, fresh bagels and donuts, pizza, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, aspartame and all aged, cured, fermented, marinated, smoked, tenderized or nitrate-preserved meats.

It sounds something like the diet I went on when my children were very colicky babies, which cut out everything worth eating and left me, as Warner writes about herself,

ravenously hungry, cranky, spaced out and vaguely, deprivedly resentful. . . . But . . . once I got used to it, I came to almost enjoy being on my diet, exploring my capacity for hunger and self-abnegation, obsessing over what foods I could eat, and how, and when. At the very least, the diet made my friends happy. Renouncing food, renouncing pills, is so often, in our time, seen as the right and righteous, pure and wholesome thing to do.

That's certainly what I experienced on the colic diet: a sense of pride and self-righteousness that almost made it all worth it.

Knowing what I now know about eating disorders and how crucial reinforcement is in creating the feedback loop that sustains them, I wonder whether any kind of restrictive diet can put you into that mindset. Maybe if Warner or I were genetically susceptible to eating disorders, we'd have developed them.

It makes me even clearer that dieting is not a good idea, especially for teens, who are most vulnerable to the development of an eating disorder. Better to stay away from that kind of reinforcement.

For the record, Warner writes that while the migraine diet helped for a couple of weeks, it failed to cure her migraines. So she's back on meds and back to eating a more normal diet. Good for her.


Carrie Arnold said...

I read that article, too, and thought it was interesting.

And I agree- it's not just the genetic susceptibility that drives anorexia, it's the feedback loop. Compliments and comments are a part of it, which might explain why EDs seem to be far more prevalent today than ever before.

Anonymous said...

Just reading the effects the diet had on Judith, made my brain go "Alert Alert, major eating disordered behaviour here!"

I can understand though, how when you are in the wrong mindeset you can't see that. It's like how when I was very depressed I cut myself, and couldn't see how wrong it was to do that.

Harriet said...

You can't think your way out of an eating disorder because the disease itself affects your brain. It's like depression or anxiety or any biological illness that affects your brain. It makes me realize how much of who we are is a function of our synaptic activity. :-)

mary said...

This is a tough one for me. Sometimes it requires a "diet" which eliminates certain foods to discover an allergy. I have high regard for parents, especially a nursing mom, who will make an effort to respect her babies sensitivities. This very act saved my nieces baby from tube feeding and I was very impressed with her ability to do the difficult work of monitoring her diet. My niece is far from thin and the diet was strictly for the benefit of finding a food her baby could eat and learning what the culprit was that caused bloody stools and a screaming infant. If she went with the soy formula she would have discovered quickly that it was not a safe food as corn was in it and corn was making her baby so sick. Her milk might have stopped coming in IF she listened to the medical team and not trusted her instincts.By nursing and "dieting" she was able to figure out the mystery and take care of her baby. A "diet" can be an important step in self car as well as it's not always for weight loss. Diets for health include fat! We all have a diet.
I fully agree that diet diets, especially to lose a few lbs. to receive notice, are a waste of time and risky.
Oh, and people can be cranky at any weight. Hungry cranky does suck though, which reminds me that I need a sandwich soon.
As for compliments feeding ED's I am full aware of what the miserable disease takes from it's victims. Somehow, I would hope that after one recovers that the kind of remarks that feed the ED's ego are changed into remarks that the "well mind" is better able to absorb without the ED dictating a response.
Recovery requires work on this and it becomes a learned behavior, I think. I told my daughter that I couldn't protect her from what others say and bubble living isn't an option. She had to work on herself enough so that "what others think" doesn't sting her and affect how she feels about herself. Those affirmations really helped her. Plus, we can draw on all the memories we have of a time when we were sure of ourselves and knew the way. This is a hard one for all of us. I think I suffered from this for a long time before I woke up and decided that "what I thought" was what mattered. I lead a reasonably honest life but I wanted to be liked, too much! Strangely, there is a prejudice against all kinds of people and I am a strong woman. That's intimidating for some "others' whereas some people have high regard for strong women. Oh well. We need to relearn our responses and perhaps not take personally "what other's think" as a means of lifting us up OR taking us down. Ideally everyone would be open to the ideas of others and not feel insecure or threatened.

