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Archive for August, 2003

A Safe Place Within: How Meditation Helped Me Recover from Food Obsession

By Alison McCabe

Two years ago, I started breathing and stopped bingeing. Through an acquaintance, I met someone who introduced me to the power of the breath. Since then, I have been on an incredible journey of healing and growing that has let me learn to live life without bingeing or dieting and accept myself and others unconditionally.

Recently, meditation has been attracting a lot of attention on the internet and in alternative health circles, but it has been used by many cultures for centuries. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims use meditation and prayer to connect with God and overcome inner obstacles to peace and serenity.

Today, we are discovering that meditation has more than spiritual or religious uses. Many studies have shown that the potential health benefits range from enhancing the immune system by increasing the activity of “natural-killer cells” which kill bacteria and cancer cells and reducing the activity of viruses, to lowering blood pressure by increasing blood flow and slowing heart rate.

But, more importantly, meditation actually helps to calm the body and heal the soul. Research has also shown that, by lowering the levels of blood lactate, increasing serotonin production (low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, obesity, insomnia and headaches), and shifting brain activity from the stress-prone right frontal cortex to the calmer left frontal cortex, meditation decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety . It also diminishes activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear.

However, after two years of practicing meditation, I don’t need a scientific study to tell me that meditation works. I have experienced it first-hand. When I spend time meditating every day, I am able to face life without food or diets; when I don’t, panic sets in, and life becomes overwhelming.

I ate because I was afraid, depressed, and stressed out. Food was my quiet place. When I binged I was numb, dazed, and oblivious to the painful emotions I was creating and avoiding. When I dieted, I was so fixated on losing weight that I didn’t have to face my problems or accept that I needed to change. The hope of the next binge or the next diet provided me with a temporary safe place, but in the end, it only caused me more fear, stress, and depression because it was an illusion. I was never happy when I ate or lost weight. I was just as miserable as I was before, but then I was starving or felt fat, too. By the time I started practicing, I was so sick, mentally and physically, of being obsessed with food and dieting that I was willing to try anything. I needed something that would help me deal with those feelings without numbing out with food or hiding in a diet. Meditation, my safe place, is just that.

When I began practicing, I was working with an understanding and supportive therapist, but I was missing the willingness to trust myself around food and commit to the long-term changes recovery requires. That’s where meditation came in. From my work in therapy, I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t able to do it until I found the peace to let my self-defeating thoughts go and accept a new certainty: I had to recover, and I could.

Breathing takes me to my safe place, my centre, about two finger widths below my belly button. When I focus on that point and breathe into it, something miraculous happens: a space opens up between me and my fear, judgment, anger, sadness and impatience. Usually, they disappear altogether, but they sometimes they just fade into the background and stop being so unmanageable. Some days it takes ten minutes, others, forty-five. Once my anxiety is at bay, I have access to the inner strength that helps me accept the truth about myself, that I am strong, capable, and imperfect. It is hard for me to accept my imperfections when I am not centred because I am living in the fear that I won’t be loved unless I get “it” right. But when I am in contact with my inner strength, I am open to the truth that I am loved no matter what I do, that I am perfect just as I am, and that I am more loveable the more I love and accept myself unconditionally. This is similar to what I did with food when I binged or dieted. I created a safe little world where no one judged me and I could feel in control of how others perceived me. Now, instead of eating or dieting, I can breathe deeply, let go of my worries and thoughts, and be myself.

My journey with the breath has not always been smooth. It means getting up a lot earlier that I would like to go to class or fit my practice in, letting go of my old, comfortable ideas about what’s best for me, facing physical, emotional, and mental discomfort, and making a commitment to myself one day at a time. But I do these things, even when my mind screams “NO!”, because I cannot recover without it. Without my safe place, recovery feels too scary, and I need to keep recovering if I want to be happy and make the most out life. Now, thanks to my practice, recovery is no longer terrifying, but a possibility, and, for me, a reality.

http://www.healthandyoga.com/html/meditation/objectives.html

http://cms.psychologytoday.com/pto-20030424-000003.html

 

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Exploring Alexithymia

Understanding Alexithymia

By Michelle Morand, MA, RCC

Now bear with me here. I’m going to take you on a bit of a journey, in order to explain a very important part of your recovery process. If you were sitting in my office, I’d be leaning over and beginning to draw a diagram on my white board to illustrate this piece of information, and you’d be laughing at my poor artistic ability.

