Using a Chain Analysis for Binge Eating

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For the last few months of my skating career, I had the same routine every afternoon. I’d leave the rink, drive two blocks down the road and find myself in the Mcdonald’s drive-thru ordering a large M&M McFlurry. I’d then stop at the Vons grocery store across the street, frantically throwing whatever looked good into my cart—and desperately praying that I didn’t run into anyone from the rink—before rushing to the corner store to buy handfuls of candy bars. I wouldn’t even make it into my apartment before the McFlurry would have been eaten, followed by boxes of cookies, candies and a loaf bread. In a bloated and dazed stupor, I’d stumble onto the couch, tears in my eyes, and plop myself down to drown in shame and guilt in front of the television for the next few hours.

This was my routine. Monday through Friday. For nearly half a year. 

I definitely knew something was wrong—but I thought the problem was all about food. So to try to solve it, I went to a nutritionist who laid out a meal plan, which I followed day after day. Yet, no matter how precisely I stuck to the plan, I still found myself bingeing every afternoon when I left the rink. By the time I quit skating, I was convinced that the bingeing was completely out of my control. 

But I was wrong.

The truth is, while it can feel like someone has hijacked your body while you’re in the midst of a binge, the binge is never happening to you. You are always in control. And, while bingeing carries negative consequences—and you may hate yourself after a binge—it is always serving you in some way.

So how do you figure out how the binge is serving you and how to replace the behavior? Using a chain analysis can help you to gain your power back, and here’s how it works—

Name the Behavior

The first thing you have to do is identify what you’re wanting to change—and be specific. Is it emotional eating in the evenings? Are you struggling with bulimia in the mornings, after breakfast? Binge eating? Or, is it something else? Drinking? Smoking? This is usually the easiest part of the chain because it’s the thing you’re almost always thinking about. While the behavior could be happening at different times, it helps to choose one specific time when you engage in the behavior. In my case, it was bingeing in the afternoons, right after skating practice.

Identify the Prompting Event

Here’s the thing: behaviors don’t happen out of the blue. We aren’t just walking down the street one day and are suddenly attacked by a binge monster. Something prompts our behavior. Always. This prompting event is what triggers the chain of feelings, thoughts and actions that lead to the binge. An example of a prompting event could be sitting in traffic or driving home by yourself after a long day.

While you explore the prompting event, ask yourself: What was I thinking, feeling or imagining during the prompting event because—

Vulnerabilities

The prompting event is always preceded by specific vulnerabilities; that is, things that make you vulnerable to the behavior. These vulnerabilities can be physical—exhaustion after a long day; not getting enough sleep at night; not eating enough during the day—or stressful events—getting yelled at by someone; a tense phone conversation with your boyfriend or girlfriend—or certain emotions. A vulnerability could be the night before a big exam. At that time, you may usually feel stressed and anxious. Your thoughts might be peppered in self-loathing and fear. The vulnerability is what causes the prompting event and leads to the—

Link

Once you understand your prompting event and vulnerabilities, you need to explore the thoughts, events and feelings that led up to the binge. This is your link. For example, my vulnerabilities were being exhausted after training, feeling guilty that I didn’t do enough work and stressed about going home and having to fill the next few hours. The prompting event was driving home from the rink alone and stopping at McDonald’s. The link between the prompting event and the eventual behavior—bingeing—was usually feeling excitement about the impending relief that I was going to get from the food and a need to relax and reward myself—and thoughts that food could do that for me.

chainanalysis

Exploring Consequences

Evenif you hate the consequences of bingeing—maybe that’s the shame, sadness, guilt, GI symptoms, dental issues, isolation or self-loathing—you’re always getting something out of it; the behavior always carries a benefit.

So, you must ask yourself:  What am I getting from bingeing?

Maybe after you binge, you feel so tired and disgusted with yourself that the only thing you can do is sit on the couch and watch TV. This may be the only time you let yourself relax. Or, maybe you feel full afterward a binge and whole—and food is one of the quickest ways to give yourself this feeling. Bingeing might also be serving as a chance to give yourself anything you want: when you’re bingeing, nothing is off-limits; if you want a certain food, it is yours. Identifying the benefit is one of the keys to changing the behavior.

Replace the Behavior

Now that you’ve finished your link, the last thing you need to do is come up with an alternative behavior that would produce similar benefits that you get from bingeing. This takes trial and error, and it won’t happen right away. However, if you are open figuring out your vulnerabilities and consequences, and are willing to explore new behaviors, you will have the understanding to change. I promise.

