family

Q & A Friday- How do I explain my eating disorder to my daughter?

how do talk to my daughter about eating disorders?I know that I have a huge backlog of questions to answer and you’ll forgive me that I pushed this one to the front. I so rarely get parenting questions and I forget how important they really are.
Question:
After many, many years of struggle, I am finally trying to seriously recover from my binge eating disorder.  Your website has given me many important points to take time to think about as I begin.  I do know that I never learned how to deal with feelings of any kind and I binge to numb them away.

My daughter is 11.  As far as I can tell, she (so far) does not care about her appearance beyond being clean. She doesn’t watch herself or her food with a critical eye.

She noticed and asked about my food and feelings journal. I explained that I carry the journal to write down some things to think about later, but that is all.
This leads to my questions: How much should she know about my disorder and recovery?  Should I wait until I am further into recovery instead of at the beginning to discuss it, if at all?

I understand that every child is different and every parent-child relationship is different, so there is no single solution. I guess I am hoping for a bit of guidance from experience on what generally should or should not be shared.

On the one hand, I think it could lead to an important discussion about body image and how NOT to deal with uncomfortable feelings. It could also possibly help us bond further by letting her in to my inner struggles and humanity.  I am her stepmother, but the only mom she has ever known.

On the other hand, I’m worried that I will awaken a critical eye in her just by discussing this. Also, because I don’t know how to deal with feelings myself yet, I won’t have an answer for her about what she SHOULD do when dealing with feelings.

Thank you for any insight you can give me and again, thank you for your resources on the web.
Answer:
I love your question. It’s so insightful and shows that you’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve been holding this question and thinking about how to answer it.
Generally speaking, I believe that it’s always important in families to be honest. I also believe it’s important not only to let your children have their own feelings, but to show them that you too have feelings and that you’re not afraid of them. I think it’s important to give children an emotional literacy. To ask them what they are feeling and then to help them contact what feelings they are having. You can give your daughter a feelings list and together you can look it over and discuss what  feelings you might be experiencing in the moment. You might even take it a step further and ponder where in your body you feel specific feelings, for instance, “I am feeling fear in my stomach.” Together, you will learn how to talk about feelings which will create a strong basis for future discussions, openness and honesty.
That being said, I think that your instinct to protect your daughter at this time are probably right. I don’t know that she needs to know details about your eating disorder, your feelings and your recovery at this moment. Especially because they are still eluding you somewhat. It’s important for children to feel safe and held and it’s possible that she might begin to feel like she has to be the mom and she has to take care of you if she begins to worry about you. That does not mean being in denial about what is going on with you. If she asks point blank, be forthcoming. For instance, “Mommy, how come you never used to eat but now you’re eating with us?” you can say, “I was not eating healthy before, but I’m working to be strong and healthy now,” and if she asks you why you weren’t eating healthy, you can tell her that you still don’t know why but you are trying to learn that now by thinking and talking about your feelings, then ask her what she thinks and how she feels about that and what that brings up for her. Make every inquiry from her an opportunity for her to discuss her feelings. And at the same time, it’s important that you do share with her, but don’t share too much. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that pre-teens are younger emotionally than they seem.  What I have seen often in my practice is Moms oversharing with their daughters, making them their confidants, then the girls being parentified daughter. 
In my own family, I  remember my brother trying to control my step-mother’s eating disorder by him refusing to eat. When we sat down to dinner, if she wasn’t eating, he wouldn’t eat and it became a huge fight and was very unpleasant. She never discussed her recovery with us and never really tried to recover. It was definitely very difficult for us to watch. We were both always worried from very young ages.  As your daughter becomes more aware of you and your eating behaviors, I would encourage you to check in with her about her feelings and create an open environment for learning and emotional literacy.   I hope that this was helpful to you. Please do comment and let me know how you’re doing.

 

Warmly,

 

Leora

 

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location. Are you interested in online therapy to deal with your eating disorder? Please see my website or email me to discuss getting started. 

Going home for the holidays when you’re dealing with binge eating disorder or bulimia

During my first semester of grad school, right before  Thanksgiving break, my Human Development professor asked for a show of hands as to how many people were heading home for the holidays. After about half the class raised their hands, he looked at us and said, “Listen, I don’t care how long you’ve been in therapy, I don’t care how many years of 4 day a week Psychoanalysis you’ve done, I don’t care how many meditation retreats you’ve done, how many Shamanic journeys you’ve been on, how many sweat lodges you’ve been to, or how much family counseling you’ve done… because when you go home, no matter what you’ve been doing up to this point, you are going to be exactly the same person as you were when you lived with your family. You’ll be 12 years old again and you’ll feel it and you’ll behave that way… don’t worry. It’s normal and that’s just the way it is. Just be prepared.”

So, even if you love, love, love your family and they’re very supportive it’s still challenging to be home when you’re working toward recovery. Your internal roadmap, the way you negotiated life, was created in this environment. When you are outside of the environment, it’s a bit easier to change and revamp that roadmap. When you are back in, often your default settings are reactivated.

