REPOST: Swade YXE Blog Post "Eating Disorders/Disordered Eating Isn’t The Problem, It’s The Coping Strategy…"
Hey Friends <3
I recently did a post for the SWADE (Saskatoon Weight Attitudes & Disordered Eating) website. Thought I’d share it on here as well! As per usual, pull up a stump and get cozy because it’s a long one!
PS. Please make sure you pop by SWADE to learn more https://swadesaskatoon.wordpress.com/
My foray into the world of disordered eating and eating disorders has been an especially personal one. In my mid teens I was silently battling both my mind and body as I was in an everyday tug of war between what felt like an internal barrage of voices telling me what I could eat, shouldn’t eat, how I looked, if people liked me, why I wasn’t loved, who I should be and what having an eating disorder could AND would do for me. This was a journey that would take over 10 years for me to overcome and truly understand.
Unfortunately eating disorders aren’t like going to see a bad movie, you can’t leave half way through when you realize this sh*t isn’t what you signed up for. At my most unhealthy point it truly felt like a deal with the devil. As IT, my eating disorder thrived off my shame, fear and guilt – I…the me buried deep inside was barely surviving. I was losing my spark, authentic self and motivation to fight this burdensome mental, emotional and physical illness. It was and has certainly been a rocky road for me, BUT if I can be honest, I wouldn’t trade it for the world and as crazy as that sounds, (trust me, I’ve back spaced half a dozen times on that sentence) I’ll explain why.
While I could write a lengthy post on my years of battling ED and what recovery has meant and looked like; I want to take this opportunity to clarify some misconceptions or misunderstanding that I often feel are not touched on enough as well, offer some hope to loved ones watching someone suffer. For anyone reading this who is suffering in silence – this isn’t something you can tackle alone and most definitely isn’t something you can overcome given your current mental and physical state. That’s not an insult, it’s reality. If you are just starting your recovery journey – I applaud you and want to stress the importance of resources and leaning on a team of people who you trust and are willing to keep you accountable when you are slipping. It’s not always easy or comfortable but it’s what’s necessary to move forward and take back your life.
A caveat before I begin…these are based on my personal experiences, interactions will fellow ‘ED warriors’ as I like to call them and of course, my own opinion/perspective. The below mentioned also does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of my fellow SWADE colleagues so any clarification, questions or concerns please see my below contact information.
1.) Eating disorders are an expression of trauma stored in the body. Meaning, IT isn’t the problem – it’s the coping strategy for something much deeper. Treating JUST the eating disorder through analyzing one’s relationship with food isn’t going to solve the problem, in my opinion. The emotions, beliefs, thoughts AND behaviours have to be addressed as they relate to the behaviour of choice to protect against a much deeper THING the body is trying to avoid.
People don’t just wake up one day and BOOM they have an eating disorder. It manifests over time as unresolved self love and self worth issues go unnoticed, unacknowledged AND unreleased. This mental and emotional (I would also argue spiritual) erosion creates an internal toxic environment of negative thoughts and feelings that are likely reinforced (actual or perceived) through a variety of other ways including the mass media, society, cultural norms, social media etc etc. Every time these negative thoughts, beliefs and feelings are reaffirmed and reinforced for the individual it adds another concrete layer, creating the foundation for disordered eating or a full blown eating disorder.
Now let me also clarify that this doesn’t mean every individual who has an eating disorder has been severely abused and traumatized. Each case is as complex as the individual experiencing it. I can promise you that no parent or loved one wishes this on their child. But I can also say that often times parent’s don’t realize before it is too late how long their child has been suffering in silence. In many cases parents often don’t have the tools needed to tackle an eating disorder. It is also very common for eating disorders to ‘buddy up’ with other addictions or mental illnesses including OCD, anxiety disorders, depression, drug and alcohol abuse – again this just adds to the coping strategy created internally by the body’s nervous system.
2.) An eating disorder will, in my opinion never be given up as long as it is serving the need of the individual living with it. This won’t change until a.) a new coping strategy to deal with the underline issue is fully established and integrated with proven results in the moment and b.) the positives of this new strategy out weigh the ‘positives’ of the eating disorder behaviour short and long term. Even though logically an eating disorder is not a healthy coping strategy, it is effective otherwise individuals would not adopt it as one, nor would it be so difficult to give up. I know this first had. This is not easy and as I mentioned before, can be a complex process of unpacking years of buried beliefs, feelings and emotions.
Recovery takes time, trial and error and expect some hiccups along the road but the key here is to take action and find multiple coping strategies, healing modalities and therapies – something will resonate. For me, I utilized and experimented with all sorts of tools – and I still use many in my work now with clients. It’s important to have an open mind and don’t lose hope.
3.) It’s EVERYONE and NO ONE’S fault. I know that’s a REAL comforting thought! Here’s the thing, as parents I’m sure you do/did the best with the tools you have/had. Likely, when you got the ‘How to Raise Your Child’ manual delivered with your baby you didn’t see the chapter on on what to do if your child develops an eating disorder – total oversight. Joking aside, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, how are you going to see it? Like I said previously, no one wants this for their child and it isn’t necessarily ONE thing/situation or circumstance that causes an eating disorder to develop. It’s stealth. It’s quiet. It’s unassuming habits that you likely mistook as teenage angst, hormones, becoming more ‘health’ conscious…whatever it was or is. Let me also say this, this isn’t a phase your child can will themselves out of or out grow. This is serious. This is much more than a fad diet or poor eating habits.
