Eating Disorders & Weight Loss
In an ideal world food should simply be an enjoyable way to fuel the body.
However, in some instances, food has become inextricably linked with emotional messages that have nothing whatsoever to do with nourishing the body.
Food can be used as a reward; the only way some people know how to demonstrate affection is by lavishing food. Others use it as a punishment: forcing children to finish everything from their plate, or sending them to bed hungry for a misdemeanour. This can have two different outcomes – children can punish parents by rejecting their food, or they attempt to gain control “At least I will be in charge of what I put in my mouth”.
What goes on around the table at mealtimes when people come together – silence, talk or fighting? I once worked with a client who suffered from numerous food allergies. When I asked her what actually happened at mealtimes, she described constant bickering. Gradually she became aware that her stomach (where she stored her nervous energy) was always churning and tightly clenched during mealtimes. When she worked with this underlying anxiety generated by her family’s aggression, many of her allergies disappeared.
So when we separate out the enjoyable aspect of eating, unburdening it of any emotional baggage, we learn to approach our food in a completely neutral way. In so doing, we digest and assimilate our food in a natural, healthy way.
The media constantly project the message that slim people are attractive, sexy, successful and popular.
Teenagers (especially girls) are particularly susceptible to this propaganda; body image and “belonging” are very important to them. If they already have a poor self image and low confidence, they may attribute their lack of social skills to their body shape and try to make themselves desirable by starving themselves.
Anorexia often occurs in a family or social environment where adults over control, and their high expectations cause the adolescent to respond with anger and rebellion. The teenager will strive to find their boundaries and some measure of control by refusing to eat in order to feel they have some autonomy. Unable to face the real issues of low self-esteem and emotional pain, they substitute an obsessive attitude towards food and body shape.
Puberty is a time when teenagers seek to establish their boundaries – “This is who I am”. If the adolescent cannot break free of the parents’ influence or is afraid to become independent, they may cling to childhood by attempting to slow their bodies’ growth. In prolonged cases of undernourishment, menstruation stops. Starvation inflicted on a developing body does enormous damage – the body’s defences weaken resulting in exhaustion and illness.
I focus on the person’s life situation; what’s occurring in the family, in school, and among their peers rather than on how many calories they take in every day. I work to identify how this child/adolescent feels disempowered, blocked or out of control. Having established that, I work to help them improve their confidence, body image and sense of self worth. I also provide guidance and advice on healthy eating and lifestyle.
Anorexia and bulimia often occur together. Where bulimia occurs alone, the sufferer may have normal weight or be only slightly overweight.
Their outward appearance of confidence and health masks a deep sense of self loathing and shame.
Their despair and fear of gaining weight drives them to repeat the addictive cycle of binging and purging. Bulimic people don’t trust their body’s normal healthy capacity to metabolise calories – they fear that unless they purge after eating, they will gain weight.
- Dehydration and Nutritional Deficiencies causing tooth decay (from gastric acid), osteoporosis, brittle hair, nails and dry skin
- Constipation and flatulence from over use of laxatives
- Digestive disorders; damaged stomach, peptic ulcers
- Weakened immune system – increased illness and slow recovery
- Electrolyte imbalance leading to heart palpitations
- Menstrual disorders, infertility and/or miscarriage
Bulimic people are highly secretive and go to great lengths to disguise their eating and purging binges. Sometimes they think “I’ve already eaten too much, I might as well binge now – I can purge later”, at other times they carefully plan their binges in advance. Whether overeating occurs spontaneously or planned in advance, bulimics obsessively plan their purges to occur when they are alone and unobserved.
Instead of the tendency to plan binges in advance, I use this planning tendency to develop present moment awareness and increased self observation.
I then focus on dealing with the core issues underlying the emotional pain – essential for lasting change. I use a combination of techniques to help identify the negative conditioning that contributes to their low self image, and to release the grief that underlies their sense of emptiness and self loathing. In this way, a sense of true self worth can blossom naturally.