Before, During, and After: The Center For Eating Recovery


Pizza = Love

Before I eat a meal, I’m supposed to pay attention to how I feel, physically speaking, and rate how hungry I am on a scale of one to ten. The higher the number, the hungrier you are. The lower, the fuller.

It’s week four of my 8-week coaching program with Alison Ross, LMFT, director of the Center For Eating Recovery on Agoura Road. Most of the CER’s clients come in seeking treatment for eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or problems with emotional overeating. They offer individual therapy and coaching as well as an 8-week group course where participants cozy up on a large sectional couch in Ross’s office, or join in via Skype.

I don’t have an eating disorder, but I wanted to learn more about the CER. I read their pamphlet: “Do you…cycle back and forth between watching what you eat and overeating? Does your weight fluctuate?”

And I thought of the seven Oreos I ate that morning, just because they were there. And the five pounds I gain and lose every year. And the spirited bursts of daily exercise I do during the Mamavation 2-Week Challenge every now and then, which spice up my otherwise slow-paced constitutional practice and occasional vigorous hikes.

Ross proposed an individual 8-week course of coaching. Health coaching, I like to call it. After all, “We pretty much all have something we could do, but that is hard to do, to improve our health,” she said.

For me I thought it was taking the time to make healthy meals and snacks, and committing to regular exercise. And it is, but as I have learned from meeting with Ross for a few weeks, there is so much more involved. I’m 42 years old. I have had 42 years to develop surprisingly subconscious habits and attitudes about food, and shining a light on them during my sessions has been very…illuminating.

I had planned to write about this program right as it started – a “before” post, to tell you about the center. And then again in the middle, while in the thick of it, and then “after,” to process and share what I have learned. I will still do the middle and end, but this beginning post took a while because what Ross and I talked about in our first three visits was so deep and emotional for me that until now I haven’t been able to put it into words. I’ll spare you the childhood angst and how that means pizza equals love, so you’ll have to trust me. Pizza does equal love, unless it makes it you sick the next morning.

The task that Ross and her colleagues embrace is to help their clients and patients, through coaching and therapy, to learn to separate their emotions from their physical selves so that they don’t withhold or overindulge in food (and the wrong kinds of food) to starve or feed their hearts. In other words, “change your mind to change your body.”

So far I have stated my intentions (eating more healthfully and doing yoga once a week) and identified possible sources of sabotage (not planning ahead, being lazy). Then I investigated why I allow those sabotaging moves into my life. There was some role play that featured me talking to myself. There’s no YouTube video of that, but it was very revealing. Last week Ross asked me how I know when it’s time to eat, and what followed was a discussion about paying attention to what my body tells me.

Right now it’s telling me “Thank you for the graham crackers.” A little while ago I felt hungry. On the scale, I was feeling about a 5, which is hungry but comfortable. As I was eating the crackers I thought “Yum, these are good, but I know I should have a piece of fruit instead.” After eating just enough and not too many, I felt about a 4: “Feeling full and not in need of food.”

That whole exercise was important because if I had waited longer I might have eaten a less healthy snack, or gotten very hungry by dinnertime and not given myself the time to prepare a nourishing meal. Paying attention to my hunger level and why I eat the things I eat is all part of the overall effort to bring my mind and body into harmony.

Tomorrow I head back to CER for my 4th session. By now I head up the stairs to their offices with anticipation about what I’ll learn next, and I’ll admit a little bit of fear. But even though it’s sometimes uncomfortable to discover things I think I should have known about myself all along, the work is worth it.

I’m participating in a comped 8-week coaching program at CER to facilitate this series of posts. Everything I share here is something I learned firsthand about the Center or about myself. Click here to read Part 2 of this three part series. And here is Part 3.