Brilliant Therapist sorts out my Disordered Eating

My therapist helped me understand myself today. Again. She is brilliant and helping me to become who I want to be.

Lollipop in motion.

Food has been a tough issue for me, for as long as I can remember. I asked my therapist if it was time to tackle this problem, if my other issues were small enough to focus on a whole different part of me. She said yes.

So we went back today, over years and years of disordered eating, using food as comfort, abusing myself with near anorexia, controlling food when I could control nothing else, obsessive compulsive overeating. I want to document our discussion, partly to help me remember, so I can review this, and partly to help other women out there who may stumble across this.

I’m really excited to journal this, but first I have to make a sandwich. (yes I’m being funny, but truly, one of my problems is forgetting to eat at the right times)

This journey starts with a very little girl with health issues. I was on heavy doses of steroids for years, causing my cheeks and tummy to puff out round like a chipmunk. My A-hole psychopathic abusive father liked to tease me about this, calling me every name from   butterball to fatass. Now I was never obese, but always a bit round and pudgy. My mom taught me not to pick clothes for what I liked, but to make sure it hid my belly. My mom also taught 8 yr old me to suck in my belly, been doing that since 4th grade too. My mom has her own issues with food and weight, and  I am determined not to still have them at her age. I’m not giving up. I want to be healthy.

This young elementary time was full of trouble and chaos and ugliness. But one constant was that every night after dinner, dad took us kids to the convenient store to pick out that night’s treats. It would be a few bags of chips and dip, maybe some cheese puffs, maybe ice cream, often donuts and always gallons of soda to wash it down. You get the idea. The family that never went to museums or the movies, or took vacations, one thing we id together was pig out on junk practically every night while we watched TV. I remember watching Bill Cosby, Remington Steele, A-Team, and Soap. No, no kid shows, just primetime adult junk to go with the junk food. I would settle into my throne – my dad’s lap – and enjoy the family time. One year we got an atari or coleco, and the evenings would pass with game time too. But always the junk food, and never a restriction to us kids that we may have had enough, and never a warning that it was bad for us.

My mom was also a firm believer in cleaning your plate at dinner to get that special treat later. So I learned to eat past being full at dinner, and then to follow that with huge amounts of sugar. My dad, I now see, also used sugar to ‘show his love for our special relationship’.  I always had new candies and sweets from him. He would bring it home just for me, and say to keep it secret so my brothers didn’t get any. Sometimes I shared, but usually I didn’t. I kept my stash in my room and ate my candy alone, often in my closet to make sure no one saw me. Even as I type that, I am astonished at how unhealthy that was, and how similiar my night binging after kids are in bed is – See I told you this was brilliant.

Then puberty hit, and I tried to stop mother nature from making me curvy. I stopped eating so much. I controlled my hunger. I did extra tummy crunches. I lifted weights. I did squats while brushing my teeth. I fidgeted all the time to keep the calories burning. I stopped eating all day long, so I could still pig out when I wanted. So I learned to starve and binge. The overeating felt so good after not eating all day.

Then on to high school. After my parents divorced, I was no longer a child. I was expected to work and pay my own way, including food. Dad had food in the house, but I was on my own for breakfast and lunch. Some of this was because he wanted it that way, but mostly it was because I wanted it that way. I didn’t want to feel obligated to my dad. I wanted to be an adult and go to college to get away from him. And money had become such an issue in the divorce, I tried not to ask for any from either parent.

I weighed less in high school than I did in middle school, because of the irrational way I rationed my food. I would allow myself 1 item to eat for the entire day. It could have been an apple, a pack of crackers, a candy bar, a taco. It didn’t matter what it was, just that I only ate 1 thing. (sounds so crazy now!)  People complimented me and told me I was beautiful. I knew I was on the right track. I started going to art class during my lunch period to avoid looking at food. I filled my day with activities to keep me busy and away from food. I weighed myself several times a day. If I gained a pound, I would only allow myself water until that pound came back off.

