Sunday, June 28, 2009

Caretaking: Common Among People With Eating Disorders

So what's so wrong with wanting to take care of people? Why is it a "bad" thing to try to make everyone around you happy? This is a common pursuit among people who have developed eating disorders, for several different reasons. One, they may have been raised to believe that at all cost, self-sacrifice for the happiness of others is the "good" thing to do. Or it may be a coping mechanism that the person has developed in order to keep the environment around them calm, in an attempt to prevent conflict. The attempt to please everyone and prove your worth fits right in with stuffing your true emotions and trying not to "rock the boat", so to speak.

I am an RN. My profession and nature is to take care of people. But for many years I did this for all the wrong reasons. It was the only way I could feel good about who I was as a person. I felt completely worthless as a person, so I thought I had to prove my worth in the things I DID, not because of who I am. I never stood up for myself, so therefore was dominated in my first marriage, and by the rules about good and bad that I heard all around me. I was actually denying who I was as a person in order to make the other people in my life approve of me. My eating disorder was a direct result of trying to do all the right things, yet resenting it, therefore those feelings came out as self-harm by not eating.

I realize now that I raised my sons in such a way that they never had a chance to learn to take care of themselves, and in adulthood, my son now struggles with taking responsibility for his own life, and his own mistakes. Rescuing him and others, turned out to be more enabling that helpful.

Now as I have recovered, and I have learned to stand up for who I am, and because I now value who I am as a person, I don't think that it's necessary for me to constantly be someone who everyone likes or who takes care of everyone around me. But, ironically, people generally DO like and respect me, and by nature, I am still a person who likes to care for others, but now it is completely from my heart, not in a vain attempt to gain acceptance. I can't even put into words the joy I feel as I reach out and support and help others in ways that I am able. I know it is genuine, and I respect myself for that.

In the last month, my dear Mother-in-Law has now become a member of our immediate household. She has significant dementia, and requires supervision for most everything she does. I have been put back into the role of the caretaker, but my perspective of this is entirely different from other times. I no longer restrict what I am eating. I take care that I keep time for myself as a priority as well as taking care of her needs. The care I provide for her is not based on trying to prove that I am "good" or worthy, it's done purely out of love for her. That's not to say that since she has moved in my life has changed. My "wings" have been clipped a bit, but I am still flying, just not in a straight line every day! I am NOT sacrificing my own needs, nor the needs of my marriage in order to care for her.

Balance is a key point in recovery, and especially when it comes to assessing your wants/needs to take care of the people around you. For me, this is just one of the many areas that I am now able to see how it enriches my life, instead of risking my life, and how much better I am for myself and others when I do take care of myself!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


What I mean by this term is taking the steps that each of us needs in our lives to avoid putting ourselves into situations where we might be triggered into having symptoms. "Triggers" are unique to every individual. They can relate to memories, past abuse or trauma, grief, advertisements in the media (Television, magazines, newspapers, etc.), and one the biggest...just doing your routine grocery shopping!! The diet ads and promotions for "healthy" eating or weight seem to follow us through our day. I advocate each of doing whatever we need to avoid exposure or interaction with situations or even people who may be a triggering factor in our life.

I am quite alarmed also by the vast amount of Pro-eating disorder material on the Internet. I have not researched or looked at any of these sites, but I am seeing the direct results of this propaganda. These sites promote DEATH...simply put. Some people might think that seeing actual photos of starving women or men might be helpful in turning away from an eating disorder, but it doesn't work that way.

When someone is entrenched in an eating disorder, and imprisoned by the obsessive thoughts and behaviors, the graphic pictures and advice on how to stay sick, or become sicker, is very alluring. It also provides them with excuses for why they don't need to seek help...."see, other people are like me and it's OK". This is very dangerous, and I propose that we all avoid and take any steps possible to ban these messages from our lives. Please, think about what YOU need to remain in recovery and safe from these dangerous triggers, and move forward into a life of health!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Food Rules

The mind of an anorexic is fueled by rules and restrictions as a means of control and protection. For the anorexic, life’s uncertainties and perceived fears cause great anxiety and feelings of danger and insecurity. I will relate my own experiences with this, and how it affected my life with this disease.

Losing weight and dieting was my main objective. It became my only goal, every day. From the beginning, I classified foods into two categories, either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I set up rules in my mind about how, when and what I would allow myself to eat. My rules changed over the years, depending on society’s influence, family influence and ideas that I thought might cause more weight loss. Certain foods would suddenly fall into the bad category, if I felt a sense of danger, insecurity or a loss of control. I had certain rules about when I could eat, in what order I could eat certain foods, on certain days, even what plates, silverware and cups I could use. I had a certain order in which I would eat certain foods. Every second my actions were methodical and calculated. Rules, rigidity and absolute control played out in all other areas of my life also. I had rules, rituals, or a routine for every second of my day, and for days in advance. If at any time I broke the rules, this caused fear and extreme anxiety.

