Untangling the Eating Disorder Web

I reflect back to when I was younger and I remember talking with my friends, laughing over music, movies, actors we had crushes on and I remember how much of my childhood was organic innocent and fun. I now think about times today and it baffles me how much the focus and conversations of todays youth has changed. Young girls and boys have become increasingly more aware and fixated over not only body image but overall appearance and image of self. The focus has become so heigntened and it only continues to grow. With today’s  celebrities, media fixations etc  the younger generation is being fed false images and personas that are impossible and dangerous to want to obtain. I do not blame any specific avenue for the increase in our younger generations precoccupation with self and image but I think there are many contributing components for what leads children at a younger age to develop a complex with their body, themselves and their self esteem.

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I like to compare an eating disorder to a spider spinning its web. It starts small but slowly and over time can continue to be spun and develop and grow bigger and bigger. As it develops it has unmeasurable strength and has developed into the foundation of what the spider lives on. Eating disorders are like the web. It is my mission to help clients untangle that web and remove the tangles that bind them. What makes an eating disorder one of the hardest things to overcome is, like the spider in its web, it becomes the source of survival and a sense of comfort and a home. Understanding this concept alone as a therapist has helped me to help those who are struggling. To understand and be able to empathize with the fact that for someone who has a an eating disorder it is serving a purpose in their lives, it is tangled within them, it is not who they are or a life they are choosing to live but it is what they are are tangled in. Understanding the many layers of their eating disorder web will help the therapist bring to light new revelations but most importantly empower a client to untangle themselves from the web and break free.

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I attended a very interesting talk from a wonderful woman in the eating disorder field, Anita Johnson and she imparted so much wisdom into me and how I will further expand on the way I treat eating disorders. One thing she spoke about really stuck out to me and it was her saying to look past the eating disorder behaviors. As a clinician in private practice or working in treatment centers one thing I have noticed clients say is not everything is related to their eating disorder. If a client is sad, resistant, angry, frustrated I have noticed the clinician will automatically assume it is caused by their eating disorder. This is where the danger lies because we are reducing their whole being to being fixated on the fact that they have an eating disorder. The message is being sent that ” you of course are only upset because you are suffering from your eating disorder, your eating disorder thoughts are causing your emotions for the day” My questions is can someone who has an eating disorder not be upset about anything else? As clinicians we have to be careful and examine all the layers that make up our clients, not ourselves be fixated on their behaviors and relating everything to it

Anita opened my eyes to this powerful revelation. The eating disorder behavior is a symptom of the pattern someone has within other aspects of their life. A powerful question to ask someone who is battling an eating disorder is to see in what other areas of their life are they restricting, binge purging, binging etc. You may be asking how does someone binge purge anything else but food, well here are some examples.

Restricting: Restricting relationships, restricting emotions, restricting pleasure, restricting work and jobs etc

Binge/Purge: Taking on too much and feeling overwhelmed and then needing to get rid of things. Taking on too many jobs, relationships, commitments etc

Binge: Never getting enough of or feeling fulfilled by: love, sex, work, school, friendships etc

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To look at how certain behaviors are translated into other areas of someones life can be rather freeing, to say look you are not just defined by your eating disorder, everything you do is not because you have an eating disorder it is your pattern in many other things. This pattern is serving a purpose in your life! As clinicians we need to help our clients discover their web and all its components and free themselves from it. We cannot continue to fixate on one part of the web and think it will be untangled we must be the facilitators to untangle the many dimension of an eating disorder and the many dimensions of our clients.  We must become the facilitators of change! 

To see more from Priscilla Jadallah watch her online series with Bryan Bixler titled 

Behind The Mask: Eating Disorders Unveiled

It’s not about the FOOD

Having worked with eating disorders for over five years I have had many conversations with many different clients. Each story is unique, the way their eating disorder started, the triggers they feel, how they used their eating disorder to cope, the reasons are all very different. One main point I always try to educate people about is no person who suffers or who has suffered from an eating disorder is the same. The behaviors, patterns may be similar but the underlying issues, reasons etc are all very different. One other point I try to educate people on and bring awareness to is that EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT ABOUT THE FOOD!  One common thing clients have come to me and said was, they were triggered or angered by a family member or friend telling them ” To just eat a burger” “Why can’t you just eat ” These types of  question comes from no fault of the person asking it but it does stem from a lack of understanding and education about the depths of an eating disorder. This is why my mission has always been to increase awareness and education because the more people can understand the many layers to the emotional aspects and causes of an eating disorder the better the support system of those who have an eating disorder can understand and cope themselves. My main message to people is that an eating disorder or any addiction for that matter does not discriminate, it does not care about your race, age, financial situation or gender. It can affect anyone anywhere the more we as a nation can understand eating disorders the more we can help those who are fighting them.

