Sick of Toast and Barbecue WHAT? Using unintentional humor to address eating challenges in eating disorder recovery

By Jacy Pitts, RD, CSP, LD

Many of my clients, on at least one occasion, vent their frustrations about why eating is so difficult. “WHY???” they ask. “Why can’t I just eat? Eating is not supposed to be this hard!” These frustrations are usually accompanied by visible distress: body tension, tears, raised voices, and clenched fists. It’s very important to sit in this space with them for a moment and acknowledge that yes, eating has become very, very hard, and if eating normally once again were so simple, they would have already done it by now. Once in a while, I’m given an accidental gift: the opportunity to help clients wade through the muddy waters of this conundrum and share a laugh or two along the way. Here are a few favorite funny moments:

One client - let’s call her Olivia B since I’m currently watching Law & Order SVU - came in for a third nutrition session. Olivia B had finally agreed to start seeing me after months of prompting by her therapist. In order to help break her restrictive and rigid eating tendencies, at our first session we had mapped out a meal plan structure that aimed to give her more fuel, more consistently throughout the day. Together, we had listed examples for meals and snacks that would work with her meal plan. Included in a sample breakfast was “toast”. So, fast forward to this third nutrition session. She sat down on the couch, balled her fists, and said very emphatically, “I’m so sick of toast!! I talked with my therapist about it this week, and she said you probably didn’t mean that’s the only carbohydrate I could choose at breakfast. But it was the only one listed on my worksheet, so that’s all I’ve been eating.” Now in that moment, I did not even consider laughing. It would have been ill-timed and she’d never have come back. We discussed how she seemed ready to have more choices at breakfast, and expanded her menus. However, after several more sessions, she initiated the conversation of reflecting how rigid her thought process had been at that third session. I agreed that it was, and how wonderful that she’d been able to gain perspective and improve her flexibility with eating different types of carbs. And then we laughed - a LOT. But I didn’t laugh harder or louder than Olivia B - I’ve learned this is very important!

I asked another longer-term client, who was having a particularly difficult week, to please send me a list of a few dinners that she could prepare and eat with her children for the remainder of the week. She had recently discovered that she enjoyed cooking dinner for her sons, and was benefitting from the connection that came from sharing a meal with them again. Later that day, I received her list, which included “barbecue children” as an entrée. (Darn autocorrect.)  I quickly replied “Please don’t barbecue your children!” and we both laughed until we cried. We continued to get many good laughs about this from time to time, and it helped to lighten her load. She had so many stressors in her life, and it was an opportunity to take a break from those, even if for a moment. I felt incredibly grateful to be able to laugh along with her.

Another interesting trend I’ve noticed is that many of my clients (so many!) wear socks that have food on them. Should we call these “fear food socks”?! Seriously, the socks represent, by and large, the foods that clients avoid: pizza, donuts, ice cream, hamburgers, tacos, etc. I’ve occasionally pointed out the irony that they can wear these without thought, yet have purposefully avoided eating them. One client proudly declared, “I’ve also got food underwear!” Much to their chagrin, I point that wearing food must mean that some part of them is ready to begin the process of challenging their fear foods.

Cheers to more toast-worthy tales.

Jacy Pitts, RD, CSP, LD is a Registered Dietitian with offices in Smyrna and Buckhead. She sees eating disordered clients of all ages and genders. Board Certified in Pediatric Nutrition since 2007, Jacy specializes in working with children, teens, and families. Her office has a fully equipped kitchen and meeting space for meal/group support to help clients build skills in recovery.