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Confessions of a Shopaholic Book Review

Similarities Between Shopaholic and Compulsive Eating

Okay, so you’re probably thinking Sophie Kinsella’s Book, Confessions of a Shopaholic has absolutely nothing at all to do with our work at The Centre.

On first glance, it doesn’t. It looks like a light, fun read, the epitome of chick-lit.

Becky is a modern gal in her mid-twenties with a so- so job, living in the big city of London, dreaming big dreams. The book is all about her search for identity, her friendships, and relationships with the opposite sex, family, and— her obsessive compulsive disorder.

You see, Becky is in big doo-doo because even though she’s a financial writer for a boring financial magazine, she is clueless when it comes to her own finances. Basically, Becky uses purchasing things , pretty much any thing , as a coping mechanism. When Becky is feeling anxious, she buys little knick- knackish do-dads. Bored, coffee. Happy, clothes. Sad, clothes.

And like most of us, Becky has expensive taste, so by the time the book starts Becky is in serious debt, and denial.

Becky also has a problem with being honest. She tells people what she thinks they want to hear and she makes the fatal mistake that most of us make in our twenties, of, pretending to be, think, feel, and yes, spend, like the women we want to be in ten years. Becky hasn’t yet figured out that the way to be that glamorous, sophisticated, and together woman is to be honest, forthright, and vulnerable-right now. So, she paints a picture of herself that isn’t completely honest and spends a lot of the book getting out of well, doo-doo.

Confessions is fun and frivolous, it exposes Becky’s obsessive compulsive relationship with shopping with a light touch. And I enjoyed that because, substitute shopping for eating, and Becky’s story could have been my own. Sad, eat, Celebrate, eat. Anxious eat. Not sure? Eat!

When we think of compulsive eating, I know I for one tend to take a very serious tact. I approach it from a really all or nothing sort of stance. Every day, I meet women whose lives have been put on hold for years because of their relationship with food and boy focus, and that was certainly true in my case, as well. But reading about Becky’s capers in Confessions helped me to lighten up a bit and laugh at the silliness of it all. The circles we run ourselves in and how seriously we approach this-as if our relationship with food defines indefinitely-as if it’s all we’ll ever be.

Like Becky, we can grow and change. And the process of change doesn’t have to be a huge, all encompassing task, it doesn’t have be a big serious to-do with tears and teeth gnashing. The process of finding ourselves can be fun, comical, and even wonderful. After reading Confessions, I can chuckle at my creative rationalizations for just one more bite- – when I was already stuffed to begin with. I’m not saying its okay to judge those past behaviors, but, really what’s the fun in making a huge journey to find yourself if you can’t laugh at what you’ve learned along the way?

Reviewed by Brooke Finnigan

 

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What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Differences Between Anorexia and Orthorexia

By Brooke Finnigan

Orthorexia Nervosa is a term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, who first published his insights to the readers of Yoga Journal in 1997. Bratman, a physician who utilizes dietary medicine in his practice, and, a long time proponent of the health food movement, wrote about his experiences, and how the impulse to be healthy can be taken to dangerous extremes.

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Thanks, Sedona

Cynthia, a client of The CEDRIC Centre

Disconnecting–with love–is supposed to be one of the secrets of contentment. But letting go is hard, isn’t it? How to stop trying to fix the past? How to stop being crushed by others’ remarks? How to stop trying to figure out what happened, feeling guilty, "needing" people who aren’t good for us, trying to control the future,  counting to 10 and blowing up anyway? How to show how well we meant, belong, be liked, be appreciated, make others understand how much they need our advice, get others off our cases, make others understand who we really are so they’ll stop being so unpleasant. How to stop spending our lives wishing everything were otherwise?

