Often, we become so bogged down by the critic inside of us, that we are unable to separate ourselves from that voice, the voice that feels like it is us, but really is not us. It’s the little judge inside of us that is a perpetual teenage girl telling us things like “you’re so fat, you’re so ugly, you’re so stupid, no one likes you…” blah blah blah. This voice isn’t real. This feels like it’s you, but it’s the part of you that criticizes yourself needlessly. This critic is not helpful. Sometimes we feel like it’s helpful, like it will help you to be a better person, but it won’t. Think about a child. Does a child feel good about herself and try harder when the parent tells them that they are stupid, bad children? No, the child feels terribly about herself. She eventually acts out as a bad child because this is what is expected of her. But what if a child is loved and encouraged. She is then more likely to feel good about herself and achieve more in life. One of the ways to challenge your critic is to first notice it. When you feel yourself hearing things in your head like “fat, stupid, ugly… no one likes you,” blah blah, the teenage girl mantra.. first notice it, notice that this is not real, this is your critic. No one else is saying these things about you, just you are. And what if they are thinking these things about you? First off, they probably aren’t, most people are too self absorbed to think too much about other people. Chances are if they are thinking these things about you that they themselves are very critical to self as well. If they are having critical thoughts about you it doesn’t matter. The only thoughts that can hurt you are your own. So having loving, peaceful thoughts about yourself will just feel better. To do this you must actively challenge those critical thoughts and then find your inner nurturer. So, you’re at a party or even just at the grocery store and you’re looking down and feeling as though everyone is thinking bad thoughts about you and you are thinking bad thoughts about yourself. Notice that this is not real, that this is your critic. Tell your critic to leave you alone. Take a deep breath, look up and smile at someone, anyone. If they don’t smile back, find someone else to smile at. Try to get out from under your critic by connecting with other people. If love and peace and happiness is put out and mirrored back to you, your feelings will begin to transform. If you are submerged by your critic, you will feel trapped under its crushing weight, only to find yourself angry, sad, and lonely. Give yourself love and try to let it in as well. Next… finding your inner nurturer.
You know that voice, the annoying one inside your head that’s always saying things like, “you should workout more,” or “you shouldn’t have eaten so much,” or “you should be skinnier…” or sometimes even worse things like, “you’re a fat pig,” or “you’re stupid,” or “you’re dumb,” or “people hate you…” or “people will think that there’s something wrong with you…” do you know that voice?
If these voices sound familiar, you are intimately acquainted with your inner critic. In simplest terms, your critic is the super-ego run amok. Your super ego is the part of your psyche that is set up to keep you from acting on the drives of your id. Freud described it as “retaining the character of the father.” So, basically, your super-ego is the internalized voice of the disciplinarian. Your super-ego keeps you from acting out on your dangerous urges.
In those of us with eating disorders, the super-ego is overdeveloped and becomes out of control. It becomes not a way for us to maintain healthy boundaries, but a structure set up to emotionally abuse us if we step outside of the rigid framework that we’ve created for ourselves.
Why does the critic develop this way? There could be several reasons, or no reason at all. Some people have highly critical parents who only loved you when you did something right and punished you when you did something wrong. Some people might have parents who were very loving toward them but not very loving for themselves. It’s difficult to learn self love when it’s not modeled for you.
The critic tells you that there’s something wrong with you, when there’s probably nothing wrong with you. The critic tells you that other people are thinking that there’s something wrong with you, which might or might not be true, either way there’s nothing you can do about it, you can only really change your view of yourself.
As you begin to learn how to love yourself and to challenge the critic, you will find yourself feeling more comfortable with yourself and feeling more joyous…
In the next entry, I’ll be discussing some ways to work with the critic.
