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Archive for the ‘Eating Disorders’ Category

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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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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.”

Bulimia

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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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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