Holistic Counseling in Saratoga Springs, NY • firstname.lastname@example.org
Eating Obsessions and Disorders
by Donna Bird
You’re Not To Blame. I Can Help
This article examines several types of eating disorders and some of the reasons that individuals are afflicted with them. In addition to counseling, I also offer a series of effective self-help sessions on CD and in MP3 format in my online store to help those who wish to change those behaviors.
People who are compulsive overeaters are usually caught in a frustrating cycle of dieting, binge-eating, and depression. They often turn to food as a coping mechanism to medicate their feelings and stress. Binge-eaters may forage on foods all day or evening. Many binge-eaters do this in secret.
The binge eating may temporarily relieve emotional feelings — but then the person is tortured by feelings of guilt, shame, and depression. And the cycle starts again.
Compulsive overeaters have a history of trying diet after diet without success. After many other methods of weight loss are tried unsuccessfully, and they become severely overweight, and some resort to extreme measures, such as gastric bypass (stomach stapling). This process reduces the amount of food they can consume at one time. However, many people continue to overeat by grazing on smaller portions throughout the day and evening; and thus, all the weight they might have lost is regained.
Medical complications from compulsive overeating can be serious, including high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Treatment for compulsive eating is a process. If you think you have a compulsive eating problem, you should know that there’s no magic cure (such as a one-time hypnosis session). The process begins with discovering what’s really occurring when you have a compulsion to eat.
Are you really hungry? If so, is your hunger a “stomach hunger” — or a “mouth hunger”? If you are not physically hungry (in the stomach), why do you want to eat? What do you want to eat? If you’re not eating something that satisfies you, you will continue to eat until you are satisfied.
Ask yourself if your urge to eat (when you’re not stomach-hungry) came on all of a sudden. If so, then you have a clue that there is an emotional source. It will help if you trace this sudden urge back to what happened prior to the urge, or earlier in the day, or even on a previous day.
If you’re in touch with your feelings (and many compulsive eaters tend not to be), you may find you are eating to subdue or numb your emotional feelings. Many people received messages when they were young to “stuff” emotions down. Compulsive eating is one way of stuffing or supressing feelings of anxiety, depression, or past trauma that lingers in the cells of the body and brain. The more feelings that you “stuff” with food, however, the more these feelings intensify and negatively program your mind and body cells — and the more problems they cause in your life.
Many people don’t understand that each time you push down an emotion, it will come back up to you again and again, repeatedly offering you another opportunity to feel, metabolize, and integrate the feeling. The reason for this feeling opportunity is that the body innately knows that “feeling” emotions will bring you healing.
Learning how to identify your triggers, urges, and cravings — while being with your feelings in a safe, supportive way — is a major step in the recovery process that I help people through, individually and in groups.
People who are bulimic struggle with a devastating and addictive binge–purge cycle of eating behavior. They will eat large amounts of food compulsively, and then purge through self-inflicted vomiting, diuretics, diet pills, laxatives, ipecac, fasts, chew-spitting, and regimented dieting. Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain is used.
In active-state bulimia, these behaviors occur at least twice a week for at least three months. Binges are usually in secret and can be triggered in a number of ways: numbers on a scale, eating something normally forbidden, taking one bite more than allowed, difficult feelings, thinking about food, or a traumatic event. Before purging, the person may feel ugly, unworthy, hopeless, and helpless before and during the binge–purge action. Afterward he/she might feel a combination of control, shame, relief, disgust, dizziness, fatigue, and resolution.
People who are bulimic are also obsessively involved with their shape and weight. The medical complications of this constant binge–purge cycle can be severe and, in the worst case, terminal.
People with anorexia nervosa restrict food intake to an extreme and dangerously unhealthy degree. The thought of weight gain — or even perceived weight gain — will trigger intense fear in people with anorexia. The result is that they refuse to maintain a body weight at or above a minimally normal level.
The reason for this is that there is a disturbance in the way in which their body weight or shape is experienced. They also deny the seriousness of their current low body weight. The areas of the body normally representing maturity or sexuality (buttocks, hips, thighs, and breasts) are viewed by people with anorexia as being “fat,” despite any evidence to the contrary.
Some people with anorexia use restrictive eating, compulsive exercise, and laxative and diuretic abuse to keep their weight down. Sometimes food is hoarded, and unusually special interest is taken in the preparation of food; but they seldom eat what is prepared.
Health incidents due to anorexia may include dizzy spells, fainting spells, feeling cold when the temperature is actually comfortable, and amenorrhea (absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles).
Hidden Traits of People with Eating Disorders
- If there is alcoholism, heavy drinking, or addictions in your family background, it increases the odds you’ll overeat foods containing sugar or refined flour and carbohydrates. This may also indicate you have an indulgent, addictive personality.
- If you have low self-coping mechanisms, you may be using food to help you cope with stress/anxiety, emotional trauma, abuse, or neglect from your past. You may also withdraw from friends and family and find it difficult to treat yourself with compassion to make your needs a priority.
- If you have low self-esteem, feel like an imposter, feel unprepared for events, or have unrealistic fears of trauma or abandonment, then the odds increase that you may suffer from an eating disorder. The same is true if you think your body image needs to be model-thin or similar to the body image of a TV star.
- Perhaps your internal “rebel” wants to feel in control by sabotaging your life. If you have control issues, dislike authority figures, have phobias, overachieve, or have commitment issues, these traits too can lead to eating disorders.
Some people live with such disorders for years and have no awareness that their problem may be related to early childhood experiences of historical patterns, shame-based events, or forgotten trauma. As time goes by, they may begin to believe that they are just “bad” for having such symptoms. They may frequently feel controlled by an “inner saboteur” that overwhelms them.
Frequently, people dissociate from unacceptable thoughts and feelings by splitting them off and placing them out of their awareness. However, these feelings find expression in body distress and behavioral actions. Once activated, eating disorders can provide a self-shaming cycle of inward-turned hate. This cycle may lead to patterns of self-harm to reinforce the shame-based sense of self.
People afflicted witheating disorders suffer from life-long shame. Lasting recovery requires an understanding of the shame’s insidious nature, followed by a collaborative exploration and healing of its origins and its expressions of self-destruction.
In my practice I utilize conventional talk therapy alongside the most appropriate and effective alternative therapies to teach people how to build a tolerance for feeling emotions in a safe way while helping them build a loving relationship with their body and their essence. Step by step their inner reality becomes more understandable. Eventually they learn how to enter into loving relationships with themselves and others, while creating a normal body weight for themselves.