The concept of doing something different seems pretty simple, but in the moment of a binge, it can be very difficult. So, here’s a fun project. Make yourself a big beautiful sign that says “DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.” Put in on your refrigerator, cupboard, pantry, wherever you go when you binge. On the back of the sign, make a list of other things you can do! For example:
1. take a walk
2. dance around your living room
3. do crossword puzzles
4. play scrabble online ( www.scrabulous.com)
5. go outside
6. call a friend, family member, support person
7. go to a cafe
8. acknowledge and try to sit with your feelings
9. think about how you want to feel later (allow yourself to see your decision through to the end)
10. visualize something positive
11. go to a 12 step meeting
12. go to yahoogroups.com (search OA, overeaters, AA, etc..)
13. do your hair
14. brush your teeth/floss your teeth
15. light candles or incense
16. shower/take a long hot bath
17. lay down and rest or go to sleep if tired.
19. write a letter/email
20. read old letters/emails
21. take a soothing bathtub with lavendar oil
22. create a collage
23. paint a picture
26. go to church/synagogue
27. watch a dvd or go out to the movies
29. breath/meditate/stretch/do yoga
30. bring food to homeless people
31. volunteer or research volunteer opportunities at volunteermatch.org
32. go visit patients in the hospital
33. step outside
34. cross things off your to do list
35. spa day in your home. hot oil treatment, manicure, pedicure, facial, etc…
36. go out for a manicure/pedicure, etc.
ALTERNATIVE FOR QUIETING THE CRITIC
37. look at pictures of friends
38. listen to old voicemails
39. make a gratitude list
40. tell the critic it’s wrong and list the reasons why
41. externalize the critic
42. scream at (into) pillow
43. scream outside
44. throw rocks outside in nature, into the ocean perhaps (not at a person!)
45. go to a kickboxing class
46. go out dancing with friends
47. allow yourself to receive love and validation from loved ones.
In my first semester of graduate school, one of my professors asked if any of us were going home for Thanksgiving. About half of the class raised their hands. “No matter how much work you’ve been doing on yourself, no matter how many years you’ve been in therapy, as soon as you return home, you’re right back into whatever your role was in the family all those same old family dynamics. Good Luck. Have fun, enjoy being 12 years old again.”
Well, I don’t fully agree. With some consciousness and attention, you can care for yourself and have your needs met when you go home for the holidays.
First off, have an action plan.
Do you tend to binge when you are back home? If so, when? Is it at night when your family is asleep?
Here are some ways to keep yourself occupied at night. First off, when you feel a binge coming on, if you can and it’s safe to do so, maybe you can get out of your house and take a walk around the block, or sit outside and look at the stars for a while. Allow yourself to wish on a star and gather some strength for going back inside.
Do you have fun books or magazines to read while you’re there? Something to occupy your mind? Something to help you shut down? DVDs that you enjoy? What about your laptop? You can get onto your computer and send out an email to a discussion board for example go onto an OA board and post there. You will get support immediately, and even looking through others’ posts about how they are surviving the holidays will help.
Too late? You’ve already started? It’s not too late. YOU. CAN. STOP. NOW. I know that it feels like one you’ve started a binge that it’s all over, but it’s not true. You can choose to stop a binge. You can interrupt the binge and sit with your discomfort around it. The more you exercise that muscle, the stronger it will become and you will find yourself becoming stronger than the binge. Your ability to sit with your feelings, and increase your capacity to sit with uncomfortable feelings will enable you to become stronger and stronger and thus rely on yourself to care for yourself in tough times rather than food.
What about chocolate and cakes and cookies all sorts of things at the office?
Now this is a hard one. Of course it’s okay to have one or two treats that people bring in or clients send, but if it’s going to trigger a binge, it might be best to stay away from these treats for the time being. If you chose to have something, give yourself a limit. Just one or two pieces. Then, sit with what you’re feeling. Set an intention for yourself that you can have a taste or a snack, but this is not going to lead to a binge. Just because you’ve had something “unhealthy” doesn’t mean that your day is ruined and you have to go home and binge. You can stop at just a few pieces of cookies, cake, candy, etc.
There is a common feeling amongst all binge eaters that if they “eat off” their day is ruined and they might as well have a free-for-all. This is flawed logic. How does eating a one piece of chocolate or a slice of cake equate to having to go home and eat a whole box of cookies? It doesn’t. Just think of what it would be like to be a normal eater, to be able to have a slice or a piece and then continue your healthy eating regimen for the rest of the day.
