Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Consequence of Changing your Relationship with Food.

It Doesn't Have to be All or Nothing

I heard on the radio that the odds of winning this lottery, this multi, multi million dollar lottery, are less than the odds of getting struck by lightening.

Imagine if...
Yet in my office Patty talked about how winning this bundle of money would change her life, how she wouldn't be able to stay in the same place she's at. People would expect things from her, and in many ways it would add some stress. She spoke as if this change could happen, as if it were real enough to taste.

What would happen if you had a life-changing relationship with food? If you had fully recovered from your anorexia, your bulimia, your binge eating disorder? If you had healthily lost weight to a normal range? 

In some ways, this is so thrilling, so liberating, so refreshing. Like winning millions, it may certainly change things for better. You're likely to feel better, physically and psychologically. It may resolve some stress, allowing you to feel lighter. And it may open up some options. You may be less preoccupied with food and eating, freeing up your mental energy for more appealing thoughts. You may become less isolated, allowing yourself to socialize, with or without food.

Can you allow yourself to enjoy the benefits of change
without fearing the consequences?
Yet in other ways, it's rather frightening. What will I lose if I let go of food, my best friend, as my means of coping?What will be expected of me—by my friends or family members? Will they support me or be threatened by my progress? Will I have to take steps to move on in life, or can I hover where I'm at?

But you're not obligated to change; the choice remains yours and yours alone. If you don't want to move up professionally, that's your choice. No interest in dating? Again your prerogative. Change can be scary, but you can be selective about what you change; you can enjoy the benefits of  feeling better, while staying put in every other area of your life—if you should choose to.

Here's an update on several of my patients you've read about, to make this point.

Ready to tackle whatever comes his way!
Remember Maggie, with her history of emotional and compulsive overeating, unhappy with her climbing weight, her newly diagnosed diabetes and her chronic knee problems? She had struggled with disordered thoughts and behaviors for several decades.  By changing her relationship with food and without disordered behaviors Maggie's weight is down over 152 lbs. Now she chooses to step out of her house more than she had before. Knee surgery is now an option, but she's not quite ready to deal with surgery.

Always fearful of being in a body of water, she decided to get past her fears with the aid of her therapist, and now goes to water aerobics several times weekly. In the past, she could neither face her fears of the water nor of donning a bathing suit.

She's finally content and able to speak her mind.
How about ErinShe's the one who was subjected to the rudeness of clueless, assuming strangers—one in particular, who had the audacity to comment on her eating while she mindfully sat in her parked car, eating her snack when she was hungry—simply following my recommendation to respect her body's signals. She recently brought a giant grin to my face, as she related this story:

“That’ll teach me to eat while driving”, she told the dry cleaner last week, handing him her  food-splattered jacket. Struggling with a recent GI issue, she had some reflux after she had consumed her meal at home, before heading to my office. And while driving, the food decided to revisit. No fault of hers. And so she made a stop at the cleaners and playfully commented about her “inappropriate” eating.

To even be able to joke, to not feel ashamed of her eating, to have the confidence and to choose to speak up—now that's the result of a shift in thinking.

Like Maggie, she too has lost a large percentage of her weight, a total of 101 lbs as of today, yet she remains overweight. She is still not comfortable traveling in planes (the seats are just not comfortable for her) and she doesn't like the uncomfortable feeling of being in Europe where the cars and most people are smaller. But now she has set her sight on a trip, a chance to visit relatives abroad—when she feels she can better manage it physically.  But she's definitely not waiting to start speaking up and sharing her thoughts!

I heard from Daniel after several years—he had worked with me and successfully recovered from his anorexia. He spoke about finding his passions—currently theater and track—and is now applying to colleges. His life is no longer filled with medical appointments, nor with thoughts about calories, “good” foods versus “bad” foods. He finally chooses  to fully enjoy life.

Laura could have fallen back on her binge eating during this stressful time. Dealing with her recent divorce, and the chronic lack of support from her husband, overeating held a lot of appeal. Yet somehow she hasn't slipped. She's gone through challenges for sure. Yet she's well aware that binge eating is a choice, and the risks and consequences are much greater than any short term benefit. She continues to impress me with her awareness and her ability to put fear aside and face her many challenges.

Change doesn't have to be so scary!
I could go on, really I could. There are many, many clients with similar successes. Why share? Because at some point they were all petrified of change. Because in spite of knowing that where you are at is not a place you want to stay, the fear of change can feel paralyzing.

You have choices. And as long as you're in a safe place, medically stable, you can make change one small step at a time. Maybe it's time to take the first step?

You are safe to share your thoughts here! I'd love to hear from you.


  1. Thanks for sharing these stories. It is so nice to see success marked by changed behaviors and not pounds loss. Who cares about the numbers? I care about changing my relationship with food and my body?

    1. And ironically, "Erin" who is easily double my weight in spite of her 100 lb. weight loss, has a better health profile than me by far--no chronic disease, no hypertension-yet she's the one more likely to have assumptions made about her eating and her health by the medical community!

  2. The hardest thing for me about changing my relationship with food was not all of the obvious stuff (though that was a part of it as well), but the loss of identity. It's shattering to define yourself by your faults with food and how others view your body for your entire life and then to face the gaping empty when that starts to disappear. This is something you have far less choice about than deciding to date or not or whatever other concrete things people are apprehensive about. In the psychological quilt that makes up who you see yourself to be, changing your relationship with food, and as a consequence, your body, rips out huge squares of what you once were.

    1. Thanks for this very honest and insightful comment! No, it's not easy. Therapy is enormously useful, as you give up a part of who you are, how you have always seen yourself. Starting to recognize what else you're all about--your strengths, your passions, your interests--is key. Start with small slits, not major rips to start!

  3. I still find if hard to believe that recovery is possible. I guess I know it's possible for some but I don't think I'll ever be "normal." I can't imagine not caring about what it is I'm eating and not giving it a second thought. I can't imagine not working out all the time. I can't imagine not caring about how much I weigh. I just feel like this is how my life is going to be, and it's not all that bad, I don't obsess all the time.

    1. thing is- maybe its not all that bad, but there are so many other options. prison life isnt that bad really. People become institutionalised my thier illnesses-given particular fixed ways of thinking about themselves and others and unable to live without those patterns. Yeah how things are for you now is easier than changing, but it isnt that supportable compared to the end point.
      I feel like a huge hypocrite though. I cant shift my desire to be thinner.

    2. Perhaps, PTC, that's the first thing that needs to shift--your belief in recovery. And thank you, Ruth, for your response. For the record, the desire and your unhealthy thoughts may be the last things to go. But at least start with the actions--even eating more adequately will begin to shift things.

  4. But how can you eat more adequately if you have no desire to gain weight? Also, I don't know why I have to eat more if I'm not hungry. I eat when I'm hungry and that should be good enough.

  5. This sounds so appealing yet I admit that I have no idea how to go about it.

    1. Read through the old posts--perhaps that will help. Check out the posts labeled mindful eating and changing your thinking to get you started.