Sedona, that’s how. Knowing that you "shouldn’t" be taking something so hard is not the same as being able to. Just as knowing that you "shouldn’t" be worrying about someone else’s choices is not much help either. Sedona teaches the mechanics, the "how to", of not being bowled over, blindsided, overwhelmed, compelled.  It disconnects the buttons that get pushed; takes off that chain everybody loves to yank. It decompresses bad situations; lets you take a step back, disconnect, then act or not act. Whatever makes sense. In the here and now. (This is good. This is very good.)

I have a very stressful job. Shortly after I took a weekend course in the Sedona Method, a co-worker took me aside and told me that she had informed our boss that my telephone manner recently changed dramatically from defensive to professional.  (My boss told her to tell me herself.)

And it’s true. A fellow called me at work yesterday to express his anger about a letter he’d received from us (me) that he thought was rude. I just laughed, and said we weren’t rude, we were scared (but I was sorry if he thought we sounded rude). He laughed too. Then he gave me what I was after in the letter. This is probably not how it would have played out in the old days.

At the same time, Sedona makes the good stuff stand out too. Like a cat curling up in the sun and kneading a cushion with its toes, Sedona teaches us to recognize the good stuff, revel in it, and expect it to just keep right on coming.

I encourage everybody who unloads on me now to take the course. It seems nobody ever does, but I just let it go.

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Why Do I Do This to My Self?

Signs of Eating Disorders. When we think about someone having an eating disorder we often experience feelings of disbelief and pity. We imagine the 80 Pound waif starving herself to death in pursuit of the perfect figure, and think how sad it is that she can’t see how small she has become, and that she has lost sight of her inner beauty, and worth.

What we rarely envision is the man or woman who is overweight and engaging in compulsive eating. “That person doesn’t have an eating disorder,” we say, “They just need to try dieting/lose some weight/exercise some willpower.” Well, I’m here to tell you that the overweight person often has just as much of an obsession with weight loss and body image as the underweight one. What we need to understand is that compulsive eating is not about a lack of willpower. It is not about being lazy or unconcerned with one’s own well being. It is about a person who turns to food to fulfill their need for comfort and nurturing. Now, having said that I must clarify that everyone who is at a high or low weight according to society’s standards, is not necessarily suffering from an eating disorder. There is a lot of physical diversity out there, and bodies come in all shapes and sizes. But one of the side effects of eating compulsively is often weight gain, if you are eating when you’re not hungry and or unable to stop when you’re full, whatever your size, you are engaging in compulsive eating.

Though Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Compulsive Eating may seem like radical opposites on the scale of eating disorders, the truth is they are brought about by the same need. The need for love, the need for acceptance and the need to feel secure in who they are and their importance in the world is what drives one to disordered eating in the first place. Whether we choose to restrict our food intake, exercise obsessively, overeat and then purge with laxatives, vomiting or exercise, or just overeat and eat and eat and eat; whatever our preferred method of being around food we are all just trying to fill the need for comfort and nurturing.

I can no longer count the times I have heard the Compulsive Overeater say, “I wish I could just throw up” or the Bulimic say, “I wish I had never started throwing up, now I can’t stop myself’ or the Anorexic say, “I wish I wasn’t so afraid of food – of being fat.” Each in their pain and suffering presumes the grass is greener on the other side of disordered eating. The truth is, each is equally painful and equally consuming. How much pleasure can a person get from life when they are constantly obsessing about how they look, what people are thinking, what they have/haven’t eaten today and what they will or wont eat tomorrow. Decisions about whether to attend a function, go for a walk, have lunch out or even to call a friend are made based on how the person with an eating disorder feels about their body that day. They label foods as good or bad and then label themselves as good or bad for wanting those foods. They presume that every bite of food taken in front of others is being scrutinized and that people are thinking, “ooh, look at her, she shouldn’t be eating that, no wonder she is so FAT.” What we need to remember is that we are the one’s with the obsession with food. We are the one’s who think we are so incredibly fat and unappealing.