So, I think, we need to arm ourselves with things like "The Pledge". We need to learn to not use our bodies as toys to attract but instead use our hearts as a way to connect us. We need to forgive others for their foolishness at speaking of our looks rather than taking pleasure in the fact that we simply know one another.
Sorry so long again Harriet. I just wanted to offer my slant on this because so many suffer from the "what others think" syndrome that I wanted to point out a cure. Self esteem work and self love and acceptance E_X-A-C-T_L-Y as we are, no matter the mess, no matter the beauty. It's irrelevant when what's inside truly is what matters the most. The ugliest lie of all is the one we make to ourselves, that we aren't enough unless someone outside us says so.
You Harriet, are a beautiful human measured by how deeply you care for others. You don't need to believe me though, simply KNOW IT!
Ok, I'll shut up and eat.; )

Carrie Arnold said...

Actually, the "diet" of Warner seems to be inducing these symptoms of semi-starvation because it was so limited. I know people who have migranes that are triggered by caffeine and have to avoid coffee, cola, chocolate even. So I don't think that her idea of eliminating these foods to eliminate or decrease migranes is a bad one.

My new psychiatrist at Hopkins echoes my therapist from residential, who says that "You can't think your way out of a disorder that you behaved your way into." Which is partly why I don't think traditional therapy helps at first- you need to change the behaviors before the thoughts.

mary said...

hmmmmmm, what if the effort to change the thoughts can change behaviors Carrie? What if they are backwards in their assumption?

Do we really behave our way first or must we think about it, however subtle the thoughts, and then act? Planting the seed that we want to be a certain size can be so tiny a seed that we go unaware that we suggested it and before we realize it we are acting on it. A decision is made. I honestly believe that the thought came first.
Sometimes in the case of weight loss it's a consequence of burning more calories, say from running, and then spiraling down without knowing how to climb out. This is where trusting an outside guidance comes in very handy. Still, our own thinking needs to change enough to invest ourselves in the change....thoughts are very important. Yes,it require restoring nutrients and fats back to that "thinker" of ours but I've always noticed how noisy an ED is. It IS using a language.

Once we got busy changing the thinking, fighting the thoughts as if they (ED's messages) were the enemy, the ED lost ground and was forced out. It no longer stands a chance! Banished.
Even when behaviors were in full force the thinking was loud and clear that the ED's days were numbered.
I may be wrong. I am going with my gut and what worked best for us.
What do you think?

Harriet said...

Isn't that the basis of CBT? I've never found changing my thoughts to be possible let alone helpful. But maybe that's me.

I think a nursing mother/baby situation is quite different. And a friend of mine recently went on a gluten-free diet to see if it would help a medical condition. I was just suggesting that any time you start restricting your food intake for whatever reason I thnk you tread close to eating disorders land, or at least you can.

But good points, Mary. Say it ain't so that some people are threatened by a strong woman! LOL.

Amy said...

Steven Bratman discusses this very thing in his "orthorexia" book--he says that allergy diets may start out with eliminating just one or two foods, but that it's so tempting to people to go for the "perfect" completely symptom-free life that they start eliminating more and more things in an effort to be/feel "pure." He recommends, if you have to eliminate allergic foods, to pick just the two or three biggest triggers, and accept that you may have the sniffles sometimes. He thinks that's better than the psychological shrinking of a life that's all about restricting intake for the sake of PERFECT HEALTH, and I agree.

Harriet said...

it's like the story about the miser who fed his poor horse less and less food every day until finally the horse died of starvation. And the miser lamented, "just when I had him trained to do without any food at all!"

We are hard wired for this kind of all or nothing thinking. The temptation to be pure.

wriggles said...

I know I'm too late to this thread, but I had to respond to this;

"You can't think your way out of a disorder that you behaved your way into."

As has been suggested already by mary, this is a major difference between individuals and has to be uncovered. Whether it is better for you to concentrate on changing your mainly your thinking or behaviour. As has been stated, I think bias seems in favour of changing behaviour, if this never works for you, you may eventually lose all hope of change, when really the emphasis was wrong, as you can guess, I have never truly changed any eating pattern or the ED I had through anything but thought, as a side effect of it, which actually makes the trip more interesting and sometimes fun even, but you've got to know it's a possibility to be that way around, that's why I had to write, because people need to know this very much.