Archive for the ‘Eating Disorders’ Category

As I shared here and here, my eating disorder (binge & compulsive overeating) has been on my mind pretty much non-stop for the past week. Yesterday was not a good day. So far, I am doing okay today, but the day has just begun.

This is not the first time that I have tried to overcome this eating disorder, nor is it the second, third, fourth, fifth … you get the picture. Perhaps this is the first time that I have been this present in my body while doing this – I don’t know. All I know is that I am overwhelmed by the amount of anxiety I feel from minute to minute.

There is nothing in my day-to-day life to account for this. Yes, this is a busy week with my job (which is why I am frantically typing this out and will post this blog entry in real time), but that would not make me feel shaky and anxious. I think I am finally beginning to appreciate why I have battled this eating disorder since I was 12 – I eat all the time because I am anxious all the time. Eating medicates the anxiety. When I stop eating, there is nothing to temper the anxiety, which drives me back. Bottom line – In the short run, I would rather be fat than live feeling that way.

Yesterday, the anxiety was so bad that, by 2:00 p.m., I took a Xanax. Within an hour, the anxiety eased, but it was replaced by depression. I just wanted to curl into a ball and cry. It was awful. I tried to slow down. I actually watched an hour-long show on TV without exercising (I had exercised earlier in the day) so I could sit and do nothing for an hour. That got me so sleepy that I went to bed early.

This morning, I was still feeling blah until I stepped on the scale and saw that I have lost seven pounds. That bumped me into a lower set of numbers, which made me happy. So, I guess I now have the drive to continue fighting again. It is really hard, though.

What kills me is that I was a skinny little kid before the eating disorder took hold of me. Without an eating disorder, I would probably be a naturally slim woman. However, my life is what it is. I cannot change was happened in the past. I can try to work through the anxiety of today. I just have to take it one day at a time.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I wrote my blog entry entitled Me, My D@#$ Eating Disorder, and Physicals last week right after I saw the doctor. It is now almost a week later, and I guess I am doing okay. It depends upon how you look at it.

I have already lost five pounds since I saw her because getting triggered like that forces me to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. (Like most people with a history of child abuse, moderation is not my strength.) It really does not feel like a choice. Something inside of me takes over, and I am simply along for the ride.

For six days, I have had rice milk for breakfast (which is normal) and an Ensure for lunch (which is not). The Ensure wasn’t that bad. I chose the chocolate flavor, which is tasty, so it was kind of like eating something “bad” that was chalk full of vitamins … but I digress.

I ate a light dinner, and I would eat a couple of snacks of fruit each day. None of this is “bad” for my body, but it is “bad” for my emotional self. That pretty much captures my lifelong dilemma. When I listen to my emotions, I will pass up anything good for myself and consistently choose junk. When I listen to my body and feed it with healthy things, it is more of an “up yours” to my emotional self. For whatever reason, I have a very hard time achieving a balance.

I actually was successful for 11 months in eating in moderation, and I lost a lot of weight. It was so easy, too! But, since I “fell off the wagon,” I cannot seem to get myself back to that place. Instead, I stay at war within myself, either eating way too much or avoiding healthy choices like fruits and veggies, or I eat what is good for my body but for the wrong reasons, which does a number on my head.

What concerns my doctor is that my father dropped dead from a heart attack when he was only three years older than I am now, and he was overweight. I am fully aware that moving from medicating myself through food to Xanax is exchanging one crutch for another, but that feels like the most appealing option at the moment.

I guess what bothers me the most is how out of control I feel about this area of my life. In so many other respects, I have been successful in healing myself. When it comes to food, though, I feel just about as lost as I always have. Objectively, I have made progress, but even my progress seems a long way away from healthy.

Some of you have offered some great suggestions. I do plan to check out the links and video. (This is a busy week at my job, which is why I am writing in “real time” instead of writing ahead.) I am trying not to judge myself but, instead, have compassion on the hurting little girl inside who needs food for comfort while, at the same time, take care of my body. It is not an easy balance.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I had my yearly physical, and I entered into it with trepidation. Last year, I told the nurse and doctor not to tell me my weight. I was up front with my doctor about having a long history of an eating disorder. She was so cool about it – much better than any doctor I have worked with before. Then, her nurse left me a message that included the dreaded number and advice to lose weight. I was incredibly triggered, and that kicked off another round of eating disorder h@#$.