You can’t let yourself start? Then don’t. Again, it’s about getting support, calling a friend, getting some fresh air, sipping some tea, treating yourself to a manicure, pedicure, massage, new book, call to an old friend… whatever it is that nurtures you.
Okay, now what about holiday parties?
Again, you need an action plan. The first thing you must remember to do is EAT before you go. You don’t want to show up to a holiday party hungry. It can cause too much time at the buffet table. Allow yourself to arrive at the party feeling satisfied. Check out the buffet table, figure out which are “safe foods” (non-binge triggers) that you can let yourself enjoy that night. Allow yourself to take some time to mingle, talk to people, enjoy the party, and then, when you are ready, make yourself a plate of the foods that you will enjoy that evening. If this seems like an impossible feat, have some resources available. First, make sure to eat dinner before you show up. Then, once you get there, position yourself away from the food and focus on the company. If there are kids there, play with children too, great fun to occupy your mind. Stay away from alcohol as well. Make sure that you have your cell phone with you so that you can call a supportive person if you become overwhelmed at the party or bring a safe person with you to the party and explain to him or her what your goals are and what your needs are.
If you find yourself not able to make it through, give yourself a break and leave early. You don’t have to stay late, you are allowed to make an appearance and take care of yourself and your recovery.
The best holiday gift that you can give yourself is to stay healthy and true to yourself. If you are able to make it through the holidays, or at least a few days of the holidays without binging, you don’t have to worry about making those all or nothing new year’s resolutions (I WILL NEVER EAT A CARB AGAIN!) and then wind up binging on January 4th. Stay conscious. Stay focused. Recognize yourself. Have an observing ego around your binging and have fun with it. Notice where you are, what you’re doing, what you’re feeling and what happens to you as you fall into bingey, snacky, eatty moods. This holiday season, you can really get to learn and know yourself.
Sometimes, a binge can be a way to hold tightly onto very uncomfortable emotions; like fear, like depression, like pain, like sadness, like anxiety… Sometimes, when a feeling begins to show through, the instinct would be to push it down tightly by eating and making the feeling go away. Unfortunately, this is temporary. Very temporary. It ends up making you feel even worse about yourself. Feeling horribly uncomfortable in your body, feeling angry at yourself for the binge and feeling all the uncomfortable effects of overeating especially sugar, flour, alcohol and other foods that can make you feel tired, foggy and depressed.
So, when you feel a binge coming on, experiment with letting go.
Write about it. What are you feeling? What hurts? What are you afraid of?
Tell someone. Talk about your fear and your anxiety. Confront it. Don’t let it be bigger than you. Don’t try to push it down. It will come back at you with a vengeance.
How? Carry a journal around with you, start an anonymous blog, talk to supportive people, sit alone and meditate, take a slow meditative walk, try to relax before you take that first step toward a binge…
When we listen to the needs of our bodies, eat nurturing, healthful foods when we are hungry and stop when we are satisfied, we settle into our natural weight. Our natural weight isn’t fat, nor is it skinny. So, thus the conundrum, many women (and men) find their natural weights displeasing.
As we all know, the media portrays certain unrealistic body types as desirable, but why is it that some people are susceptible to that kind of pressure? Is it that we feel inherently unacceptable at the core, so that the ideal matches our own feelings of self?
Body image and self esteem issues arise when somehow you feel that you won’t be acceptable until you look a certain way, have achieved a certain status, goal, body weight, salary, etc. When you are at that goal, you are finally acceptable and are thus allowed to be happy. So, you check in to see if you’ve achieved that goal yet and then, if you have you check and see if you’re allowed to be happy. This is a task of sisyphusian proportions because clearly, (and hopefully) there are always more goals to achieve.
What would it be like if you were able to be happy at this moment?
That certainly doesn’t mean that you will have to put off any of your goals, it just means you will have more love behind you than hate and criticism. It’s easier to move when you are being gently encouraged than when you are being whipped, yelled at, berated. And if you need a rest, you take a rest.