At your family’s house if you are staying there:

1.)Be prepared. Know that being at home will probably be a trigger.

2.)If your family is challenging, make sure that you have plans to get out of the house. Take walks, get outside their home and call support people, make plans with old friends to go see a movie.

3.)Have a task while you’re there. Have a book that you’re engrossed in, needlepoint or knitting that you’re working on, some kind of project (ie: grading papers if you’re a teacher) that you can be working on. Anything to give you a bit of an escape.

4.)If your family has a lot of triggering food there, make sure to get to a grocery store and have your own supply of food that feels safe.

5.)If there are times when you know that you binge (ie: the middle of the night when family is asleep) make sure that you have an action plan. Something that you might do is let a friend know that it’s a triggering time and call before you go to sleep and when you wake up (bookend your evenings). You might also attend an online OA meeting at night. You can do some meditation and relaxation techniques in bed to help you sleep and avoid bingeing.

6.)If you know that you binge with your family, you will probably need to assemble some big guns of support.Perhaps you can commit to a support person (or sponsor) outside of the family that you’re not going to binge with them and when they get into that mode, you can step outside and call your support person for a reinforcement.

You might tell your family that you’re not doing this anymore. I know that for many people, that is very hard. They feel as though they’re not being a team player or that they’re not being a part of the family if they don’t participate in the acting out with food or alcohol. But love isn’t about sharing in compulsive behavior. Choosing not to participate doesn’t mean you love your family any less. It’s about you taking care of yourself, and you might just inspire some members of your family to follow suit. Most people inherently want to be healthy, even though it’s hard. If they see you trying to be healthy, it might be easier for them to do the same.

Having your own non-binge foods on hand can help to keep you safe from a binge as well.

7.)If you know that it’s going to be too difficult both emotionally and for your ED, you might just opt to stay in a hotel or with an old friend.

At Holiday Dinner

1.)Stay away from heated conversations, such as politics, religion, why you have your eyebrow pierced, why you’re choosing to go to art school instead of business school, why your new boyfriend plays guitar in a death metal band and lives in garage… etc. etc. Of course it’s your prerogative to discuss anything that you want, but often, staying away from potentially emotionally triggering subjects while you are around potentially binge triggering food might be a good idea.

2.)Don’t drink too much alcohol. Keep yourself alert so that you can choose what you want to eat.

3.)Don’t let yourself get pressured or guilted into eating more than you want to. Even if your Aunt Zelda has spent the past 27 hours slaving over a hot oven to make your favorite 14 pies, you don’t have to eat anything that you don’t want.

4.)You are not responsible for someone who chooses to base their happiness on what you choose to do with your life. Remember that it is not your responsibility to make anyone happy. If someone bases their happiness on what you choose to do with your life and what you choose to eat, that is their choice. They can’t make you feel guilty for doing what you want to do with your life. We each are given our own lives and have the right to do with those lives what we want. Ultimately, it’s important to be kind, thoughtful and considerate. However, it’s unfair to live your life for someone else or to ask someone to live their life for you.

5.)If there are kids around, play with them! Kids can be fun and exhausting and exhilarating. They can also take you outside of the line of fire as well as snacks, appetizers, binge foods, triggering family feuds, etc.

As for the actual meal itself, check out my Thanksgiving post. It applies here as well.

 

Happy Holiday!

How To Be a Better Person

You don't have to run yourself into the ground to be a good person. Save some life for you!

You don’t have to run yourself into the ground to be a good person. Save some life for you!

I have this client who is really afraid that she’s not a good enough person. But here’s the thing, she’s a really good person. But she’s always afraid that she’s not good enough. She’s almost “too good,” she does everything for everyone else,  she covers other people’s shifts when she’s tired, she cooks dinner for her family every night despite having been on her feet for 12 hours (she’s an ER nurse) she takes in strays (people, pets, and projects), she listens for hours on the phone while her friends cry about the pain of life. She’s a perfect mom, friend and wife. She never says no to anyone. She is the President of the PTA, she does every cancer walk, AIDS run, she heads every committee, has big glorious parties, belongs to three different book clubs and she sacrifices her own needs for the sake of others constantly. She’s really that good. And she’s exhausted. She has explained to me several times that she’s not this good out of an altruistic sense. It doesn’t come easily to her. She feels that she has to be that good otherwise she’ll be abandoned, fired, divorced, rejected, cast aside. She wants people to like her and she believes that who she inherently is has no value so she has to constantly do and be better than everyone else to make herself invaluable and indispensable. She fears that without this quality, she would be nothing.

The title of my blog post is more irony, because I have seen in my practice that many people suffering from eating disorders have the co-occurring obsessive desire to be be good. To be better. To be better than anyone else. To be a precious commodity.

It is possible to be a really, really, really good person while still holding yourself and your health in highest regard. So how do you do that? How do you choose to be a good person without sacrificing your own self?