Changing an engrained behavior is work. It requires patience and a willingness to try something new. At the end of the day, we all want to feel good and while bingeing comes with negative consequences, it is also benefiting you. Figuring out that benefit and understanding the chain that leads to that benefit puts the control back in your hands. It is a process, but remember: you are always in the driver’s seat. You have the ability to choose a new behavior that will give you the same benefit. Doing this chain will help give you the understanding you need. Trust it.

Air Fried Dorito Chicken

I am obsessed with this recipe for two reasons: It’s legit a handful of ingredients and tastes amazing. It’s also super quick. Here’s what you’ll need—

ingredients

Ingredients:

Package of chicken tenders

1 lime

1 bag of Doritos or any other chip

Olive oil

chicken

Directions:

Fully coat each chicken strip in olive oil

Crush the bag of chips with you hands so that the chips break up (They are no longer dating.)

Place the chicken strips in the bag of chips and shake the bag until all the strips are fully coated with chips

airfryer

Place the strips in the fryer

Squeeze lime over the top of each strip

Set the air fryer to 390 degrees and cook for 11-12 minutes

Enjoy! :)

DoritoChicken



When is "Clean" Eating an Eating Disorder?

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So here’s the thing: Our physical health is incredibly important. Some may argue it is the most important thing in life; without it, our quality of life drops significantly. And, our diet does play a huge role in our health. What we choose to eat will impact the way we feel.  Eating donuts for every meal probably won’t make us feel as good as eating a well-balanced diet. 

That said, following the newest diet trend—“clean” eating—carries with it the precarious tendency to slip into disordered eating. When you start eating “clean,” your mind may be flooded with self-imposed rules: Don’t eat this. That has too much fat. This isn’t clean; it has too too much sauce on it or is fried. I can’t eat sugar and be healthy. If a food isn’t “clean,” it can easy to label it “bad” or to avoid it all together.

So how do you know when your quest for health—or eating “clean”—is really an eating disorder or disordered eating hiding behind the justification that you’re “being healthy.” 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself—

Do you Have a List of Good and Bad Foods?

Fact: There is no such thing as a “bad” or “dirty” food. Food is food. Food holds no moral weight. Choosing to eat one food vs the other does not make you a “good” or a “bad” person because there is no such thing as a “good” food. There is no such thing as a “bad” food.

Certain foods offer different nutrients, but eating too much or too little of any food—even “clean” food—is not great for you. If you find yourself completely eliminating a certain food group from your diet, ask yourself what is behind your decision and examine the feelings that come up if you were to/when you do eat that food. 

For example, say you choose to stop eating dairy because every time you have it, you end up feeling bloated and sluggish. You’re out with friends and your dish comes with cheese sprinkled on top. You might try to brush the cheese off as much as you can but end up eating the dish—and some cheese—any way. If you feel a little bit gross physically after the meal but take it as a cue to remember to ask the waiter to leave the cheese off next time, it’s probably not disordered eating. Conversely, if you find yourself feeling guilty or dwelling about the cheese that you put in your body, this could be a signal that choosing to eliminate dairy from your diet isn’t just about the food. 

Experiencing feelings of guilt or shame after eating certain foods is always a sign that something deeper is going on.


Do you Have to Prepare the Majority of Your Meals?


When we go to someone’s house for a dinner party or choose to eat at a restaurant, we only have so much control over the way our food is prepared. If the chef wants to add an extra tablespoon of butter to the sauce or uses a sugar-based marinara, we cannot control this

If you find yourself avoiding restaurants, cancelling social plans because you won’t be able to prepare your own food or worrying about trusting someone else with your food preparation, your diet is negatively impacting your life. These thoughts indicate that your diet has made your world small and has made you fearful. Your diet should never make you feel afraid or isolate you. Ever.

Am I Pre-Occupied With Food?

So, there’s a difference between spending time every day researching recipes on Pinterest for the delicious meal you’re going to create that night and being preoccupied with food. A food preoccupation is when you’re constantly thinking about or analyzing what you just ate or what you’re going to eat at your next meal, and food starts to dominate your day. If you start to notice your mood is affected by your food choices—i.e. you feel happy because you “ate clean” or feel shame or guilt for eating something “bad”—it’s an indication that food has become more than just food. 

