Posts Tagged ‘Eating Disorders’

As you have probably noticed through my blog, I can be very hard on myself. I stay so focused on where I want to go and how much work is still needed to get there that I lose track of how far I have come. It’s like I have already run 25 miles of a marathon and get frustrated with myself for tiring at the thought of the mile ahead of me. I don’t think to look back and celebrate how far I have come. I am too busy being frustrated with how far I have to go.

Thankfully, sometimes I will notice changes in myself, and I marvel at how much progress I have made. This happened last week with Halloween. For most of my adult life, I struggled with the eating disorder of binge eating. Halloween was tough for me. I had these fabulous bags of chocolate candy in the house, and I would wrestle with myself. I would want to eat all of the bags of candy but knew I couldn’t. I would sneak some of the candy bars, hoping my husband wouldn’t notice. I would also sneak candy bars between visits from trick-or-treaters.

Contrast this with Halloween this year. I knew we had several bags of candy in the house but did not care. I was not remotely tempted to have any. In fact, if I had wanted some, I would have had one or two snack-sized bars with no guilt. Since I had “permission” to eat them, they lost their appeal, and I didn’t want them. I don’t recall eating any candy, either, while waiting for trick-or-treaters. If I did, it was only one or two, and it’s no big deal if I did or didn’t.

When my son was younger, I could not refrain from sneaking candy from his Halloween stash. This year, I don’t care about that, either. My son has been sweet and offered me a few bites here and there, which I appreciate. I don’t feel “tempted” to eat it, nor do I feel like I need willpower to resist it. It’s just candy. Believe me, that was not my attitude toward candy a few years ago.

So, I am making progress. In many areas, such as with the eating disorder, the progress has been so slow that it has been in baby steps. The changes inside of me have been so tiny that they have been barely perceptible until I take a look back. There wasn’t some “moment” when I magically changed over from being obsessed with Halloween candy to being indifferent to it, and yet is has happened. It’s a miracle to me, but a very slow one.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Rainbow (c) Lynda BernhardtOn my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

… however much I accept they [self-injury compulsions] are a byproduct it doesn’t make them easier to cope with them and eventually the MUST be eliminated…….for my survival………and I only know one way to do that. How do I change this? What do people do to stop themselves? I hate myself for being so weak. ~ Sam

Compulsions are normal aftereffects of child abuse, and masturbation through self-injury is a normal aftereffect for people who have been severely sexually abused. Many people find my blog believing that they are the only one who struggles with masturbation through self-injury, but that one blog entry has over 150 comments, all of them related to trying to heal from this. You are not alone.

While I do not have personal experience with healing from this form of compulsion, I do have experience with self-injury (head-banging) and binge eating. My compulsion to binge eat was my most deeply-ingrained compulsion, which is why I am going to use it as my example in this blog entry. Don’t get caught up in the form of the compulsion. What worked for me with binge eating can also work for you, no matter what form of compulsion you are dealing with.

Step one is to stop feeding the shame. This was my cycle, which applies to any type of compulsion. I would binge eat. I would then feel guilty and shameful about binge eating, telling myself I was a fat cow and a terrible person for eating so much food. This would heap new shame on top of the old shame, and the only way I knew to get some relief from the shame was to binge eat again, which I would do, which fueled more shame, which led to more bingeing. It was a never-ending cycle that I repeated just about daily since I was age 11.

Step two was to give myself permission to binge eat. Let’s face it – I was going to do it, anyhow, so I was only acknowledging my reality. I would binge eat with no guilt. This took a little wind out of my sails because I was no longer heaping new levels of shame onto the “old” shame.

Step three was to explore other avenues to deal with the shame. I tried things like yoga, meditation, exercise, watching a comedy on TV, calling a friend, and writing in a journal. What works for me might not work for you, but explore other ways to manage the shame. Do this parallel with the compulsion.

Step four is to give yourself a cooling off period. When you feel the compulsion, give yourself permission to do it in 15 minutes. During those 15 minutes, try the other strategies you have explored. If you still feel the compulsion after 15 minutes, do it with no guilt. I found that I only gave in to binge eating about half the time after a 15-minute cooling off period, and I built confidence that binge eating was not the only way to self-soothe.

Step five is the most important – focus on healing the pain that is driving the shame that is driving the compulsion. Get into therapy if you aren’t already. Work through the Survivor to Thriver Manual or another healing book. Talk or write about your history. As you heal the pain, you will feel less compulsion to engage in the activity you want to break.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. My healing from binge eating has been so gradual that I only recently recognized that I haven’t had a true “binge” in months! I will still emotionally overeat sometimes, but my weight has dropped by 15 lbs without dieting over the last couple of years, and it otherwise stays stable. I used to go up and down by 30 lbs a year. Healing a compulsion is possible. I know because I am doing it!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I was waiting on my hairdresser yesterday when the cover of Redbook magazine caught my eye. Trust me – that is unusual for me! The cover was advertising an article inside about the real reasons that women have trouble losing weight. I flipped over to the article curious to see if my observations (the need for more rest and sleep) would be included. Instead, I was treated to more insights that I had never considered.