How do you change from a heavy handed iron first super-ego to an encouraging ego that helps you on your way?
#1. do things that make you happy.
#2. listen to the words that you tell yourself (I must, I must, I must), forget about must and move over to “when I am able to…”
#3. Put encouraging words, mantras, etc. up in your bathroom, on your refrigerator, etc. ie: on the fridge “Treat yourself to something wonderful and relaxing, like a bubble bath, you deserve it.” on the bathroom mirror, “you are beautiful.” And remember you are okay the way you are.
#4. Volunteer. Check out a website like volunteer match that will help you to get out of your routine and your mindset.
#5. Visualize yourself accepting your body no matter what it looks like. Feel what it would be like to love your body. It’s much easier to treat your body right (to eat right and exercise) when you love and respect your body).
Many people with EDs are afraid of self acceptance because they fear that this will lead to slovenliness and thea tthye will have no control withou the harsh superego. But it’s the harshness that leads to the pain and paralysis. Just imagine how much quicker you’d be able to run up the hill if you didn’t have that gigantic rock to push.
Month after month, my clients come in after suffering miserably for the whole week before their periods, wishing they could take back the previous week, having binged the whole week before. What is it about PMS that makes us so bingey?
I can’t tell you that I know what makes us get to the point that we’re eating a bag of lays, a box of cupcakes and a whole pizza, but I can tell you that it makes our hormones go crazy. GO CRAZY! And as our brains are attempting to balance our hormones, we become deficient in seratonin. Good ole’ seratonin.
So… nutritionally, there are a few things that you can do to help balance your hormones.
First off, the following supplements seem to help, Magnesium, Vitamin E, a B-complex, Omega 3s and Omega 6s, and Evening Primrose Oil. Take low dosage daily throughout the month. Even a potent vitamin mineral formula for women should be good.
Because there are so many hormones in meat and dairy products, I’d reccommend switching to Organic meat and dairy if it’s viable for you.
Something else that you can do is place a castor oil pack over your liver during your time of the month. This is done by soaking a or flannel cloth with castor oil and applying it to the lower right side of your abdomen. Cover the cloth with saran wrap, and then apply a heating pad over this pack. You can just let yourself relax, maybe watch a fun movie or read a book while it’s there. It should be very relaxing to you and supposedly will help to detoxify your liver and balance hormones.
Relaxation is key, because your body is working very hard during your time of the month and you will attempt to take care of yourself through food. Clearly, it’s not the best medicine.
Remind yourself that you are having PMS and that it’s time to be gentle with yourself.
I can’t tell you that I fully understand anxiety. I’m not sure why some people are controlled by their anxiety and some people are fully able integrate life into their day-to-day without being ruled by anxiety.
Anxiety is fear on caffeine pills.
Often times, binges come out of anxiety. The flood of seratonin that you get from the binge will help calm you down. Hellish bliss. Because then, comes all the anxiety from the binge. Did I just make myself fat? Am I fat? Should I purge? What should I do? I just ruined it!
Anxiety is not simple. And it’s sneaky. Even if you try to interupt your thoughts, it will come back in other ways.
Delving into the anxiety is one way that I believe it will begin to dissipate.
Sometimes a thought pops up. And then, before you know it, your head is in the refrigerator. Possibly going back to the thought again and again and being with the anxiety a bit until the shock of it dulls a bit.
And then following the anxiety to the source of it.
for example: “I look fat… If I look fat, people won’t like me. If people don’t like me, no one will want to be around me. My boyfriend/girlfriend will leave me, I’ll never find someone to love me, I’ll be completely alone and then I’ll die alone and rats will eat my decaying body…”
Most anxiety, in it’s truest form is existential angst, the fear of death or being alone and dying alone. Anything that we can do to lessen that fear, (which puts us in a place of uncomfortable, heightened state of vigilance) we will do. Bingeing is certainly one way to lessen anxiety. But clearly not the healthiest. And it becomes a vicious cycle.