When you start to follow any diet or make a lifestyle change, the biggest thing to keep in mind is that your worth is not predicated on what you choose to eat. You are wonderful if you choose to eat McDonald’s for every meal or kale for every meal. Our food choices do not dictate our value as human beings.

We are meant to live free, full lives. Food is there to facilitate this; it should never hinder us. With that, your quality of life includes your emotional well-being. If you find you’re mired in feelings of guilt, shame or fear any time you sway from your diet, that diet is not enhancing your quality of life. If you’re experiencing a preoccupation with or fear about food, is a signal that it’s time to ditch the diet and examine what is going on emotionally. Asking yourself what is behind your motivation to start any diet is paramount, because it is 100% possible to thrive physically and emotionally without cutting out any food groups. Food is meant to enhance your quality of life, never limit it.

Keeping Competition in Perspective

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For many skaters, the beginning of October brings with it the most important event of the competitive season: Regionals.

I competed in my first New England Regional competition in 1996. I was 11 years old, and I was terrified.

For months leading up to the event, I studied my competitors. I knew everything about their skating: the order of every jump in their programs; how they liked to wear their hair; how consistent they were; who was likely to pose the biggest threat. It was an obsession.

With this obsession came an intense fear about my own performance. For weeks before the competition, I had daily “freaks outs” during run-throughs, where missing one jump sparked session-long crying fits and compulsive attempts to re-skate my program mistake-free.

It was much.

I ended up winning the event, but looking back on that competition—and the myriad that followed—I now see competing from a completely different perspective. 

Here are some truths for today’s skaters that I wish I had known during my career—

You are in Control

This is one of the most important truths—if not the most important truth—to keep in mind heading into any event. You are the one who is in control of your performance. No one and nothing is responsible for what happens to you out there on the ice, and this is a great thing. While you can’t control the results and what each judge chooses to focus on during your performance, what actually happens on the ice is entirely within your control.

So often skaters get nervous about everything external. They dwell on the skating order. They dwell on how the ice feels, their competitors’ performances, the temperature in the rink, what time they have to skate. While that stuff does matter to an extent, it has very little—if anything—to do with your actual performance. Rather than losing energy dwelling on all the externals, turn that energy inward. Make sure that you’re thinking positively, you’re taking care of yourself physically and your mind is in the right place. The only person to blame or applaud at the end of your performance is you. If you give too much weight to the externals, they become excuses. You are 100% responsible for what happens when your music starts. And with this—

The Training is Done

I remember going to competitions, seeing my competitors on practice sessions and suddenly wishing I had another week of training to do a few more long program run-throughs. There were times when I’d kick myself wishing I had worked harder in the weeks leading up to an event, but the thing is, that time has passed. Once you get to the event, thinking about what you didn’t do will never serve you. Focus on what you are bringing to the table, the training you have done and performing every element to the best of your ability on that day.

You’re Judged on the Whole Performance

The first time I tried a triple salchow in competition, the jump was all I could focus on for weeks leading up to the event—to the detriment of every other element in my program. When the time came to compete, I fell on the triple sal…and then proceeded to fall two more times on elements that normally were quite easy for me.

I learned a very important lesson that day: One jump—good or bad—does not define a performance. It’s easy to become consumed with the most difficult jump in your program, but you have to remember that you’re being judged on the performance as a whole. So, make it a performance. One jump is over in a second or two; you have 2, 3 or 4 plus other minutes of skating that you’re also being judged on. Those other minutes matter.

Results Don’t Define Your Worth 

When the judges’ scores are announced and the results posted, it can be easy to read into the placement next to your name in a way that extends far beyond what seven or nine people thought of your performance that day. Skaters can sometimes take the number personally, and sometimes they can turn a good or bad score into an evaluation of their worth as a human being.

But here’s a very important and 100% accurate truth: You are not your placement. Your worth as a person does not change—for better or worse—based on that number next to your name. Your worth is not defined by what a handful of individuals see in your skating on one day or during one weekend. Skating is what you do; it is not who you are. And at the end of the day—

It’s Just Skating 

This sport demands so much. You have to smile while hurling your body into the air and doing everything you can to not fall down on very cold, unforgiving ice. It’s sometimes hard to divorce yourself from everything that you put into it—financially, emotionally and physically—but at the end of the day, it is just a sport. Skating is just an activity, and this is one event.

