Eating disorders are hard to treat because there is not a “one size fits all” treatment manual. Sure we have the DSM-5-the treatment bible for practitioners but as my client’s know very well, I’m not a huge fan. They only list 6 disorders in the manual. And I see countless people in my office with slivers of eating disorders (ED). And just because they are not binging/purging or restricting at the level to warrant an ED diagnosis, that doesn’t mean they’re not struggling and in need of support. Or, perhaps they’ve seen their parents on diet’s his/her whole life and know they are just one diet away from using food in unhealthy ways-a patterned response with food.
One of the first things you’ll notice and the last thing to change in an Eating Disorder is body image. For some people, they believe there’s something wrong with their body so they restrict. And they are always thinking about food. And if they’re not thinking about food, they are restricting their food. And for others, they berate themselves for not restricting their food. Because, they want to change their body in some way.
There’s a belief that there is something wrong with their body and if they adjust what they are eating (or not eating) then it will be fixed. The two are related: that’s how disordered eating may begin.
But even after we recover, there’s a lingering body image issue. And we have Western culture to thank for that! We live in a culture that thinks the most significant part of who we are is our physical bodies. We ought to be thin, our skin young and wrinkle free. That is the body ideal that’s presented over and over again.
The diet industry is massive despite the fact that they don’t work and people pay sometimes with their lives (a bit dramatic yes but this is one avenue in which we enter the eating disorder realm).
The fast food industry also deserves to be mentioned. Dr. Tarman does a great job going into much detail in this podcast here. It’s important to note why you are going for fast food-think about the thoughts leading up to that decision. Sure, sometimes we want the convenience of fast food but when it’s every few days or every day, in other words, when it becomes a habit, it’s time to dig deeper.
A more specific part of our culture that contributes to body image issues is our Fat Phobia. We live in a society in which “fat is bad.” And if you’re a larger bodied individual, the ridicule and judgment is overwhelming. I once worked with someone who had lap band surgery (before we met) because they said “fat people don’t get promoted in my line of work.”
Even in basic conversation, the language we use is harmful. How often have you heard the phrase, “Oh you look great. Did you lose weight?” I believe it’s getting better but I know I’ve heard this on and off in my lifetime and was probably guilty of using said language as well.
And if that person was Anorexic and you told them they look “great” at their new weight. Well, now that person gets the message that “Wow, I’m only of value or I will only get noticed if I’m a certain weight.”
As I said before, eating disorders are about food and they’re not about food. So how do you straddle this paradox? Metaphors are great for this because with this form of grammar you are describing one thing by using another.
Take in a deep breath. Let yourself stare at a spot somewhere or close your eyes. Imagine you are on the banks of a ragging river. It’s pouring down rain. You slip and fall and are swept up in the rapids. You are drowning. You are getting pulled down through the rapids and along comes a log. You clasp your hands around the log. The log saves your life. It keeps your head above water when surely you would have drowned. And eventually it carries you to a place where the water is calm. And from there, you can see the riverbank but you can’t get there because of the log.
So the irony is the very thing that saved your life is now getting in the way of going where you want to go in life.
And to make things more complicated, there’s someone on that riverbank yelling, Let go of the log! Let go of the log! And you feel like an idiot because you can’t let go.
The way I see it is letting go of the log may not be the very best thing to do initially. Because what happens when you let go of the log and begin to swim to shore and get halfway there only to realize you don’t have the strength to make it all the way there.
That means you don’t have the strength to make it back to the log either, thus you are stuck. So what might you do instead?
You might want to let go of the log and try floating. And when you start to sink, grab back on. Then you let go of the log and practice treading water. See how that feels. And when you get tired, you grab back on. Finally, you let go of the log and practice swimming around it once, twice, 10 times, 100 times- whatever it takes for you to have the strength and confidence to make it to shore. Then you let go of the log.
Imagine thanking your inner self for knowing what it feels like to operate from a place of inner calm and confidence.
And when you’re ready, float your eyelids open.
As you noticed, I didn’t mention eating disorders or eating difficulties once. I’m talking about logs and rivers. Metaphors go in on a different part of the brain. It’s disarming. But I’m also talking about eating disorders and what is required for recovery.
When using storytelling and metaphors in the therapy room, I’ve noticed my client’s physically stay in the room longer and maybe it’s because they’re curious or they are able to go into their body more when we do this imaginative, guided imagery work.
Also, and maybe even more importantly, the shame is taken away! If you’re talking to someone about their disordered eating, the first thing that comes up is shame. “There’s something wrong with me.”
And they have this belief so it must be fact (Adina shaking her head violently NO!).
So instead, I used guided imagery, hypnotherapy, metaphor and storytelling in order to take the scenic route!
You don’t have to go through this alone! If you’re ready to move through this, then a counselor in Richmond, Va can help you in person and via online therapy.
To get started at Life Cycles Counseling, follow these simple steps: