Ask the LifeQuake Doctor – Aug 2016
Dear Dr. Toni:
I have had issues with food my entire life. I think it started in Catholic school when I was about eleven years old and began developing breasts. The nuns in the school I went to made a big fuss about me binding my breasts (like they did, I guess) so I wouldn’t give the boys a distraction in school.
When I was thirteen, I had a great body, but all the attention I got only made me afraid. I was raised to believe that sex outside of marriage was sinful, so food became my lover. It was safer to eat and hide and then I would feel shame from gaining weight and this battle of self-hate became insidious. I am so sick of it. I am tired of dieting, purging, and the eventual pounds that always come back.
What can I do, Dr. Toni? How do I heal this? I’m also tired of therapy, which is why I figured I’d write to you. And, I know that there is no miracle cure that words in a column can give me.
–Frustrated and Fat in Orange County
My heart goes out to you. I do feel your pain and your frustration. And you are not alone; many people suffer with the same yo-yo battle with their weight and more importantly, their bodies.
I have worked with the whole range of what we call eating disorders—from severe anorexia to bulimia and obesity. As the field of addiction has turned more to neuroscience for answers to healing, we know that childhood trauma plays a huge role in creating patterns in the brain that trigger compulsive behaviors.
At one time, it was believed that severe anorexia was incurable, for example. The clinical trials using mindfulness training are showing great promise. Meditation has the potential to repattern the brain so the amygdala does not fire off traumatic responses to current events that are stressful as it once did.
A specific form of psychotherapy that has been integrated in the recovery process from binge eating disorder is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which often has emphasis placed on the practice of mindfulness and other relaxation techniques.
DBT is helpful for individuals who are suffering with emotional dysregulation, such as in the case of binge eating disorder, as it teaches patients how to “accept” any thoughts or feelings that may be unpleasant, rather than resisting. As a core fundamental of DBT therapy, the integration of mindfulness teaches people how to experience their emotions fully and without judgment and to observe their environment with perspective. When used as a part of comprehensive treatment, DBT can be an effective tool in decreasing the frequency of bingeing episodes.
If you were my client, I would work on practices that can begin an inner bonding experience between your adult you and your child you. For some people, they cannot envision an adult version of themselves, so I have them experience a wise adult that represents their higher self. Getting a stuffed animal that you can relate to helps with this process. Give the stuffed animal your real name as “little Sally,” for example. Hold the stuffed animal and talk to it as your inner child in a kind loving voice. There is a Hawaiian practice called honopono which involves saying four sentences over and over using your own name: “I’m sorry, _____. Please forgive me, _____. I love you, _____. Thank you, _____.” Do this over and over again.
Every time you binge, tell yourself “I love you, _____” until you get to the point you have developed enough relaxation around the urge to eat or purge that you can make a deal with yourself: “I will sit with these feelings, let them move through, and then I will say ‘I love you, _____’ over and over for five minutes before going into the kitchen.” And then, whatever you eat, say “I love you, _____” afterwards for five minutes as well.
Another technique I recommend is writing out the words, “I now release the vow I took to be invisible” or “I now release the vow I took to protect myself by being overweight.” See which one fits best. There might be another vow you took that fits better, but was an unconscious decision you made as a kid to handle the negative attention you received from authority figures around your weight. Place one hand over your belly button and call back your personal power from everyone in your life you gave it away to. With that hand, say the words again, “I love you, _____.
Coming into loving presence with your body will change your nervous system. It just requires the commitment of daily attention. If all you can do is thirty seconds, start with that and build the tolerance to compassionate body awareness.
Blessings to you!