Have you ever gotten dressed in the morning and been feeling okay, maybe even good, about what you were wearing and how you looked only to find that by lunchtime you can’t wait to get home and change because you feel so fat and so conspicuous? If so, ask yourself, “What changed about my body between 8:00 am and noon ?” Nothing changed except your perception of yourself. If you have had an experience like this you suffer from distorted body image. This distortion goes hand in hand with disordered eating, but can exist without an eating disorder. Having a distorted body image, whatever your true size, causes us to see everything that happens to/around us as being related to our bodies. Whatever happened, it’s because I’m too fat, too big, too ugly, too much. This is what we call a defense mechanism. Having something to blame for everything allows us to avoid dealing with the real issues in our lives. We get to remain in an uncomfortable situation such as an unfulfilling job or unsatisfying marriage without having to be fully aware of how unhappy we are. As long as we are focussing on our bodies and as long as our bodies are taking the blame for everything we don’t have to risk change.

A lot of us are afraid to ask for what we want, many of us don’t even know what that is. We were given the impression early on that our needs don’t count, that we don’t matter as much as others. That’s just not true. Everyone is equally as important as the next person – not more, not less. But for many people with eating disorders the feeling is that they are worth less. So, if they don’t want to risk complete rejection and abandonment they had better not ask for anything, better not offer an opposing opinion and better not expect anything from anyone because inevitably they will be let down. This means that the person with an eating disorder believes that if they are not always giving, kind and thinking of others first they will lose the love and respect of the people that are important to them. The truth is that people with eating disorders often feel isolated and that there is no one who really knows and understands them. And because they are such pushovers they often become associated with people who only know how to take. This brings us back to the need for love, comfort and nurturing. If it is not being met in our relationships with others we are going to fill this need somewhere. For those of us with eating disorders, that place is food.

You may have already identified strongly with the things we have discussed so far and be wondering if you or someone you know may have an eating disorder or be heading in that direction. The following is a checklist of behaviours and signs for each of the three major eating disorders. If you feel that you have some or all of these behaviours you may wish to speak to a counsellor who understands these issues and find out what you can do to leave distorted body image and disordered eating behind for good.

If you eat compulsively you likely: Eat when you are not hungry; Feel controlled by food; Eat sensibly in public and then make up for it when alone; Feel excited thinking about times alone with food; Hide the “evidence” of binges; Find that eating makes you feel better but that afterwards you feel guilty and depressed; Eat to escape worry or trouble.

If you are Anorexic you will likely: Have extreme weight loss due to reduced food intake; Feel fat despite increasing thinness; Have obsessive behaviour with food, dieting and with exercise; May have chronic fatigue; Frequently feel cold; May have stopped menstruating.

If you are Bulimic you will likely; Have recurring episodes of binge eating with out of control feelings during the binges; Have self-induced purging using laxatives, vomiting or excessive exercising; Have frequent weight fluctuations; Diet and then binge and purge in a continuous cycle; Be extremely secretive about your bingeing and purging behaviour.

For all those with disordered eating there are feelings of guilt, shame, futility, worthlessness, disgust, low self-esteem, perfectionism, a strong need for control of people and situations and feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.

If any of the above behaviours sound like you, or someone you know, remember that although it is scary to admit you have an eating disorder it is also very freeing to be able to identify that there is a very good reason for the things you do around food. Furthermore, there is every reason to expect and to hope that you will be able to overcome these behaviours and lead a life that is f
ree from food and weight obsession. If nothing else, please recognize that you are really only looking for love and nurturing when you are using food compulsively or restricting your food intake. The best and most consistent place for you to get that love and support is from yourself. Focussing your efforts on building a strong, trusting relationship with yourself is the best use of your time and energy without a doubt. Once you have trust in yourself and in your worth as a person all those feelings of shame, guilt, perfectionism and the need to control (to name a few) will disappear. I assure you.