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The common assumption is that eating disorders are about an obsession or fear of food. That the main focus for someone with an eating disorder is a fear of getting fat and body image. While these are slightly true and what seems to be the most focused on, the reality is that an eating disorder like any other addiction or drug of choice is another avenue of emotional coping. It is another way to numb out, to feel a sense or release and to escape or avoid unwanted emotions. Anorexia, Bulimia & Binge Eating are also like a drug they give a person a sense of a high or release. The truth is that an eating disorder is often the cause of some sort of trauma, emotional event, life situation, or a number of many other factors.

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I also like to educate people to not blame the parents or family environment. Like anything else a child may have had very loving healthy parents but an outside source could have caused some emotional damage. A person with low self-worth or without a strong sense of identity may be more vulnerable. . This a why eating disorders  can occur at younger ages because at a younger age the identity is just forming and often times the opinion of peers is so important that it can shape how a young adult or child views themselves. I also often hear that people assume eating disorders are a way for someone to gain attention or  “attention seeking”. This infuriates me and further motivates me on my mission to educate. Someone does not choose to develop an eating disorder it is an all consuming disorder that if someone had a choice to just stop they would. It is like any addiction or disease once it reaches a certain point interventions must done to recover. This is why understanding the emotional background of the eating disorder is crucial to developing an appropriate response and treatment approach. Education at an early age is important. Bullying and the medias portrayal of beauty as well as our nations preoccupation with dieting etc are all contributing factors. 

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My message to everyone is do not judge anyone and assume their road is easy. Do not diminish the struggles and challenges someone may be facing. Instead be curious ask questions, educate yourselves there are too many stereotypes about eating disorders that we must break, we must make people aware of the reality. That there is much more to someone who is suffering from an eating disorder than a fear of getting fat and a fear of food. Look beyond what you see. 

Emotional Reactivity? Our Emotions are linked to our body.. What?

One thing I have noticed working with eating disorders is how much the emotional reactivity of someone affects their thoughts, actions and their body sensations.  The eating disorder behavior whether it be through restricting, purging, over exercising, or binging is usually an emotional reaction to a triggering event. I often hear stories such as a mother or father making a comment that is triggering, friends isolating or alienating someone, bullying, a romantic relationship gone awry, the eating disorder behavior is a way for someone to act out their chaotic emotions. I often ask a client of this reaction ” You did this to get back or punish the person who did you wrong or caused you pain but in the end who is it hurting” It often is reflected back to them, it hurts them and feeds into the cycle of self loathing and affirms the belief that they deserve to be punished. In attempting to punish someone else, the cycle ends up punishing them. One of the emotions that I hear come up is anger, anger is one of the most triggering emotions for someone who suffers from an eating disorder. Anger however is a secondary emotion, there is always a bigger emotion almost like the elephant in the room lingering behind anger. Often times we don’t know to to contain or process anger, that is why many people have coping outlets to deal with anger, shame, frustration etc. It can be alcohol, drugs, or eating disorder behaviors. Many times we respond in anger to the words or actions of someone in our life but not only are we responding to what they did or said but how we interpret the meaning of what was done or said. Your body takes on that energy and then inside you feel anger. Our body takes on our feelings and our emotions are what follows. 

One thing I really love to educate my clients on is how to separate from their emotions which is done by teaching emotional regulation. Those who suffer from an eating disorder often have a hard time even identifying the emotions that are stirred up in them so helping them to not only identify their emotions but how it affects their thoughts and body and then being able to regulate them is a powerful thing. That is why I love to work with clients to help them identify these emotions and learn how to think about them, cope with them so they can feel their feelings but not stay stuck in them. There are many great techniques for dealing with emotions, calm music, journaling one thing I find really helpful is opposite action. Opposite Action is a skill from DBT ( Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) .

This skill educates you on one basic fact, every emotions has a leading action. If we feel fear we have an instinct to hide or run away, if we feel sadness we cry etc.

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The second point of Opposite Action is that our actions affect our emotions. It is described as a cycle so if we change our actions we can in turn change our emotions, just as if we change how we deal with our emotions we can change our actions. The big question to ask yourself is ‘Does the situation actually justify the emotion?’ This question will help you know when to apply opposite action & to reverse the cycle. To achieve opposite action it requires you to be very present and in tune with yourself and emotions and you do the work to change the initial thoughts and reaction patterns. 
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It is important to accept your feelings and not judge them or allow yourself to feel guilt or shame for experiencing emotions. My hope is that you realize that your feelings thoughts and emotions are valid and meaningful. We cannot help how we feel sometimes, sometimes our mind and emotions sneak up on us when we least expect it, but through work and time and self awareness you can control how you handle your emotions. 

