Eating Disorders- beginning the healing process

Eating disorders can be challenging to heal as belief systems are deeply ingrained and often, complex trauma is involved. In all three of the primary eating disorders, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder, a person is obsessed with the way their body looks, and the perception of their body is quite often distorted and not as others perceive them. A young woman could be quite beautiful, but who she sees in the mirror, is someone who is fat and disgusting. Common symptoms of an eating disorder are: depression, numbing, hopelessness, anxiety, low self-esteem, self-hatred, isolation, loss of sense of self, loss of motivation, shame, worthlessness and sadness. Treatment for eating disorders is generally long term unless, it is caught early, as the trauma needs to be addressed, and a change in deeply ingrained belief systems, which often involves family systems.

Healing from an eating disorder, takes commitment to change, and perseverance to move forward despite minor setbacks. Trauma work is a necessary element of treatment, and building a healthy sense of self through mindfulness, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is changing how one thinks. EMDR is effective with addictions, caused by trauma. Commonly, eating disorders, involve sexual trauma. Many girls who are molested, raped or abused, develop disordered eating, in part as protection, needing to be unseen and physically undesirable. Quite often girls who have eating disorders, also self-mutilate, such as with cutting. This has become quite common in the high schools. I more often refer to girls with eating disorders, which is more common, but boys can also have eating disorders, especially athletes.

Culture plays a big part in disordered eating. Women are taught from a young age that thin is beautiful and sexy, which can affect self-esteem and self-worth. Women often learn their value depends on how much they weigh and how they look. Rarely does one see models in magazines, who are of normal weight, more common are models who are thin, or anorexic. It is not uncommon to see very young girls dressing sexy like older women.

When in the depths of an eating disorder, the only relief, often is acting out, overeating, under eating and throwing up, which numbs feelings. A common binge food is ice-cream, which can freeze you from the inside out, and makes food come back up with ease. Not eating can give you a light headed, out of body experience. Anorexics are uncomfortable with the feeling of weightedness which comes from eating. They don’t want to feel or be embodied. Quite often, anorexics are not able to control what is happening in their lives, and the one thing they can control is what they put into their mouth.

Those with eating disorders can be isolated, as the compulsive eating generally is not done in front of others. More often the eating is done in private, in a car or behind closed doors. This is not a social illness like alcoholism can be. People with eating disorders do not generally go out with others, and eat together. It is disgusting to throw up in public bathrooms, though bulimics will eat food left by others, eat out of the garbage, and throw up in dirty public bathrooms. Food is expensive, and bulimics can resort to stealing food, and might be caught up in the legal system to support their habit. It is a very difficult addiction to stop, and for some, can go on for years. Often eating disorders begin in the teenage years. Treatment can be successful, and shorter, if the eating disorder is caught early.

Over time eating disorders can involve medical issues, such as electrolyte imbalance, heart problems, and organs shutting down. The body is being starved of the very things it needs to survive. Alcoholics can stop drinking and live, but people with eating disorders need food to live. They cannot stop eating.

A person can become bulimic with exercise. You get rid of body weight with excessive exercise, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. People control their bodies, alter their moods, and define themselves through excessive exercise, and continuing to engage in it despite adverse consequences.

A form of anorexia which is becoming more common is Orthorexia, which is obsession with healthy eating through extreme limitation of foods, even eliminating entire food groups, such as carbohydrates or fats. Veganism, Raw Food Diet, Paleo Diet, fasting or multiple other diets, can be taken to extremes. Diets generally are not sustainable and don’t work for people with eating disorders, as often the diet or fast ends with binging.
Healing eating disorders is a thoughtful, consistent unraveling of distorted thinking and eating. When you look in the mirror and see a fat person, it takes time to learn to love oneself into right thinking. Self-love and self-confidence are more attractive than starving oneself into thinness. Reversing self defeating beliefs takes time, self-reflection and working on yourself. As you heal, there is a deeper appreciation of finding deeper meaning in life, engaging in fulfilling work, helping others, spending time in nature, seeking out adventure and travel, and developing loving relationships with others who see your beauty. Feelings come up when you stop burying them with excess food and diets.

I encourage you to find a therapist who is loving, truthful, patient and has experience working with eating disorders. For some, Overeaters Anonymous is helpful, as it is a little like group therapy with supportive people with similar issues. If you are a parent with a child with an eating disorder, please get them help right away. Good luck on your journey. Don’t be hard on yourself, and forgive yourself quickly.

“It’s never too late, it's never too bad, you’re never too old, you’re never too sick to start from scratch once again, to be born once again”

Bikram Choudhury 

Artist unknown

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