If you would like to read some books on this subject I recommend:

  • When women stop hating their bodies; by Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter
  • Food for Love; by Janet Greeson
  • If life is a game, these are the rules; by Cherie Carter-Scott, Ph.D

Michelle Morand is the Founder and Director of The CEDRIC Centre in Victoria , B.C. The CEDRIC Centre offers group and individual support for eating disorders and related issues at their Victoria location and also provides one-on-one counselling to those living elsewhere in Canada and in the U.S. over the phone or via e-mail.

 

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Pro-anorexia and Pro-bulimia

What is Pro-Anorexia Anyway?

Pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites are predominantly designed and used by young women in their teens. The sites combine personal stories, poetry, bulletin boards, and tips dedicated to sharing experiences around anorexia and bulimia. And while the websites do provide support, the nature of the support revolves around enabling it’s users to remain eating disordered.
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Michelle Morand’s Recovery from Compulsive Eating

My wish has always been create a sense of community among Compulsive Eaters and those who feel they are low on self-esteem, who would like to come out of their shells, and begin to live life fully. To that end I would like to begin by sharing something of my experience on how to recover from compulsive eating.

I believe Compulsive Eating can be overcome and left behind for good.

I am living proof of this philosophy. A Compulsive Eater for many years I finally gave up on dieting and obsessive exercise and started instead to believe in me. The nagging feelings of anxiety and doubt that had plagued me for over a decade had kept me stuck in fear and denial. Not because of the feelings themselves but because of the debilitating message I had taught myself: that I was weak, unimportant and could never successfully take care of myself. Therefore, when I felt overwhelmed I never even tried to solve the problem at hand. I already believed that I would fail. Rather, I frantically squashed that negative or scary feeling with food.

This behaviour allowed me to comfort and nurture myself on one hand yes, but ultimately I was only digging a deeper and deeper pit of despair. I never solved the real problem with food so it still sat there waiting to be resolved. I had added to that unpleasant feeling, the terrible experience of all the negative thoughts I then felt about my body and myself for being so “weak” and unable to resist food once more.

How to Recover from Compulsive Eating

The solution was easier in many ways than any diet I had ever tried and perhaps the most difficult yet exhilarating experience of my life. The experience of self-discovery awaited me. I needed to explore where I learned and bought the idea that I was incapable of successfully navigating life’s pitfalls on my own. Where had I come to believe that I was undeserving of everything? That my needs were worth less than those of others. I needed to expose the falsehood of those beliefs.

I needed to explore the truth about who I was and what I was capable of. In so doing I found a sense of myself that I had lost long ago and a confidence I I had never known before.

I found the strength to face my feelings – the good and the scary – as they arose. I was amazed to discover that food had lost its power. My perceived lack of control had really only been a cry for comfort and love and now that I was capable of giving that to myself I no longer needed the food to get me through.

Food became just one of those things that I did as part of a daily routine to sustain life, not my whole existence. I could now go out to a restaurant and order anything I wanted without worrying about fat or calorie content, what others might think or how undeserving I was. I also began to notice how many people around me were focused on their weight or on their latest attempt to lose it.

The conversations at work and among my friends always seemed to end up being about food, weight loss and negative body talk. I felt anxious at first. Who was I to think that I could go about my life without obsessing about food and weight? Was I copping out thinking of myself as a Compulsive Eater and not merely someone lacking in willpower? As these thoughts arose I felt increasingly stressed and saddened at the thought of returning to a life of obsession with food and hating my body, my self. When I thought of the freedom and good feelings I had experienced by letting go of diets – scary yes but exhilarating – there was no way I was going back!