One of the rules that I set for myself from the very beginning was that I must eat differently than others. The foods had to be different, the times I ate were different, and the method in which I ate had to be different. For the entire span of my disease, my patent excuse for not eating, or for the differences in my eating was “I don’t like it”. This is a common excuse for most anorexics. Eventually, over time, I even convinced myself of that, and my list of bad foods became longer. The worst of this came the last 10 years or so of my disease, except for an 18 month period after I had been in treatment. During that time, my rules relaxed to some degree, but were never completely controlled. Within a short amount of time, what I allowed myself decreased again and the rules became even more rigid. After that time, my intake steadily decreased, and from that point on I became a virtual recluse. My days were completely planned around my eating schedule, and I allowed nothing to interfere. I missed out on my boys’ school and sporting events, family holidays and birthdays, and I had entirely no social interaction. I had to protect my ‘secret’ lifestyle, which by that time was most evident to everyone who knew me.

I took on a health food approach for some time, which played right into my need to be different. I avoided all sugars and preservatives, and I baked all my family’s bread, even to the point of grinding the raw wheat for flour. But interestingly enough, I never ate it. I can see now that resisting the temptation provided another test of my willpower, and another chance to prove my success. Then I was a vegetarian for several years, avoiding any kind of protein, including meat, dairy products, eggs, fish or chicken.

My rules did change along the course of my disease, but they were always there. It was all about control and a pseudo protection, safety and security. Every treatment that I went into, I formed my own set of rules as a means to maintain control. The lies, manipulation and desperate fear prevented me from accepting treatment or committing to recovery. After I was admitted to my final and successful treatment center, it still took me many months after weight restoration to be able to admit and recognize what my food ruts and rules were, and to begin to challenge them. That is when I began to feel REAL control.

I am now living each day with no rules about what I eat, or labels in my mind about “good” or “bad” foods. The obsessive nature of my life in general has greatly decreased. I will always be a very organized person, with a need for order, but not to the point that it interferes with the joy that I now experience every day in my life. My first priority is to eat enough food each day to remain healthy, and to never again sacrifice myself in any way to meet society’s expectations or to gain acceptance.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Body Image Distortions-Why So Difficult To Resolve?

Body Image...nearly every woman at some point in her life struggles with how she feels about her body. With society's obsession with perfection, and such a huge emphasis on "outer beauty", it's no wonder that so many women AND men get caught up in wanting to change the way they make themselves more "perfect". Although there are many things that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder, this is almost always one of the issues involved.
While an eating disorder has control over a person's life, it also has control over their mind. Distortions of reality are prominent in many areas, but mostly concerning food, weight and body perception. The physiological affects of starvation exacerbate the distortions, and increase the anxiety pertaining to weight gain and changes in the body. While in recovery, starvation must be reversed, whether that be in terms of weight gain, or weight stabilization for those who are bulimic. Once the body has had time to stabilize at a healthy weight, thinking patterns will most likely also stabilize and be more realistic.
If you have been in recovery, are recovered, or know someone who has been through the process of recovery, you are probably aware that body image issues seem to be the longest lasting distortions, and are often the hardest to normalize. Accepting the added weight as "normal" or "healthy" is complex. The "rules" that dominate the person's mind are being broken. Society preaches weight loss and smaller sizes everywhere you look.
I believe that one of the reasons it takes more time to resolve body image issues is because when a person has an eating disorder, they often rate their worth on how successful they have been at losing weight, or controlling their weight. They often have no concept of themselves outside of having an eating disorder. Discovering and accepting one's identity outside of having an eating disorder is very difficult. It takes time to be able to find confidence and pride in yourself in other areas of your life. It even takes time to accept that working to recovery is something to be proud of.
You have to accept and like who you are on the inside, before you can be at peace with who you are, or what you look like on the outside. Anything in reverse of that is false and insincere. You have to embrace your life and your unique talents as who you are, and in truth, when you do that, your joy and confidence will show in the way you present to others. There is peace when this happens. Peace that you are "perfect" the way you are, without giving in to the pressures that this world puts on all of us. This is hard to do. Everyone wants to be accepted, and unfortunately, in many arenas, a person is judged by how they look.
Freedom can only come when you stand up and be proud of who you are, and "just say no" to the outside pressures that are so cheap and fake. Embrace the strength and power you have as a woman or a man of this amazing world we live in!!
Without apology.....♥