So, I decided that, this time, I would flat refuse to step on the scale. That was my game plan up until that morning. Then, something inside of me said that I needed to treat my physical reality the same as my emotional reality – quit hiding from it, face it head on, and heal it. So, I stepped on my home scale for the first time in years and was shocked by the number – the highest I have even seen. (Ironically, I still wear size 8 jeans, which is what I wore in high school, so the number really took me by surprise.)

I went to the appointment shaky but not afraid of hearing the number. The doctor forgot to review my chart about the eating disorder and began a candid discussion about what has changed in my life because I have gained 8 or 9 pounds since last year. I had a panic attack right there in her office, complete with uncontrollable crying and shaking. (She immediately wrote me a prescription for Xanax.)

I then went on to talk about the horrors of my childhood and that it is by the grace of G*d that I am only struggling with weight and not a drug addiction or prostitution. She was very kind, patient, and apologetic.

The doctor then asked what I eat for breakfast. I surprised her by saying a cup of rice milk with my vitamins along with a cup of orange juice. I told her that my eating patterns are just fine during the day. It is as the sun goes down and I feel unsafe that I eat. This, combined with my attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) child being out of control in the evenings, puts me over the edge, and I eat to stay sane. She encouraged me to drink more red wine in the evenings (I drink ½ a glass a few days a week – she said go up to 1 to 2 glasses a day) and/or the Xanax (which is the lowest dosage they make) every evening to help manage my anxiety. Her thinking is that, if I can manage the anxiety in other ways, I will not need to rely so much on food.

I am going to try this and hope that it helps. I am trying very hard not to fall back into the trap of destructive thinking that goes along with the eating disorder. I am trying to be kind to myself and nurture the wounded little girl who wants to wrap herself in fat to avoid being raped again. It is just very hard. Of all of the aftereffects of my hellish childhood, the eating disorder is my strongest and most persistent enemy.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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What is Binge Eating?

Many people are not even aware that there are more than two types of eating disorders. When they hear the word eating disorder, most people think about anorexia nervosa. Many people are also aware of the eating disorder of bulimia nervosa. Not as many people would identify binge eating as an eating disorder.

Binge eating has a lot in common with bulimia except that the person does not purge after the binge. People who struggle with binge eating tend to wrestle with their weight because they eat very large quantities of food in a single sitting. Many people who struggle with binge eating also struggle with compulsive overeating, which is a “cousin” of binge eating but not necessarily the same thing.

A person who struggles with binge eating feels a very strong urge to consume large quantities of food in a single sitting. The person might go through multiple “courses” of food, such as eating a big bowl of popcorn, following by a candy bar, and then another “snack.” If a binge is particularly strong, the person might not be able to get the food into her body fast enough, shoving the food into her mouth with intensity.

Compulsive overeating is a little different. A compulsive overeater might still consume a large amount of food in a single sitting, but the intensity is different. The person might have already eaten dinner but still feels a strong pull toward eating a large dessert, even though he has had plenty to eat already. He eats the dessert because it will make him “feel better,” even though he is not still hungry.

The intensity of the binge eating is the big difference between the two eating disorders. For example, I went on a diet (very bad idea for anyone with an eating disorder) and removed all junk food from the house. I had such an intense compulsion to binge that I dug out the cocoa from the cabinet and made a cake from scratch, just so I would have junk food to binge on. When the cake was ready, I could not get large pieces of cake into my mouth fast enough.

People who struggle with binge eating try to hide the quantity of food that they are eating from their family and friends. They will binge when nobody else is around. They hide the wrappers so nobody will see a whole bunch of them in the garbage.

In the short term, the binge eating is quite successful in short-circuiting the deep emotional pain. However, the person winds up feelings guilty and ashamed, which adds to the bad feelings that are fueling the behavior in the first place. This creates a vicious cycle that is very difficult to break.

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I have shared before that I have struggled with a life-long battle with binge eating to manage my emotions. I have had success at times with eating like a “normal” person, but I will likely always be susceptible to binge eating, particularly whenever I get triggered.

I have been doing a little bit better lately. One thing that works well for me when I am in a good place is to let my body tell me when I have had enough to eat. I have no concept of what is a “normal” portion of food, and allowing another person to “limit” how much I eat has always backfired. Binge eating is one way that I take control over my emotions. Allowing someone else, whether that “someone else” is Lean Cuisine or whatever, to dictate my portion size triggers even more anxiety inside of me.

A few years ago, my sister told me that the human body sighs when it has had enough to eat. I did not believe her until I paid attention to my own body, and she was right! I need to stay present in my body (always a challenge) and eat slowly, paying attention to my body’s signals. When my body has had enough food, it sighs. I take that sigh as a “warning” sigh and eat about four more bites before my body sighs a second time. This sigh is generally deeper. Then, I stop eating.