If you’re competing this week, go after the event with all you have. You have the ability to make it a great moment, and your performance is entirely up to you. Skating is an amazing sport. It’s exciting. It’s challenging in all the right ways, and it demands and reveals so much of a person. But at the end of the day, whether you have the skate of your life or you fall fifteen times, you will wake up the next day and you will still be the amazing, lovable and talented person that you are right now. Keeping things in perspective is paramount. Always remember: It’s just skating.

What Defines You?

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A few months before I quit skating, I saw a sports psychologist for the first time. Within the first few minutes of our session, he asked me to draw a circle and then to divide the circle up based on the various parts of my identity.

I paused for a minute. I was confused. 

I was a skater.

That was my identity. My sole identity. That was all I could remember being—“Jenny, the skater”—for the past decade. I was “Jenny, the skater” throughout middle and high school. Whenever anyone asked me about myself, my answer was always, "I'm a skater." That t-shirt that said “Skating is life. The rest is just details”? 

I lived that t-shirt. 

But that was also why I was sitting in this guy’s office. My sole identity as a skater was making me hate the sport.  Skating had become my everything and the only thing. The rest of that stuff, the details? I didn't let myself think about them. 

I was twenty years old, and the thought of doing anything in my life besides skating terrified me. My family was the skating community. I was dating a skater. My best friend was a skater. My days were defined by how many jumps I had landed in my long program run-through. If I was having a bad triple lutz day, I was having a bad day.

Skating was my everything.

Yet, over the past two years, I had begun to resent this identity I had created for myself. I felt guilty any time I did something that didn't coincide with what I felt I should be doing as an elite athlete. If I stayed up too late or made "normal" friends, I worried that it was going to negatively affect my training. I had created a life for myself where I felt trapped, and to venture away from skating to focus on a different part of my identity just felt impossible

In reality, I was so much more than a skater; I just couldn’t see that at time. I couldn’t see that balance was what I needed.  This can happen to so many athletes. It usually doesn't happen overnight, and it starts with good intentions: to be the best at the sport you love. But slowly, you may start to feel like you can’t do anything that goes against your athletic identity, that you feel could threaten your focus. This may mean declining invitations to parties and sleepovers, not going to the prom, spending less time time with friends and family. It may mean pushing aside hobbies or convincing yourself that your education doesn’t matter. Your days are suddenly defined by how your training is going. Results at each competition start to define your worth. 

A little bit of this is okay. As an athlete, you need to put your all into your sport. And, even after skating, there are going to be times in life when one part of your identity is going to hold more weight than all the others. That’s necessary from time to time. But too much focus in one arena—whatever that may be—will lead to burnout and resentment.  As a human, you need balance. You need variety in your life. You need to see that you are a full, well-rounded individual. This will make you a better athlete. It will make you a happier person.

To do this isn’t always easy. It also goes against what so many young athletes are taught. When you grow up in a sport like skating, it's easy to think that more hours on the ice will automatically yield better results. Sometimes, homeschooling is a more favorable scheduling choice. Your friends become your training mates. Family vacations become competitions. Often, much of this is necessary—and totally okay. Yet, skaters also need a life outside of the confines of an ice rink. Exploring identities, friendships and hobbies away from the ice is a good thing. It will help a skater’s career and make them value their time on the ice.

Skating is a wonderful part of a young athlete's life, but it cannot be the only thing in their life. While it would seem that more focus and time spent on something is automatically going to yield better results, this doesn't always ring true. Too much time spent doing any one thing can lead an individual to feeling confined and boxed in. When the weight of your whole world, your very identity, rests in one thing, the pressure becomes too much—and unnecessary. 

When I left competitive skating, I was terrified. I had zero clue who I was outside of an ice rink. I was essentially leaving behind myself. I suddenly didn't have the thing that defined how my day went, how I was as a person. It was up to me to create a new path. And, bless, did I stumble. But in that process, I blossomed. I realized that I am so much more than a skater—and I always was. I learned to see that my time as a skater will always be an incredible part part of my life, but it doesn't define my life.

If you're an athlete, you need to put everything you have into your sport, and I think it’s good to have that one thing in life that you love. But that one thing can’t be the only thing; it doesn't need to be at the expense of the other facets of who you are.  Every identity you hold is just as important as what you do. That thing that you're going all in amazing, but also remember that it's just a part of you. It does not need to define you.