Final Version Of My Interview About Eating Disorders

The 10 Levels Of Healing!

Today I want to talk about something that I see a lot in working with clients and that is when we are the victim of a trauma, tragedy, life event or circumstance the victimization we feel and pain associated with that stays with us. I work to help the clients I see confront and conquer the victimization they feel in their lives and educate them that they have a choice. A choice to break the victim cycle and begin a process towards self love, strength and healing. 

There are many different ways people heal, it can be through holistic approaches, therapy, acupuncture and many more different outlets. I work with my clients and remind them to be patient in the healing process because it always takes a lot of time and work but it is possible. I think if a person can find the greater purpose of a tragic event or situation it gives them the power to take control and take back what was lost. When we can become aware that we stay trapped in our victim mentalities it enables people from moving on and letting go and it can actually become a role that people embody in all their relationships. 

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I love to use and teach my clients the ten steps of healing taken from the book victim no more written by: Lori Rikowski.

Level 1: Awareness: Identifying with victim behavior ( this is where you start to explore your belief system, make changes and being your healing process

Level 2: Commitment: You commit to change old patterns & begin to practice healing tools. You choose to leave old ways of thinking behind and you follow through with ACTION! Find interests hobbies activities, things that bring you joy, confidence and strength.

Level 3: Results: You notice the results of the changes you are making, your awareness leads you to greater understanding.

Level 4: Processing & Integrating: You have new insights & release old patterns. During this time be present and patient with yourself, set boundaries with yourself and the people in your life

Level 5: Determination becomes stronger: You are determined to create more balance in your life.

Level 6: Increased Awareness: Your increased awareness has led you to be able to identify your patterns and notice when you are in them.

Level 7: Self Worth Expands: Your self worth continues to grow and expand. You start to experience self worth and self love

Level 8: Stopped creating dramas: You are able to go about your life without feeling like a victim, you are able to see people and situations more clearly. You are able to focus on your journey and growth and use a survival instinct rather than a defeatist mentality.

Level 9: Confidence: You have confidence in handling life’s lessons. You accept the world and yourself in the world eve in difficult times. You acceptance results in peace and comfort in even tough situations.

Level 10: Experience: Your life is more pleasurable, you continue to want to grow and be present with the world and with yourself.

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Forgiving our mistakes

I have worked with many different people in the past that come to see me with so many different life issues and hardships and one thing that I notice a lot in working with people is how much peoples mistakes or failures still haunt them. People tend to hold on so tightly to their mistakes and failures that is ends up consuming their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and most importantly how they view and see themselves. In general we as people tend to be very hard on ourselves and often times that can lead to the mistakes we make becoming our own prison that we can’t seem to break free from.

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If you are someone who still feels trapped by unresolved issues with others or yourself. Trapped by the mistakes you have made or opportunities you didn’t take. Then this post is for you to be able to finally face it and let it all go. To do that there needs to be resolution. As human beings a sense of closure and relief is something we all long for and need to be able to feel a sense of peace or to make understanding, often times however we are not able to receive closure for many different reasons. That is why we have the capability to create our own closure. Einstein said some very true and honest words ” Who never made any mistakes never learned from anything new.” To be able to move on and heal we must forgive others but we must forgive ourselves. I love to use this exercise taken from the Hoffman Process book written by: Tim Laurence.

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This is a good exercise to either do alone or if theres a lot of pain and emotions you feel may come out to do with a trusted friend or partner or even suggest doing this with your therapist. Get into a moment of relaxation and quiet place, start to think about the different things that are or have bothered you, things that you hold onto, things that make you feel any pain, guilt, shame or regret. If the emotions start to stir inside you notice your body and its sensations, notice your mind and your thoughts and allow the emotions to flow in and out of you and pass through you. Be aware to not simply bury the feeling but to actually begin to face them and let them go.

Make a list of the mistakes and regrets you have or have made and after each one write …. And I forgive myself

When you are done take a moment to sit and reflect and then take the paper and ritually rip it up. This is your release of all the pain and mistakes that were holding you back. You have faced them acknowledged them and now you are throwing them away. If you try this exercise let me know how it worked for you, what didn’t or your thoughts.

Have a healing week everyone!