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Eating Disorders

Janet K. Smith, Ph.DWeighty-Issues... is also a site about the wish to be thin, what it means and what you can do about it. Preoccupations with weight, exercise, food and body image are classic signs of eating disorders and body image disturbance. Binge eating, anorexia, restricting and bulimia trouble millions of women from all cultures. Eating disorders are problems of self-regulation and the attempt to regulate feelings with food. 



As children we may discover ways of "handling" feelings without expressing them in words. We feel uncomfortable--sad, angry, even happy--and not even know why we feel overwhelmed--and rush for sweets or carbs in order to feel better. We learn to use food to pacify distress and deal with disappointments and lonliness--in other words to "eat feelings away." We learn to "eat emotionally." These habits lead to feelings of shame and guilt--we isolate and keep secrets.

The therapeutic relationship can help you find your way back to treating all your feelings humanely and with compassion. Working together we will come to find and understand the missing words and the courage to express them. Belief systems are examined and brought into alignment with reality, which leads to changes for the better in how you think and feel. Ultimately you’ll create other alternatives to “comfort” food or restricting in order to soothe anxious feelings.

Having an eating disorder is no picnic. If you experience this difficulty, help is available--you can make progress!

The following are feelings, thoughts and behaviors that signal some symptoms of Eating Disorders. I hope you can use them as...



Food for Thought:

If you...
  • use food to stuff down feelings...
  • use laxatives, over-exercise or binge and throw up in a never-ending cycle... 
  • have secret stashes of food that you keep “for emergencies”....
  • deep down know that you're tricking yourself but pretend that you're not...
  • feel guilty and ashamed of your eating habits…
  • have tried every diet ever known to womankind...
  • wet, salt or destroy “bad” food so you won't be able to eat it...
  • dread the feeling or avoid the sensation of hunger... 
  • can't identify the feeling of hunger
  • keep up a good image on the outside but feel tormented inside
  • obsess on weight and body image...
  • avoid social situations because you're too fat...
  • think you're never thin enough or your proportions are good enough...
…then you may be motivated and ready for a change. 

The situation is not hopeless and you are not alone.
 
Getting to the Root

We are constantly exposed to the "ideal" of the feminine body as “thin is beautiful.” This impossible "ideal" can cause havoc in the relationship with food. The act of eating ceases to be a pleasurable activity that satisfies hunger, and becomes a means to control, punish or substitute for love. Let’s look at what lies beneath the surface.

An eating disorder reflects a troubled relationship - with oneself and with others. It can be a way of deflecting feelings, a doorway into the oblivion of a binge, the release of bad feelings by throwing up. Eating (or not eating) may become a way of declaring that you have no needs - a secret belief that you can defeat Nature and the body. You may feel you must rise above needs that are “shameful,” like the need to be listened to, or touched, or seen. Food may be the vehicle for dealing with insecurities like not feeling pretty, smart or sexy enough. Food management - binging and purging - can be a way of expressing anger and control: “I can diet my way to a feeling of power and superiority.”

These methods of dealing with feelings may bring temporary relief. And they are dangerous. They are meant to help the problem but they don't really make it better. In fact, if the eating disorder persists, it only compounds the issues and becomes a problem in itself.

From Inside an Eating Disorder to Freedom

If preoccupation with food, weight and body image are symptoms, what do they stand for and how do we tackle what lies beneath? Unbearable feelings were first channeled into food-control because they were too overwhelming to tolerate. Binging and purging are attempts to quell anxiety and to feel better--they give instant relief, but relief gives way to shame and the promise that “this is the last time!” And yet…

The road to health does not lie in a better diet, more effective exercise and calorie-counting or radical decisions to “be good.” You probably already know this. Change and healthy self-regulation come with support in helping to understand and quiet the chaos and desperation of being inside an eating disorder.

Acknowledging that there are underlying issues is the first step. These need a “hearing” in a safe environment. It’s not an easy road but you can learn to trust your feelings. Anxiety can be quieted through understanding and sharing, one to one or in a group. You can find constructive ways of handling anxiety and managing food.

New solutions can be discovered