When I am in a good place, this is very effective. I generally wind up eating five or six times a day but only small portions. I lose weight rapidly and, most importantly, I do not feel deprived. Choosing to stop eating before the food is gone is incredibly empowering to me because I am the one in control of how much I am eating, not anyone else.

When I can follow this lifestyle, everything is better. I lose weight, I rarely feel hungry, and I feel good about myself. It seems like I could stay in this place forever, and then I get triggered again. AARRGGHH!!

That is where I am now. I have been following my “sigh lifestyle” for the New Year. And then, I got triggered, and I could not stop myself from binge eating again. It is like this powerful force inside of myself that I simply cannot stop. I am not “choosing” to binge eat as much as I am along for the ride because nothing is going to stand in my way when I am in that place.

One positive thing I have learned is that I don’t have to stay there. I awoke the next morning and went right back to the “sigh lifestyle” with no issues. I have learned not to put a lot of energy into hating myself for “falling off the wagon” because I cannot change the past. All I can do is make better choices right now in the present moment and be compassionate and understanding that I will sometimes mess up, and that’s okay.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Cave (c) Lynda Bernhardt Over the weekend, my family sat for a family portrait. Our church updates its pictorial directory every five years or so. If we will sit for a family portrait, then we receive a free church directory and a free 8 x 10 photo of our family. Considering that we never have family pictures taken, we can thank our church for getting us to actually sit and do this as a family.

I used to hate to get my picture taken. I was always so critical, especially of my weight. I was very self-conscious and felt an enormous amount of self-hate whenever I looked at a picture of myself. I thought I would have these issues again.

When we first signed up for our time slot, I remember calculating how many pounds I could lose before picture day. I do not diet because doing so only fuels my eating disorder. I also do not weigh myself for the same reason. Instead, I try to be loving to my body, which includes maintaining my weight to continue fitting into the same sized clothing.

So, for the first time in … probably ever … I did nothing to prepare for picture day. I fixed my hair and chose a nice shirt, but I did not turn this picture day into something that took on a life of its own. I did not worry about this being the picture that I would be stuck with for the next five years until we have another picture taken.

Instead, I thought about how this picture will be an accurate representation of who I am today. Depending upon where I go tomorrow, the picture could show how much I have improved my body by losing weight, or I might look back and think about how great I looked then compared to now. Regardless of which way it goes, this is who I am today, and I do not need to pretend to be something I am not.

After sitting for the photographer, the three of us got to choose which pose we liked the best. For the first time in … definitely ever … I did not judge my weight. I did not even freak out when the photographer said that we could pay more to touch up our blemishes like our wrinkles. I noticed that I had some crow’s feet in my picture, but I did not care. I told the photographer that we liked our blemishes and would pass on the touch up.

On the drive home, hub was all freaked about how “old” he looked, but I was completely okay. I am still okay, and that is amazing for me. This is one of those moments where I can celebrate how far I have come. What my body looks like is not the same thing as who I am. While I love and care for my body, it is just a body. My body does not define me.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Woman holding bottle (c) Lynda Bernhardt

I have shared in other posts that I have struggled with an eating disorder. My form of eating disorder is called binge eating and compulsive overeating. It is pretty much like bulimia without the purging.

I developed the eating disorder when I was around twelve and entering puberty. I suspect that the hormones triggered very strong reactions to all of the sexual abuse that I had suffered at a younger age. Also, I did continue to suffer from sporadic sexual abuse throughout my teen years whenever some of my abusers would come to visit.

My therapist was not concerned about the eating disorder. He recognized that I was using food to meet my emotional needs. As I worked through my emotional needs, I would no longer have the need to abuse food, so the eating disorder would resolve itself.

To a certain extent, my therapist was correct. The intensity of the eating disorder went down dramatically after I worked through many of my child abuse issues in therapy. However, I remain vulnerable to the eating disorder, and that continues to frustrate me.

Whenever I start feeling the compulsion to overeat, I know that I have emotional stuff I need to face. However, I am not always aware of the specific issue that I need to face, and that can be very frustrating. At other times, I would simply rather eat a bag of chips than deal with or work through another painful thing in my life.

I find that I am becoming much more aware of the ways in which I use food to meet my emotional needs. However, seeing it and stopping it are often two different things. I try to keep focusing on the positives, such as the fact that I have maintained a fairly steady weight for almost two years now. It hasn’t been perfect, but I have made great strides, especially considering that I have been battling an eating disorder for almost 30 years now.