By my senior year, I restricted my diet even further, not allowing junk food ever, and still only eating 1 item a day. I got sick and weak, even got mononucleosis.  I was pale and frail, but I thought I looked pudgy and hated my stomach and thighs. I had stretch marks from losing weight. NO ONE ever told me to eat! NO Adult in my life ever thought to see what I ate. NO one knew the pain I had in side me. I was so weak I could barely carry my books home, but I felt so strong for conquering food.

So when I started dating my husband, he took me out to nice restaurants, and made me home-cooked meals – with amazing food. And we ate. And we ate. I had never eaten a burger until I met him. And it took a few years of watching him eat them with joy for me to try one. I gained 20 pounds the first year of dating him. I exercised that away so I could continue to eat. This worked until the depression hit me, and the years of antidepressants – Effexor helped me, but I gained 60 pounds while on it. While depressed, I ate mostly sugar, bags and bags of candy. And I barely moved, just a lump on the couch. It was terrible. I hated myself.

I decided to get healthy before getting pregnant. I went extreme again with 1st pregnancy. I ate no junk food at all the entire 9 months, and made all of my own foods from scratch. NO ice cream for me. I was determined no chemicals would get to my baby. I lost so much weight while pregnant, they sent me to nutrition classes and gave me free food – WIC. Somehow I had a healthy baby, but continued to lose weight during the postpartum depression. I could barely make enough milk for baby, that was when I started to eat again. I was not going to give my baby formula – I’d feel like a failure. (are you getting how hard I am on myself?) But opening the gates released the flood, and I went right back to overeating and bingeing. But having no car at that time, I walked everywhere and stayed thin until baby 2. I no longer controlled my eating at all. I was so stressed I went back to candy to help me feel better.

The weight went back on.

So I’ve been up and down with each pregnancy, 30 pounds over weight, or 30 pounds under-weight. Never just a healthy middle. I am currently about 10 pounds overweight according to BMI and doctors.  I don’t know anymore. I feel huge. I feel squishy and weak. My stomach is a nightmare of stretch marks and c-section scars. I am afraid to tackle it again, and lose control and go too far. But I’m afraid of the long term effect of all this sugar. I still use night time junk food as a comforting crutch, a way to relax from the day. And now I know I also do it to rekindle the only happy memories of childhood. What a mess.

So how do you give up control, and listen to your body, stop eating when you are full, but also eat when are hungry? I have never listened to these cues and I don’t know how to reconnect with that part of me.

But I am positive that the night time snacking will not be so sweet now that I will think of my dad with each bite. I think I may be cured.


14 thoughts on “Brilliant Therapist sorts out my Disordered Eating

  1. Amazing!! You really do have a good therapist 🙂 I love it when things fall into place like that and you have a chance to look back and understand a part of yourself in a new way. Great job!

    • Thanks! Yes I think may have reached a turning point here. I’m thinking about my M+M’s I had last night, and just feel nauseous. Usually I am already looking forward to my nightly snack. But to see my dad attached to it, oh wow, no. I don’t need that.

  2. There is SO much in this post, that I can’t possibly say half of the things I was thinking as I read your post. Here’s the part that seemed to say “don’t forget to tell her this” the loudest …

    When I read “But I am positive that the night time snacking will not be so sweet now that I will think of my dad with each bite. I think I may be cured” it scared the hell outta me. Let me try to explain. On the one hand, I think you’ve made an association, through therapy, that is brilliant. Beyond brilliant. And it truly may be the key that helps you unlock that one door (about night time snacking). But I want to also say to beware. You’ve had the realization, and the epiphany, and you’ve figured out the association. But you still might stumble. You still might have a hard time breaking the habit, even knowing the association, and knowing how one connects to the other. When you stumble, you’ll have to be careful not to turn against yourself and start despising, or faulting, or hating.