Other ways to work with anxiety.
1. Acceptance– when you accept that you have no control over life, an amazing sense of peace drapes over you. Also known as surrender.
2. Meditation— lessens anxiety. Allows you to be in the present moment.
3. Exercise– being in your body and in the moment gets you out of your head and helps you stop “future tripping.”
4. Sleep– getting enough sleep balances brain chemistry to help lessen anxiety as well.
Women are pretty. Women are sweet, petite, and certainly not angry.
Did you grow up thinking that?
I would either completely avoid my anger (starve myself) or stuff it all down (binge). I would then deny that I had any anger, “I’m just not an angry person,” I’d tell my therapist.
Now, when clients say that to me, and they often do, I remember how difficult my own process, of accepting and navigating my anger was (and continues to be).
Something that Padma Catell (my favorite professor in grad school) said always stands out for me and I have passed this on to many of my clients. “God gives us millions of emotions and we only let ourselves feel half of them…”
And it’s true. I think that one of the reasons women tend to stay away from anger is because we don’t want to be seen as out of control, desperate, or difficult. We want to be easy, laid back, with a devil-may-care attitude. Like Holly Go-Lightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
But let’s not forget that she wrecked her whole bedroom, tearing pillows apart, feathers flying everywhere and generally went nuts when her brother Fred died. I say hurray to Holly G! You be in your process girl! And maybe the uptight Prime Minister of Brazil thought she was too volatile and not right for him, but fake Fred (Baby) loved her. No matter how nutso she went. And he accepted her anger. And he loved it.
Love, humanity, etc. will exist not despite your anger, but with it.
And there are fun, healthy ways to process anger.
1.) Angry letters, written with ballpoint pens that you can press hard with.
3.) Screaming into a pillow
4.) Just being grumpy for a day or two and being okay with it. And then telling people, “I’m grumpy! So what! Let me be grumpy!” And finding people who are okay with that. Not everyone will be. Like, maybe in the workplace, not the perfect setting.
5.) Stomping up a hill in heavy boots.
6.) Throwing Punches
My point is not that we should walk around angry, but at the same time, we can’t avoid it. It will get stuck, repressed, and that’s how we become toxic and depressed. Depression is anger turned inward, which is why so many women are diagnosed with depression.
Allow it to move through you and work itself out. Try to figure out if you are having the urge to stuff your anger. If you are, think of different ways that you might be able to move that energy.
In food recovery, we talk alot about triggers. When one of my best friends was recovering from bulimia, she ritualized the act of cleaning out the cabinets, cupboards, refrigerator of all her binge foods, or “triggers.”
While getting food out of the house is can certainly be a helpful ritual– the cleansing of the surroundings, the control and empowerment involved in that action; it is not the one act alone that will put an end to the food issues.
First off, most people who binge don’t really have binge foods in their house. In fact, most binge eaters and bulimics don’t have any food in the house other than the bare basics. Why?
a) They don’t trust themselves. — They are afraid of the binge, so they remove the temptation.
b) Most are black & white thinkers– because of that rigid thinking, they believe that if it’s in the house, they have failed and they must get it out so that they can start their day fresh and new.
If a binge eater wants to binge he or she will usually leave the house to buy their binge foods. Many supermarkets are open all night, so this really isn’t a problem in most urban areas.
So, does getting the trigger food out of the house work? Maybe a little. But not really.
Beacause food is not the trigger. You can’t get rid of the trigger. The trigger will happen nonetheless.
Some common triggers:
FEELING FULL. — this is ironic, but often, when someone with food and body image issues is feeling full, they will binge. The feeling of being full is so uncomfortable that they need to numb themselves to it.
Some possible help for this trigger.
a.) Taking a walk
b.) Calling a supportive friend
c.) Doing something to distract yourself and reminding yourself that the feeling will pass as you digest.
Why? We’re not allowed to be angry. As children many of us were given food to shut us up, which in turn brought us comfort. What else can we do when we’re angry?
Cry! Get support! Throw a good old fashioned temper tantrum.
More on Triggers later…