Still, the overachiever in me wants to be finished with the eating disorder. I want food to stop having mystical powers to help or harm and just be nourishment. I wonder if I will ever truly get there or whether this issue will forever remain a thorn in my side.

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Magenta Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

I had an appointment with a new doctor yesterday. I have had bad luck with retaining primary care physicians (PCPs). For whatever reason, they keep leaving the practice!

I have been without a PCP for a while now. I do not generally need to see a doctor until cold and flu season. I figured I had better go ahead and find a new doctor now that this time is upon us.

So, I found a doctor who is new to a practice near my house. I did not know a thing about her other than that she takes my health insurance, which is obviously a plus. I had my “well visit” today to get to know her and transfer over my medical information.

I really like her. We established a good rapport pretty quickly. She is very knowledgeable about a number of issues in my health history, so I feel really good about this relationship.

So, when we were finishing up, I found the courage to say the words, “I used to have an eating disorder.” Man, that was hard. I felt the tears hovering a few times, but I was able to hold them back the whole time. This is not information that I usually share with my medical professionals.

She was so cool about it. I told her that it was binge eating but not purging. She asked, “Do you mean bulimia?” I said, “No. I do the binge eating, but I don’t throw it back up.” She looked at me funny and said, “Then how do you stay so thin, because you are clearly not overweight.” (Did I mention that I really like this woman!?!!) She asked if I starved myself afterward, and I said no.

I told her that I have been managing it much better for the past 18 months but that I still never got obese because I typically binged on lower fat and lower calories foods. She confirmed that what you eat can be just as important as how much you eat.

She looked back over my recent blood work and could tell that I am eating better these days. Apparently, eating disorders can cause red flags in your triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels.

She cautioned me that, once you have an eating disorder, you will be vulnerable to it for the rest of your life. I told her that I knew this. One difference is that I have healed most of what fueled the behavior. Also, when I “fall off the wagon,” I no longer beat myself up over it. I just pick myself up and try to do better tomorrow.

I am really proud of myself for opening up to this new doctor.

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Frog Statue (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Many abuse survivors struggle with eating disorders. Eating disorders are a way to manage emotional pain. For many years, the only form of eating disorder that most people acknowledged was anorexia nervosa. However, today we recognize that there are many different forms.

Anorexia Nervosa

People who struggle with anorexia nervosa greatly limit their caloric intake and can become very thin. In most cases, the drive behind the disorder is control. In the case of an abuse survivor, she had no control over her body when she was being abused, but she can control what goes into it today. Many women who struggle with anorexia nervosa also feel a strong drive to be invisible. By becoming physically smaller, they feel more shielded from others. Eating a regular portion of food is very difficult because the person fears losing control and being “seen.”


People who struggle with bulimia compulsively overeat and then force themselves to purge the food they have just eating through vomiting, laxatives, or both. The drive behind this disorder can go in two directions. The appeal to some is the “stuffing down” of the painful emotions. By overeating, they are able to “stuff down” the pain so that they do not feel it. The purging is more of a way to control weight gain. For others, the appeal is the purging aspect. When they purge the food, they symbolically purge the pain so they do not have to feel it.

Compulsive Overeating/Binge Eating

People who struggle with compulsive overeating and/or binge eating have a similar disorder to bulimia without the purging. These people might exercise frequently or eating lower calorie foods to manage their weight because of the vast quantity of food they are consuming. Others might want to be in a larger body because they equate being in a smaller body with being vulnerable to abuse.

A binge is when the person cannot get enough food into her body fast enough. Compulsive overeating is less intense and rushed but still involves eating much more food than the body needs. By binging and overeating, the person “stuffs down” the painful emotions.

Other Eating Disorders

There are many other forms of eating disorders, but all center around using food to manage emotions. The eating disorders can manifest in a variety of ways. Some people starve themselves all day and then binge at night. Others limit themselves to only one type of food for days or weeks at a time. While these forms of eating disorders might not be as well known to the general public, they are a very real struggle to those who wrestle with them.

If you struggle with an eating disorder, you are not alone. Eating disorders are very common among adult survivors of childhood abuse. Recognizing that your eating patterns are not normal is an important first step to healing from them. An eating disorder is a coping tool you are using to manage your pain. The more you can lean on more positive coping tools, the less you will need to lean on your eating disorder. See Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse for a list of positive coping tools.

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