Parents or loved ones, this is also not a time to sit in your fear. What is needed is love and action. I know from experience if not dealt with early on the potential your child will suffer into adulthood is very likely. There is a very VERY fine line between disordered eating and a full blown eating disorder. I strongly urge and encourage you to be very present and steadfast in acknowledging that both are unhealthy and will not serve your child in reaching their life goals and full potential.
4.) The mental, emotional or physical environment in which the eating disorder manifested has to change in order for recovery to be possible or successful. This means many things. This could mean the environment the child lives in is not conducive to recovery and attitudes and behaviours by the household need to change. This could also mean friend circle, perhaps school or with young adults their work place and romantic relationships need to dissolve or see major adjustments. This most definitely means the mental and emotional ‘environment’ or state needs to change and seeking one or more professionals to help in this process is needed.
5.) Your child or loved one has to want recovery more than you do in order to be successful in it. I can only imagine the number of parents who prayed and wished for recovery for their child. While that level of love, encouragement and support does absolutely make a world of difference in the seeking professional help and the road to recovery, it can’t be the driving force.
Further to this, your child regardless of their age needs to take a very active part early on in their recovery process. It is very common for parents to want to swoop in and save the day maybe out of their own fear, shame and guilt cycle; but this isn’t necessarily helpful. At the end of the day this is their journey to experience and while supports are needed, the individual needs to feel empowered by the decisions THEY are making, not that recovery is being pushed or forced on them. This in the long run can potentially stunt the recovery process and possibly create a co-dependency situation that isn’t healthy for both the parent or the child.
On the flip side. It takes some longer than others to choose the recovery road. Mom and dad need to create some boundaries around this for their sake and the sake of their child. If your child is active in their eating disorder and living at home it is important for parents to seek outside professional support especially to learn how to deal with the situation and keep themselves regulated so they can in turn be healthy supports to their child.
6.) Eating disorders do not have to be or feel like a life sentence and recovery is possible!!! They absolutely f*cking suck, can be debilitating and the initial stages of recovery, in my experience can best be described as a roller-coaster gone rogue. One that you get on and ride in the dark making it nearly impossible to predict or navigate where you are, if a sharp turn is coming, when you’re about to drop 10 feet and what direction you are going. I know I’m painting a very stomach turning picture and maybe for others it was more like a tampon commercial where you get to do cartwheels in a field of daisies. Fair enough – that wasn’t my introduction into recovery at all!
But through it having an eating disorder has taught me so much about myself and others. I look at the world very differently and appreciate things in a way I’m not sure the average Joe or Jane does. I have experienced great loss, including a friend who did not win her battle against ED. But I have also experienced great joy – even in rehab with my fellow ‘ED Warriors’…laughing and connecting around something that I often feel like is still so ‘taboo’ to talk about. My eating disorder has given me a level of compassion and empathy for myself and others struggling with whatever illness, disease or sickness that I’m not sure I would have had otherwise. It has also been instrumental in pivoting my life in a direction that allows me to serve others suffering, and has dictated my career choice and purpose.
Most importantly it taught me resiliency and forced me to get creative around my own recovery. During the time I was in the ‘thick of it’ with ED, resources were not widely available in Yorkton and then later in Saskatoon during my University years. Let’s just say the process for dealing with disordered patients in the early 2000s was less than stellar and borderline offensive and traumatizing for a teenager who was already very scared and anxious.
While I might get some push back for this, for me – traditional talk therapy and visiting a dietitian wasn’t enough. They are absolutely part of the process and helpful but this was a mental, emotional, physical and SPIRITUAL journey that forced me to look at all areas of my life and find modalities and tools I could utilize in the moment. The truth is everything is sunshine and rainbows before you get side swiped by ‘ED-isms’ and that can happen anywhere at anytime. You have to be able to resource yourself and have a plan otherwise the world becomes unpredictable/uncomfortable and that can result in self isolation and retreating – also not healthy!
Today, my relationship with food is a direct reflection of how I feel about myself on any given day. I know for me in my beginning phases of recovery I had to constantly remind myself ‘food is fuel’ and as simple as that sounds it stopped the mental negotiations because guess what, this body doesn’t run solely on Grande Americanos – trust me, I’ve tried! I would say I have a few weird food quirks that I’m still ironing out, or maybe I never will. That’s okay. I nourish my body with food. I like to eat. I especially love to eat when other people are cooking for me! Food is not the enemy – it never was. It’s the innocent bystander I was projecting all my self hate and feelings of being unloved and unworthy on. Food didn’t need to change in order for me to like it and enjoy it, it was how I felt about myself that needed to change and THAT continues to be my focus; creating a world for myself that allows me to live happy and healthy…with as many cute and cuddly creatures as possible!
Candace M. Fox is a certified accredited Conscious EFT™ Practitioner & Emotional Success Coach through the National Emotional Freedom Techniques Training Institute and EFT International. She is also a Certified Coach Practitioner through Certified Coaches Federation. She is a writer and regular contributor in Refined Magazine as well, you can find her ‘potty mouth’ musings on her blog The Naked Fox Blog.
Candace M. Fox