    KNOWING is one thing. DOING is another. It sounds like you’ve already figured this out in other areas of your life, and it is really exciting to see you being filled with confidence at how therapy is helping you unravel some of those mysteries, but please remember that there will most probably still be times that you might struggle, so please make up your mind now to be gentle with yourself, or the damage just keeps compounding, and that epiphany gets lost somewhere. You’re so brave and smart for documenting what you are learning, and when I hear the power in your voice today, it really does fill me with a very tangible kind of happy.

    Last, but not least, I wish I had half the stamina and determination that you are displaying as you write these words. You are really making an effort to get healthier, and to understand the connections that led you to where you are today, and to figure out ways you can help yourself get to where you want to be, once and for all. I’m sorry to say that I’ve long since given up on my battle with food, and giving up got me to where I am today (more than 200 lbs overweight). You might stumble, and you might have to keep learning some of the same lessons, (but in different ways), but I hope that you won’t give up. I hope you’ll keep building on the momentum that you’re creating today, and that you will find your answers. You deserve to live inside the body that matches the person you’re becoming, and not the person you used to be. The body that I’m living inside today is a reflection of what was broken, and not a reflection of all the hard work I’ve done. If you keep your eyes open, and keep doing the work, I really believe you are capable to living inside the body you’ve earned. You are someone who is asking the right questions, and doing the work. Keep going!

    • What a thoughtful comment, and I am truly touched by your support and care for me. I totally understand your words of caution. I have in the past held myself to such high standards, but I seem to have a balance now, more at peace. I’m not so silly to think I will never overeat or use food as comfort again. But this understanding into why it has been comforting is monumental to me. I do believe it is the missing piece, and it will be a tool. When I wrote the bit about “I think I may be cured” I was feeling so nauseous thinking of my dad, and the power he used to have over me. Now that I know this is another area that is distorted for me, I can use that to make a powerful choice to be healthy. I’ve never attacked my eating habits from a healthy place, it was always to be thin and what I thought was beautiful. I used to judge overweight people harshly, just like my dad, calling them names and thinking they were weak and inferior. I used the same judgement on myself. My babies allowed me to see my body as a vessel, not me, but what carries me. I was amazed by what my body could do, and no longer cared about looking perfect, I was happy to look like a mom. But I am not fine to have health issues that keep me from living how I want, and I am especially not fine if I am the one causing these health issues. My goal is no longer obsessed perfection, but peaceful health and strength. I have worked hard to get here, and gave up many times. I don’t feel like I will give up on myself anymore, but I do also have that feeling with each dip into depression (so mild now) that what if I do? And it is scary. That fear is worse than the depression these days. I have been through hell and back, and I don’t ever want to return. But I could. So I guess my strength comes from knowing I returned once, I could do it again, and now I have the tools and the support network so it wouldn’t be as bad. I was still in the grips of my dad the last time. So I’m fairly confident the only one going to hell, and staying there, is him.

      I’m so sorry for your struggles, but if you’re like me, you hate hearing that. I hate when people apologize for my crappy life, I don’t want pity and sorrow. I also believe it is never too late. You can always decide to NOT give up. And yes, I think it is a choice. I calmly chose to end my life years ago. I had no fire left in me, I thought, but it turns out the light was always there, and now I am a force to be reckoned with. I see everything so clearly now. Yes, I still have bad days, and yes, my years ahead are going to be difficult and full of things I did not want to do. Yes, some days I will cave and stumble. But I am not made of glass and will not shatter.

      I have learned to treat myself how I treat others. I listen carefully and respectfully and do what I can to help. I give myself opportunities to experience and share joy now. I don’t know where I’ll be in 30 years, when kids are grown. But I think I see my path for the next few years, and I love what I see ahead for all of us. Loving (most) of my life right now. It is an exciting journey.

      • Appreciate your response, and heard what you were saying (even the part about not giving up). I’m glad to hear that you are remembering to be aware of that voice in our heads that wants to beat up on us, and tell us we’re failing, and helps us get stuck in the failure, instead of celebrating the successes (as Judy mentioned below).

