This Thanksgiving, I’d like to link up with Amanda and talk about a mental health issue I’ve struggled with around past holidays.This time of year in the eating disorder recovery community, I tend to see a fair number of posts about how to deal with food-related guilt and anxiety.
But today, I’d like to share my thoughts about a different way that disordered eating can manifest itself around big holiday meals: being way too excited–in some cases, totally obsessed–about the food.
For someone who has never had an eating disorder, this may seem like a very counter-intuitive reaction from someone who ordinarily restricts food. It is certainly true that someone with anorexia or disordered eating might feel very anxious before a holiday meal and carefully plan out what they will and will not eat, feeling guilty if they allow themselves to eat anything unplanned or exceed a certain set limit.
However, for several years while I was struggling with disordered eating, although not yet full-on anorexia, I had what may appear, on the surface, to be totally the opposite reaction: I could not stop thinking about the special treats I was going to eat! Weeks in advance, I would already spend an hour or more each day just thinking about all of the delicious things I couldn’t wait to have. I’d spend lots of time online gawking at recipes, and then, if I was expecting a certain dish on the special day and it wasn’t there, I felt very disappointed.
I remember one Easter, for example, my mom decided to get bagels for a special Easter breakfast. She also boiled some eggs and made some dye for coloring Easter eggs–and that was pretty much it. That was all she had planned for Easter day. In truth, it was a special breakfast, since we hadn’t had bagels in a long time, and it was totally appropriate that we didn’t do much more, considering that we’re not a religious family. But I remember feeling so devastated–it ruined my whole day–because I had so been looking forward to Easter as an opportunity to eat something indulgent that I would never allow myself otherwise.
Disordered eating looks very different for different people. For me, at times in my life, I restricted my intake (especially relative to how much I was exercising), but I allowed myself to have certain days to indulge. And I would get far too excited–perhaps even obsessed–about what I was going to eat on these days for two reasons.
The first is simply psychological. If you never or only very rarely allow yourself to enjoy something, you want that thing more. Duh.
But the second is biological. Studies have shown that when people are in a state of semi-starvation, they are constantly constantly obsessed with food.
And guess what? What many people consider a “normal” diet–1200-1500 calories a day–is semi-starvation, especially if you’re active, but even if you’re not!
Getting excited for a holiday meal or looking forward to special treats that you don’t have often is totally normal. It’s a celebration, after all, and what would be the point of celebrating if it weren’t something you looked forward to? It’s also totally normal to eat somewhat more than usual at a special holiday meal because you want to try the variety of dishes or have seconds on a dish you really like.
But if you’re too excited, too obsessed, it might be a sign that you’re undereating. Here are some thoughts and behaviors surrounding your special meal that might be a sign you’re eating too little from day to day and are, in fact, in a state of semi-starvation:
- Spending hours every day in advance of the big day thinking about what you will eat.
- Eating very little in the days before and after the holiday because you will therefore be “allowed” to eat more.
- Eating well past the point of fullness, even though it’s uncomfortable to do so, because you know you won’t allow yourself food you enjoy this much again for a long time.
- Planning to eat well past the point of fullness for the above reason.
- Being unreasonably disappointed if a special dish that you were looking forward to isn’t at the meal.
- Not being able to concentrate on the conversation or enjoy the time with loved ones because all you can think about is the food.
- Feeling that your obsession with food is out of control; you feel you could not re-direct your thoughts even if you tried.
I have a final thought, and then I’ll share the thing I know you’re looking forward to: the pie!
If you are feeling too excited or obsessed with what you will eat at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another special occasion, it can indicate that there’s a problem–but it’s not cause to feel guilty. I’ve posted before to the blog about how I hid my secret obsession with food for years because I believed it meant that I was shallow and a glutton. In fact, I wasn’t shallow, and I certainly wasn’t a glutton; quite the opposite. I was biologically compromised; my brain wasn’t fully operating because it didn’t have enough fuel to operate on. I was so obsessed because my body was trying to tell me something I wouldn’t acknowledge: that I needed to be eating a whole lot more.
In fact, this obsession continued into my recovery, and I struggled with it throughout the time I was regaining weight and even, to a degree, to this day. So if you’re in recovery from a eating disorder, and you feel like you still can’t let the thoughts go, make peace with yourself. Continuing to fuel your body will help your mind recover, too.
Okay, and now pie. I am excited about this pie.This delicious cranberry-raspberry pie is likely low-FODMAP. Monash University has never tested fresh cranberries for FODMAP content, but dried cranberries have been found to be low-FODMAP, and so it is speculated that fresh cranberries should be, as well.
(Not that FODMAP content is ever easy to predict–we all got a big surprise to find that rice is low-FODMAP but that rice milk is not, whereas almond milk is low-FODMAP even though almonds are not. Huh.)
Even assuming that cranberries are low-FODMAP, the pie is high in fruit, fat, and sugar, all things that can trigger IBS symptoms, so I’d recommend sticking to a pretty small serving–1/10th or even 1/12th–if you have IBS and especially if you’re in the elimination phase of the low-FODMAP diet.
If you’re not worried about FODMAPs, though, I’m sure you could justify a bigger piece. 😉
Not only is this pie suitable for the low-FODMAP diet, but it’s also gluten-free and easily modified to be dairy-free, too. Enjoy!
- 1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour blend, such as King Arthur
- 3/4 tsp. xantham gum, if not already included as part of the flour blend
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter or non-hydrogenated dairy-free margarine, cut into pieces
- 2 cold eggs
- 1-2 Tbsp. ice water
- 12 oz. fresh or frozen cranberries
- 12 oz. fresh or frozen raspberries
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. cornstarch
- a pinch of salt
- Mix the gluten-free flour blend, xantham gum, and salt together in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or food processor, pulse in the cold butter. Then, use a fork to mix in the eggs and 1 Tbsp. of the water. If parts of the dough are still dry and crumbly, add additional water, 1 tsp. at a time, until the dough looks like a big bowl of crumbled feta cheese. (Seriously.)
- Divide the dough into two balls, one about twice the size of the other.
- Spread out a large piece of plastic film on a working space and sprinkle with gluten-free flour blend. Place the larger dough ball on the film and flatten slightly. Sprinkle the top with gluten-free flour and roll out the dough in a circle until it is a few inches wider than a nine-inch pie dish.
- Set the pie dish upside down on top of the dough circle and turn the whole thing upside down. Peel off the plastic film and press the dough down into the pie dish, patching any tears and cutting off any excess dough around the edges.
- Cover your work service with flour a second time--this doesn't have to be done on plastic wrap. Roll out the remaining dough in a smaller circle. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter (or fun cookie cutter of choice!) to cut hearts from the dough.
- In a medium or large sauce pan over medium-high heat, heat all the filling ingredients. After a few minutes, the cranberries and raspberries will start to leak their juices and bubble; when they do, set a timer for five minutes and cook over medium-high heat.
- When the timer goes off, set aside and let cool a few minutes.
- Pour the filling into your pie. (Mine is a pretty deep pie dish; if yours is shallower, you may have excess filling.)
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- Remove the crust hearts from your work service using a small cookie spatula and arrange on top of the filling.
- Bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust starts to turn very light golden brown and the filling is bubbling rapidly. The crust will continue to brown after it is removed from the oven, so don't wait until it's too dark to take it out.