The article is about Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God. According to the article, the author had been binging and dieting for 17 years and was just “done” with the cycle. She says that she stopped dieting, started listening to what her body wanted to eat, and settled into her “natural” weight. You can read the Redbook article here.

The author touched upon an area of compulsive overeating that I had never considered but that really hit home for me. Her first point is to “realize that the size of your body isn’t just about food.” She says that you have to look at the big picture and recognize that your relationship with food is expressing “all the self-defeating beliefs you have about yourself and your life.” She says that you cannot separate out the way you eat from the way you live. Wow!

Then, she provides a couple of examples. She says that the person who eats “on the run” and will not take time out to sit and enjoy a meal is expressing a belief that everything else in life is more important than you are. If you do this, you need to be asking yourself how you want to be spending your time. All of this ties in with my need to set aside time to rest and relax. I used to eat on the run, and now I do set aside a “lunch break” every day that I thoroughly enjoy.

Her other example was feeling guilty for eating one cookie. The author asks, “If you feel guilty for eating one cookie, for instance, what does that say about the pleasure you deprive yourself of in daily life?” This article has given me a lot to think about, and I might just have to order that book.

The article includes four other points:

2. Understand that weight loss isn’t everything — but it is something.

3. Go ahead and feel bad.

4. Believe that you deserve happiness.

5. Eat when you are hungry.

Her point in #3 about feeling badly is something I have been working on for years through therapy. I ate as a child to “stuff down” the painful emotions, and I have gotten much better about just allowing myself to “feel bad” for a little while. The pain always passes. I am still a work in progress with the other three points. It is point #1 that I really want to focus upon.

Again, here is the link to the article on overcoming food addiction.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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This week, I am focusing on triggers and how to deal with them. I was recently triggered by a nurse in my doctor’s office. Soon after I was triggered, I posted the following message on Isurvive.org, which is a message board for abuse survivors. The post fills you in on all you need to know. Tomorrow, I will get into how I dealt with the triggering after posting this message.

Triggered again re: eating disorder

D@#$!! I am so sick to death of being triggered every other day. I HATE this time of year.

Today, the trigger ties in with eating disorder, which is why I am posting here.

For most of my life, I have struggled with binge eating and compulsive overeating. I have made great progress over the past few years, but I have been slipping some (but not nearly as intensely) over the past several weeks as I keep getting triggered over and over again.

I have always had high cholesterol, no matter how “good” I try to be with my eating. It has been as high as 300+, and doctors want it under 200. I am now on Crestor (the “miracle drug”!!), and that has been working well.

I saw my doctor earlier this week for my six month cholesterol check in. I specifically told the nurse NOT to tell me my weight. If I hear a number, I sets me off badly — right back into self-hate land, which fuels the need to eat and … well, you get the picture.

She did not tell me the number. The doctor made a comment about me being a “normal” weight in relation to a conversation we were having, but that was it.

I know that I am not skinny and never will be. But, I wear a size 8 in relaxed fit jeans, which I figure is pretty good for someone who will be forty in the not-too-distant future. I am generally content with how I am.

So, now the nurse called to give me my results. My cholesterol is good — 187. Yeah!! Why couldn’t she have just stopped there??

Then she says that my triglycerides are too high. No s@#$. That always happens when I wrestle with my eating disorder. The doctor wants me to taking higher fish oil supplements to pull that down. Cool, I can do that.

And then, the d@#$ nurse says that my weight is up 6 lbs from last year. Already, the triggering starts. And then she says that someone of my age and height should weigh under ###. And then I was gone.

d@#$ d@#$ d@#$

Why did she have to leave that part of the message!?!!

So, now I have this number rolling around my head. I know it is just a number, but that doesn’t matter when I get triggered. I know that my weight is higher than “that” weight (or why else would she have said it?), so now my head is going all sorts of places that are likely not even accurate.

I also know that it was my time of the month, so I was bloated with water weight. In my head, I know that nothing has changed, but now I am back in that horrible place of being bombarded with those messages — “I’m fat. I’m worthless. I am this big cow who doesn’t even deserve to live.”

I know how to push through it all, but it p@$$es me off to no end that I HAVE to work through this crap again. My doctor knows about my eating disorder history, which is probably why she handled the weight stuff the way that she did. But that d@#$ nurse.

I hate this. I hate for other people to continue to have the power to push my buttons and send me reeling back to that horrible place. I hate it!! I hate it!! I hate it!!

– Faith


After the rain, the rainbow.

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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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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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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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