        Someone I admire a lot has a catch-phrase that she uses on her blog. It goes like this “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.” Her name is Laurie Buchanan, and she’s a holistic practitioner in Crystal Lake, IL, and I met her through blogging about six or seven years ago. You can find her blog here. (I hope the url link works – I’m still learning how to embed links appropriately within comments). In case I got it wrong, since I can’t go back and fix the comment once I post it, you can find her at holessence dot wordpress dot com.

        Anyway, her catch-phrase kind of speaks to the essence of approaching just about anything in your life that you are struggling against, and also asks you to recognize that you have control over all the different aspects of your life. It says that if you don’t like something about your life, then you should change it. Sounds simple enough, right? In some ways, it’s very simple. The concept is simple. But the implementation can be difficult.

        I remember the first time I really “got” what she was saying with her catch-phrase. How everything we do in life is a choice. How we roll out of bed in the morning. How we talk to people. How we make choices about what we eat. How we make decisions that affect the other people in our life. All of them are CHOICES.

        Recognizing that we are always the one doing the choosing … well, that puts a lot of power in OUR hands. Of course, it also leaves you nowhere to hide.

        As in, does this mean I am CHOOSING to be overweight? Well, yes. Maybe I never sat down and said I thought it might be a good idea if I became 200 lbs overweight, but every choice I made about what went into my body, or how much exercise I didn’t get, or how much I ignored all the health risks of being obese, or how I failed to properly find a way to quit using the fat to hide behind … those were all choices, nonetheless. It seems to leave room for reversing the trend, when you force yourself to acknowledge that everything we do is a choice.

        You had a epiphany when you realized the late-night snacking was directly connected to your father, and now you will use that information to help you every time you have that urge to repeat the same action. Because I see you working so hard at fixing what is broken about the messages and connections that exist in your head, I’d like to offer you one more piece of ammunition. “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.” (as quoted from Laurie Buchanan)

        We forget that we hold all the power. We’re so used to being powerless.

        Wishing you nothing but the best of luck as you continue with your journey.

      • Just found this comment, that link sent it to my spam box. Thank you so much. I love that catch-phrase and look forward to reading more of Laurie Buchanan’s blog. That is exactly what I am trying to do. I am realizing the power we all hold to make choices. I feel that I had no choices and no power as a child. As a young adult I had choices, but I still did not realize my power. I do now. I choose to be happy and healthy, so I need to make the right choices to get there.

  3. There is so much here that resonates with me, but I’ll simply answer your question: How did I release control? A little bit at a time, day by day. It isn’t over, yet, but I’m doing much better. I stumble a lot. I learned to stop beating myself up over it. Every day I ate healthy, I won. If I messed up, it didn’t change the day I did well. If I could do it once, I could do it again. I thought I was weak-willed and couldn’t control what I ate. Then I remember eating every other day. I’d reached the point where it was the only way to lose weight. The days I ate, I carefully regulated everything going into my mouth. Fortunately, it didn’t last long. I figured out how stupid I was being. I tried eating every four hours. It didn’t work. So I ate twice a day. I wasn’t always successful. I finally realized it wasn’t really healthy. By the time I was willing to try eating more often, recently, I was mentally in a different place. I didn’t feel the need to hide behind my weight anymore. Now I eat every three hours. I’m exercising more, and I’m losing weight, slowly but surely. The best possible way to lose weight. The biggest difference: I decided hiding behind my weight wasn’t working for me anymore.

    • Thank you. So positive. Yes I also don’t beat myself up about stumbling any more. I’m so happy you are making progress in your goal, but mostly I am happy you are more at peace. I totally get the “if I did it once I can do it again” part. I’m not striving for perfection, but an overall goal of health. I have no preset image or target weight. Just exercise more, and eat less sugar. The rest will follow. I definitely need to eat more often, I get so focused on my work, kids, or projects, and I have never listened to my body. But the thought of setting a timer to eat seems silly and too controlling. Not sure what the next step is there. Will keep reading and trying, and I’m sure I will figure it out. But no pressure. I will be as gentle with me as I am to others.

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