Now, over a decade later, I am still enjoying the thrill of self-confidence and positive regard for my body. The extra weight I had been carrying all those years ago gradually fell away and for many years now I have been content and comfortable in my body.

If my story sounds like your own or that of someone you know and care about, read on and discover what others have to say about their Compulsive Eating experience and what you can do to get help. Until next time, take good care of yourself. M.

 

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The Power of Doing Nothing: How to Accept the Unacceptable

By Alison M.
 
I am a perfectionist, which means that I find it impossible to accept people and situations that are less than perfect. And why should I? If I work harder, try harder, figure it out, and expect the best, I’ll be perfect in no time.

This is the attitude that brought me to my knees three years ago and gave me the willingness to change my behaviours around food. I was a perfectionist with my food, counting calories and weighing myself obsessively. I was always on a diet, trying to get the food and weight "thing" right. If I worked out more, if I restricted more, if I ate less meat, if I drank less water, then surely I would get the magic formula, and lose the twenty pounds I was dying to lose. Then, I would be perfect, and life would be great. Unfortunately, I used up huge amounts of energy trying to be perfect and ended up bingeing because I couldn’t sustain my "perfection program." I needed to escape from that incredible pressure. Of course, the bingeing forced me to control my behaviours even more stringently, which, in the end, lead to more bingeing. It was a cycle of trying to be perfect and then trying to escape the pressure of trying to be perfect, and it lead me to uncontrollable eating and a deep depression full of self-hatred, despair, and negative thinking.

It wasn’t until I accepted the weight I was at and gave up trying to control my food that the obsession was lifted and the weight came off. This experience has proven to me the power of acceptance: nothing changes until I accept I cannot change it. Then, and only then, can I begin to grow.

The only solution that has helped me deal with my obsessive thinking and perfectionism is acceptance. For me, acceptance feels like poison because it means letting go of my need to fix myself. Why would I give up fixing a flat tire or a leaky faucet? It’s broken, it needs to be fixed! In the same way, why would I give up on trying to be perfect when it is so obvious how imperfect I am? Don’t I always forget to put my dishes in the dishwasher, wear the wrong thing to parties, say the wrong thing to men. and what about those pimples on my nose, those flabby thighs and big feet? I need to let go of those thoughts and beliefs in a healthy way and trust that I am fine just the way I am, imperfect, human, and whole. But (and this is still my question, sometimes) how?

The way that has worked for me is to practice doing nothing. Acceptance is like surrender, it is giving up the struggle to fix and to be perfect. For me, surrender comes in the form of my meditation practice. By sitting quietly, or standing, and practicing the simple exercises outlined for me, I stop fighting and focus on surrendering to the process of letting go. This isn’t easy because it means accepting that I feel angry, ugly, fat, tired, depressed, or excited, and the last thing I want to do is feel those awful feelings. What if I am angry forever? Am I a bad person? What if I am fat? What if that horrible thing I did (or ate) comes back to haunt me? What if I never learn to be happy and end up wasting my life? When I surrender, I accept that I cannot do anything to improve the situation and that the only answer is to accept the unacceptable.

The magic happens when I accept where I am right that moment and let the process of letting go take over. The breath takes care of the feelings and before I know it, the negativity releases and I feel better. Some days I get an intuition about the truth of the situation and feel a deep unconditional love wash over me, others, I simply feel better and am able to get out of myself and be present in the world and with other people. Either way, the breath changes me, my attitude shifts from a negative one to a more positive one, and the unacceptable stops feeling so unacceptable.

The tough part for me is being patient and accepting that I am not always going to get those amazing insights or feel that incredible joy and love, and that sometimes it will take longer to release than I have time for. Accepting that even my acceptance will not always be perfect is difficult for me because it challenges me to let go of the results, surrender to the process and let the healing power of the breath work in its mysteriously perfect way. It isn’t until I am willing to stop trying to fix the problem and accept the unacceptable that I can get through to the other side and feel loved just as I am, imperfections and all.

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