This column was guest authored by Joanna Poppink, MFT, and includes an excerpt from her book Healing Your Hungry Heart.
Media presentations deluge us with eating disorder stories about excessive eating or starving, exercise, concern about weight, shape and size. These stories influence how we define an eating disorder and evaluate our own behavior. Yet more is involved in living with an eating disorder than sound bites can convey.
The Healing Your Hungry Heart quiz below brings together expected and unexpected aspects of living with an eating disorder. If items on this quiz surprise you, please share your thoughts in Heidi’s comment section.
The following list of experiences may not seem, on the surface, to relate to eating disorders. Most of them are not specifically about food or eating. But they can reveal how you use your eating disorder to live behind a facade. In responding to the list below, please use the words never, rarely, sometimes, often, or always.
1. I hide from people.
2. I’ve thought about suicide.
3. I find it difficult or impossible to make long range commitments.
4. I have emotional meltdowns where I am terrified and feel lost.
5. I have a disappointing—and somewhat shameful and secret—sex life.
6. I feel a low, continuous anger and resentment towards people in my life.
7. My short-term memory doesn’t function well.
8. I say to myself “This is the last time I will ___” about certain behaviors but invariably repeat them.
9. I describe my suffering to someone and ask for help, yet reject suggestions offered.
10. I perform relentless exercise routines to ward off caloric consequences.
11. I eat mindlessly when I’m not hungry.
12. I tell lies at the grocery store checkout stand when buying my binge foods.
13. I weigh myself every day or several times a day.
Your honest response to the questions in the list will alert you to areas in your life that need support, love, care, healing, and encouragement.
Any surprises for you on this list? An eating disorder is tenacious because it disguises or distracts awareness of an inner void that creates intolerable anguish. When it fails emotional agony can be so intense that a person may consider suicide for relief. She feels lost in her fear because she can’t understand or cope with her life. She may isolate for protection. She may use her sexuality as a distraction or guide to imagined rescue. She may succumb to unsavory advances out of her inability to set healthy boundaries with food or relationships. She may be angry at people in her life because she believes they withhold the relief she needs. The stress of her life plays havoc with her short term memory. She may ask for help but will reject what threatens the protection and safety she believes her eating disorder provides.
Deep recovery is not about diets, body shape or weight. It’s not even about eating. It’s about why you eat the way you do — why you need to —why you can’t simply switch over to eating healthful foods in reasonable and appropriate amounts on a regular basis.
You need to grow from within to develop the capacity to feel what you feel. You need to learn life skills to cope with what the world presents to you. Then you can retire your eating disorder and respond to the quiz questions with answers of rarely or never.
Value exists in what creates a light up moment where you recognize and accept your need to find and move on your healing path. This quiz may shine some light on the significance of your personal experience. Becoming more aware can lead you to solid recovery work that will set you free.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, Los Angeles psychotherapist, specializes in n treating adults with eating disorders. She lectures and is the author of Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder, 2011, Conari Press. Her book is a comprehensive, step-by-step, recovery program for women filled with inspiring stories, meditations and healing exercises. Visit her website: http://www.eatingdisorderrecovery.com