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I feel a little naughty enjoying food so much. My feelings of naughty pleasure make me realize something I haven't thought about much: women especially are not supposed to like food. We can be footloose and moral-free in the sex area, but eating is clearly a realm of intense and irrational moralizing ... I say it's time to get subversive with pleasure. I wonder what would happen if we started taking physical pleasure in every delicious bite ... Just enjoying the ability to smell and taste. I wonder.
- from Great With Child, by Debra Rienstra
Thought and reaction come packaged together, and there is no place
to drive a wedge between them. What is at work here is something we
can call an "impulse of intelligence", which means that a
thought and a molecule tied together, like a two-sided coin … the thought
is the molecule; the molecule is the thought … when an anorexic is repelled
by food, her reaction is all there is … she is her disease at [that]
bulimia + anorexia + compulsive overeating: when others just don't get it
by Joanna Poppink, M.F.C.C
Often a person with an eating disorder covers her pain so well that even when she tells the truth about her suffering, people don't believe her. They think she is exaggerating, overreacting, in a mood that will pass, etc.
She can look so good or so happy that people who love her and think they know her well, cannot get past what they wish to see and hear. They can also be too afraid to believe that her expressions of pain might actually be true.
So, if that eating disorder person is you, you are in a situation where there may be many well meaning people in your life, but none who take your anguish seriously.
Perhaps they feel helpless because they don't know how to help. They wish and try to believe that whatever is bothering you would just go away. Nobody likes to feel helpless in a painful and bewildering situation, especially when it concerns someone they love.
But as you well know, recurrent bouts of anxiety are not something you can make go away through an act of will. Anxiety like yours is often a signal that something needs to be dealt with. It's what usually sends people looking for relief and then real help.
Attempts to find relief take many forms such as starving, overeating, drinking, using drugs, overplaying, overTV viewing, overflirting, overdating i.e. doing anything to excess in order to block out thoughts and feelings.
Some people never get past the search for relief in these ways, and they cause great havoc and destruction in their lives.
Others, like you since you are still reading this, start exploring and looking for the meaning of their symptoms.
And they, like you, sense that real help involves honoring yourself and your feelings, including your anxiety, working to discover what the anxiety signals, what it means for you, and what kind of developmental process is called for now.
Sometimes friends and family can be a big help. Sometimes they can't. Sometimes they just don't have the understanding of psychological processes necessary.
They may be impatient with emotions or are unaware of the significance of feelings. They are only human and may have personal and protected inner feelings of their own which they can't risk coming into their own conscious awareness.
If they can't respond to your need to be heard and understood, let it go and look elsewhere, to people who can be there for you. Even if friends and family have understanding and willingness to listen and help, they can be supportive, but they can't be your therapist.
At this stage you want desperately to be heard. One of the most important things a therapist does is listen to you. It's a very special kind of listening that goes very deep. In time it teaches you how to listen and hear yourself in ways you never dreamed possible.
As you learn to hear what your inner depths are crying out for you gain information, guidance, support from within and from your therapist so you can heal what needs to be healed, be free of barriers to happiness and grow into the unique woman you are and can be. If seeing a psychotherapist would cause other people to judge you harshly, then you must be dealing with people who do not have an appreciation for what working with a trained and experienced mental health professional can accomplish.
By seeking out and reading this essay this far you must have a sense or a hope of what is possible in a professional relationship. Often the work involved is something that a person simply cannot do alone. Family and friends don't have to get it.
your healing path + your understanding +your willingness to go for what you need
In time, as you go through your recovery with your psychotherapist and your chosen support system you will be able to meet your friends and family on the ground that they can tolerate. They may grow to understand you. They may never understand.
What's important is that you understand and that you are proceeding
with the actions and commitments that will bring you health and freedom.
eating disorder education for others
Sometimes parents are afraid that educational materials about eating disorders will stimulate an eating disorder in their teenager or give a teenager with an eating disorder encouragement to try new and different methods of acting out the disorder.
Sometimes loving parents are afraid to know about eating disorders themselves. They may think that if they ignore the subject it will keep the disorder out of their lives. While providing information is powerful, information about eating disorders will not cause an eating disorder to develop in a person.
By the same token, people of any age suffering from an eating disorder will not be cured by information. They need treatment.
Eating Disorder educational programs can alert parents and children to the nature of eating disorders, the risks involved in acting out an eating disorder, how to recognize when they or someone they know needs help, and most importantly, how to get help.
Often early stages of an eating disorder go unrecognized by everyone, including the person with the disorder. Everyone eats. And there are many ways of eating and not eating that are socially sanctioned for particular occasions.
For example, it's socially acceptable to eat junk food, even large quantities of it, at parties or at the movies. It's also socially acceptable to diet and try fad diets that might include fasting. It has become acceptable to acknowledge 'comfort foods' as means of coping with stress or disappointment such as chocolate or ice cream.
It would be very difficult to distinguish a newly forming bulimic from a non bulimic person when both are devouring lots of sweets and treats at a pajama party.
It would be difficult to distinguish a newly forming anorexic teenager from her teenage friends when they are all experimenting with exotic diets and judging every aspect of their body as too fat.
And the anorexic/bulimic who is first experimenting with vomiting, rather than being worried or frightened, is usually quite happy at discovering a 'trick' to help her avoid the consequences of any food she eats.
Parents may be reassured to know that eating disorder education might bump into the consciousness of young people at an early stage of an eating disorder.
Through education a young girl might recognize herself as being on her way to having a serious disorder. If she knows the symptoms, knows there is supportive and caring help available and she knows how to ask for that support and help she has an opportunity to get some early healing. She has a chance of redirecting herself before the disorder advances to relationship destroying and life destroying levels.
Eating disorder education can help parents become less fearful and more understanding if their child does have an eating disorder. Parents can be empowered to lovingly and more confidently support the healing efforts required for their child to recover.
With education and family support, the child may be more willing and capable of doing the necessary healing work.
Early education presented clearly and sensitively with regard to the developmental stage of the audience may provide a powerful way of waylaying an eating disorder, encouraging family cooperation and helping a child grow up healthy and free.
Copyright 2002 Joanna Poppink
Joanna Poppink, M.F.C.C., licensed by the State of California in 1980, is a Marriage, Family, Child Counselor (License #15563). She has a private practice in Los Angeles where she works with adult individuals and couples. She specializes in working with people with eating disorders and with people who are trying to understand and help a loved on who has an eating disorder.
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My response to the whole shebang was to develop eating disorders and anxiety attacks and to be hospitalized for a Mogadon-overdose in my seventeenth year and briefly go (as they say) off the rails and, oh - it was all much of a muchness, that time.
I do remember waking after my stomach had been pumped. My throat was sore and the curtained-off ward was loud with recovered heroin-overdose cases wheedling and screaming for methadone. As two bodies were wheeled out, one nurse collapsed onto her knees, her arms victoriously raised, her pelvis strongly proferred. After months of waiting, she had been offered a position as a windsurfing instructor at a resort on faraway Phuket. Closed my eyes and slipped back into a dream.
It was as if I were bound to an eternally revolving wheel in my own special hell. There are only so many ways in which a being can express despair, and I was just getting the hang of it, after all.
- from The Pure Weight of the Heart, by Antonella Gambotto-Burke
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