Changing how you eat and how you feel – at the same time
A great place for you to begin if you suffer from an eating disorder is with the book: “8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder” written by Carolyn Costin, LMFT and Gwen Schubert Grabb, LMFT. Both Carolyn and Gwen are experienced therapists who have long recovered from their own personal eating disorders (i.e. they no longer have any eating disordered thoughts or urges). In the 8 Keys the authors share helpful tips for recovery from the perspective of professionally trained therapists and personal sufferers who healed from the illness.
Where therapy goes
Within The 8 Keys there are two chapters (Keys) that represent opposing but important truths. Key #3 is titled “It’s not about the food” while Key #5 is titled “It is about the food”. A guide to therapy being so contradictory may seem confusing at first, but once you understand the details things become clear.
It is SO not about the food
In Key #3 Carollyn and Gwen explain how eating disorders are motivated by issues that have nothing to do with food or eating. This part of an eating disorder, the non-food part, is really easy to misunderstand, especially by the people around you. When I hear people talk about what motivated an episode of binging, restricting, purging, ritualistic eating, over-exercising, obsessive thoughts, or some other self-destructive behavior, I hear people talk about what was going in their mind and lives before they used their disorder. So often I hear stories about situations that caused feelings of heartbreak, anger, loneliness, confusiont, failure, or fear.
So what is it really about then?
To put it simply, an eating disorder is meant to be a quick-fix solution to those difficult emotions. Here are some of the connections I have heard about what motivates the use of an eating disorder behavior:
- Don’t feel confident about yourself? Just don’t eat so you can be skinny and your problems will “go away”.
- Angry at someone but don’t know how to deal with it? Purge and you won’t have to think about them or what they did.
- Unsure where your life is going? Just be good at an eating disorder and you can be sure where it goes.
- Overwhelmed by feelings and don’t know how to deal with them? Binge and they will disappear super fast.
- Afraid to be with others because you think they won’t like you? Compulsively exercise so they will admire you for your hard work at a safe emotional distance.
Using symptoms only makes things worse
These solutions offered by an eating disorder, while comforting in the moment, do not last long and tend to make things worse over time. Chasing that short-lived feeling is what gets you so stuck and in need really good of therapy.
It is SO about the food
Now that we’ve looked at how eating disorders are really about underlying thoughts and emotions, let’s talk about the food. Key #5 is all about how eating disorders are also about eating and food. At its core, Key #5 is there to help you change your relationship with food and your body so that the eating disorder doesn’t have a grip on how you live your daily life. This comes down to changing how you eat, how you look at yourself, and how you treat yourself with food.
Here are a few common and practical issues that Key #5 helps people fix.
- Do you trust yourself to start and stop eating enough food naturally?
- Do you know how to create structure and support around eating?
- Do you weigh yourself inappropriately and then make decisions about yourself based on what you see?
- Do you know how to live a body that always feels wrong to you?
Behavior changes cause life changes
What these concerns eventually come down to is the hard work of changing how you eat, giving up symptoms in little baby steps, and finding new ways to relate to your body. This is some of the more challenging work that you can do, but with good guidance these problems definitely can change.
Putting Key #3 and Key #5 together
OK, now that you know how eating disorders totally are and totally are not about food, I bet you are at least a little nervous about changing. Getting better is all about doing Key #3 and Key #5 together at the same time, which can be pretty scary if you’re really attached to your eating disorder. This means we have to address the emotional questions you’re struggling with while also learning how to wean off of the self-destructive coping behaviors. With the right help, as hard as it might sound, it is 100% possible for anyone to heal and be fully recovered – I truly believe that.
If you think you might benefit from therapy and my approach, call me today to see how I can help.