Hello all! For those of you struggling with eating disorders in San Diego and elsewhere, it’s easy to feel hopeless and question whether you can ever recover. I’m here to tell you, yes you CAN recover from an eating disorder and live a life FREE from the burden you’ve been carrying for so long. In order to bring you some hope, I want you to meet Ari Snaevarsson and read about his eating disorder recovery. He is also an author and virtual nutrition consultant, so he may be a helpful resource for you! One thing that I really appreciate about Ari is that he is really honest about how miserable and out-of-control his life was while he was active in his disordered eating behavior. He embraces the intuitive eating approach, which he also advocates in his work as a nutrition consultant. His enthusiasm is infectious!
Tell me a little about your eating disorder history.
When I was 17, I competed in my first bodybuilding show. The ultra-restrictive dieting involved in this endeavor was unlike anything I'd ever done, and it ended up eliciting some of the most intense binge-eating behaviors I've ever experienced. This behavior went on for months, and even after the binge episodes had "calmed down" in severity, my relationship with food was still extremely disordered. I ended up competing in a second show when I was 20, which carried its own arsenal of disorder, including intense stimulant abuse (which affected me more than anything else I did in that prep), and crash dieting. It was absolutely brutal, and it led to complete social isolation. I dropped out of my fraternity in college, and I started planning suicide. After each bodybuilding show, I would binge in the middle of the night and then drop in bed in hopes that the feelings would be gone in the morning.
What was the turning point that got you into recovery from your eating disorder?
It wasn't until months after that second show that I started reading up on intuitive eating and healing from binge-eating. I learned that any degree of restriction will inevitably lead to metabolic compensation, which, in my case, meant binge eating. So I had to take the radical steps of dropping all food rules, granting myself total and unconditional allowance to eat the food I was hungry for, and learning to prioritize self-care each day.
I really respect the courage it took you to recover from an eating disorder. What were the top three strategies essential for your recovery?
Here are my three biggest strategies I used for recovery from an eating disorder:
1) Having a big accountability system (not just one or two people to check in on regularly, but a whole support network and - ideally - a functional treatment team, which includes a recovery coach).
2) Proper goal-setting (i.e. setting large goals in the long-term but super small and achievable goals in the immediate term, so that you can instill a sense of confidence by consistently meeting your goal metrics).
3) Believing in yourself, which might sound a bit corny but is actually vital to conceptualize. We so often go through such endeavors hoping that it will be a simple input-output system (i.e. if I put in the work, I'll recover), while in reality, due to the all-encompassing and intense nature of the eating disorder or “ED” voice, you really do need to cultivate a sense of total self-trust and self-belief.
How did you get into eating disorder nutritional consulting?
In August of 2017, the head trainer at a powerlifting gym in the area reached out to me and said they were looking for a nutritionist to bring on board and he knew that nutrition was my area of expertise. It was right around the time I was wrapping up my summer internship at a residential ED treatment center (the same one where I've now been working for a year), and just around one year after my second show. That meant this wasn't even a full year into my recovery from my eating disorder. Though I was recovered, that meant that I had to be careful with how I approached working with clients. Given that I started off just coaching general population clients and not even truly sure whether I wanted to help people battling disordered eating, I was giving people calorie and macronutrient goals and whatnot (things I no longer do with any client, because intuitive eating is now the goal with all of my clients). I eventually realized calorie/micronutrient goals not only ran counter to the lifestyle I was trying to teach but also the nutrition principles I personally was trying to embody.
In early February of 2018, I started working at this residential ED treatment center as both a counselor and diet tech (I now wear four hats there, as a Counselor 3 / Med Aide / Diet Tech / On-Call Facilities Manager!), and seeing the severe cases of [usually] restrictive eating disorders helped me screw my head on tighter and realize where I wanted to go with my coaching. I gradually shifted my coaching focus into working exclusively with those suffering from disordered eating or eating disorders.
Who are your favorite clients to work with?
Although I enjoy working with any client who is respectful and hard-working, I absolutely love working with anyone who has passed that precontemplative stage of change. I have a handful of clients right now who are absolute pleasures to work with because they consciously own the process and don't fall victim to learned helplessness. When things are getting rocky, they feel confident reaching out to me and asking for help, which is huge, because that actually allows me to shine as a coach and be there for them. Sometimes, though, clients will feel too ashamed to come to me for help when things are rough. They want to show their "best side" and not feel as though they've "let me down" when they stop adhering to habits or somehow get derailed from the goal at hand. I'm very understanding and have never blamed a client for this response, but I do try to empower them at every turn to take this journey on themselves. I'm being the best coach I can be if I can get all of my clients to the point where I'm no longer necessary, since they've become totally "nutritionally autonomous," as I call it, and can own these decisions for themselves. It never fails to amaze me to see clients get to this point. They finally realize they are indeed in control of their circumstances, and nothing in the world beats that feeling.
What would someone expect from an initial consultation with you?
I send all first-time clients an initial intake questionnaire, which takes a deep-dive into some of the most important questions I want to ask. It goes into what the client's typical day of eating looks like, whether they exhibit any severe EDBs (eating disorder behaviors), what their motivation to change is, what medical conditions we should know about, what informs their views on eating and exercising, and more. After getting this back, I comb through their answers at length and come up with some goal metrics for our first consultation. That first consultation is always really insightful and really interesting, because every client I've worked with will leave that first session with a renewed view of their situation and clear instructions for our plans moving forward. Seeing a formerly stressed out and hopeless client leave this first session with a sincere smile on their face and sense of determination is amazing, and it motivates me to keep doing what I'm doing.
What would you like people to know about your eating disorder nutritional consulting?
I don't prescribe meal plans or calorie/macronutrient goals. Clients who are looking for those things should know that the reason I refrain from them is not theoretical but actual: I've used these in the past and learned they cause more harm than good. Instead, I do primarily Virtual Nutrition coaching (meaning it's fully online), in which I have a list of what I consider to be the 26 healthiest habits, each of which has a corresponding, fully interactive tab on a Google Sheets template I use. We go through these habits, averaging two weeks per habit (though this can change, depending on what does or doesn't work for the client and other extraneous circumstances), and I give in-depth weekly feedback to help address any questions or concerns that have come up. The coolest part, in my mind, is that clients are able to reach me via WhatsApp on a pretty constant basis and I get back to them promptly. This helps if anyone is going through any troubling urges or is losing faith in themselves, so that I can be there for them and talk them through these feelings.
And for some of my clients, they use my book (100 Days of Food Freedom: A Day-by-Day Guide to Self-Discovery, Freedom from Dieting, and Recovery from Your Eating Disorder) as their 100-day plan to recovery. These clients send me nightly pictures of their journal entries (which is something the 100-day journey asks you to do) and we work together through the respective tasks, habits, exposures, and "Adventures." Clients who use this as a template are highly successful in recovery.
How can people contact you?
The Instagram (where I'm most active) is @100daysoffoodfreedom
And the Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/100doff/
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I've never been on a roller coaster!
Thanks so much for reading my blog! Have a wonderful day. :)
If you are struggling to find eating disorder treatment in San Diego give me a call for your free 15-minute phone consultation at (858) 699-3754, and I will help you get where you need to be!