1. Set boundaries. Rather than saying “yes” right away, whenever you are asked to do something let people know that you will see and you’ll get back to them in 24 hours. Then, in those 24 hours, ask yourself the following questions.

a. Do I really want to do this?

b. If so, why do I want to do this? Do I want to do this for the accolades that I will get or for my own personal enjoyment? If it’s for the accolade, if you are trying to control or manipulate what other people are thinking about you, you should experiment with saying “no.”

 

2. Ask yourself this, “If I don’t do it will I feel guilty? If I do do it, will I feel resentful?” If it is a choice between guilt and resentment, go with the guilt. There’s no reason to do something for someone just to resent them afterwards. Sit with and work through your own guilt. This is about you and your need to be better.

 

3. Do things that are in line with your goals and desires for who you want to be. For instance, if you feel as though being kind and non-judgmental and holding yourself with integrity is important, then know that as long as you stick to that goal, you’ll be fine. Getting angry at someone and talking about them behind their back while still driving them to the airport won’t necessarily make you a better person. Telling them that you’re not able to and being an advocate for yourself will. Don’t worry, they will find another way to get to the airport. I promise!   You are invaluable and indispensable for who you are, not for what you do, so when you choose to be aligned with the qualities of high integrity, you just feel strong within yourself. You don’t need to constantly do for others to be better.

 

4. Always be kind. That doesn’t mean always do everything that people ask you to. It means being okay with people’s requests and being kind and compassionate when you tell them you cannot.

Power to the What?

Before I had my son last fall I was petite but also strong  and healthy. I ate my three healthy meals a day, I ran  3-4 miles 3-4 times a week, I meditated daily, had a pretty good Vinyasa Yoga practice going, I ate ice cream, drank wine, and ate chocolate in moderate amounts.  I had a solid psychotherapy practice, a solid marriage and was enjoying a pleasant rhythm of life. I liked my body, I liked my routine and things felt relatively comfortable and easy. And then, after a few years of false starts, I finally got pregnant. and we were happy, my husband and I.

But pregnancy is not easy on a woman’s body. I developed a condition very early in my pregnancy called a subchorionic hematoma, which put me on moderate bedrest for the first half of my pregnancy. Which meant no running, no yoga (not even gentle restorative yoga), and pretty much doing nothing when I wasn’t at work other than laying in my bed. And I was hungry. I mean, I was really, really, really hungry. I was so hungry that I would be hungry while I was eating, I would be hungry after I finished a meal. The portions that I was used to eating were no match for my intense hunger. And forget eating fish, turkey, lean meats and vegetables. All I could stomach was fruit, pasta, grains, bread, juice and more fruit. I would sit down and ravage two whole mangoes in a few minutes. I would chug down watermelon juice. My body was totally rejecting protein and just begging for intensely sweet fruit. The only protein that I could manage to choke down was tofu. I would wake up in the middle of the night in agony because I was so hungry. The only way I’d fall back to sleep was by drinking milk and eating peanut butter. I was so hungry that I would sometimes cry because I just couldn’t quell this hunger. As he got bigger, there was less and less room. So I’d be ravenously hungry and uncomfortably full all at the same time.  I felt so different than I ever had in my body. It wasn’t like I was binge eating or restricting, it was like I was no longer driving the car. I just was not in charge. And, I gained weight. Because that is what happens when you get pregnant. You gain weight. And sometimes, a lot of weight.

My baby was born via C-Section at a whopping 8 pounds 8 oz and 21 inches long. And everything was great. But we were tired. Really, really, really tired. And the only thing I could get myself to eat was pasta and chocolate. It was easy, it was quick energy and it was all that I was craving. Really? Me, after years of eating a very balanced diet of mostly high quality proteins and unprocessed carbohydrates, I was all about spaghetti and chocolate.  I just couldn’t help it. I couldn’t be mindful about my eating, I was trying to keep this very demanding creature alive by using nothing more than my body. I fed him with my body all day long. And if he didn’t eat every two hours for an hour at a time, day or night, he would scream. I had no time to cut vegetables. I had no time to cook meat. I had no time to go to the farmer’s market and pour over beautiful organic produce. All I could do was breastfeed my baby, eat chocolate, eat spaghetti, change diapers, and if I was lucky, every once in a while, I’d get an hour of sleep. But that was rare.

So, let’s get back to my body. My stomach, which was once  tight and taught was  now completely stretched out. There was lots of loose skin, And, because I am a small woman who had a large baby,   my stomach muscles had split in half and my intestines were hanging out and pushing through the flesh of my stomach. And let’s not even mention the gigantic incision from my C-Section.  I also wound up having to have surgery to fix two hernias and now have three scars between my belly-button and pelvis. All just from becoming a Mom. Gross, right? Totally gross.

But not really.

To tell you the truth, I have never loved and been as proud of my body as I am today. I’m kind of in awe of it actually. It’s a workhorse. I can’t believe that my body managed to not only create a whole human being, but I’ve been able to make food for this baby in my body and keep building him for the past 11 months. I can’t believe that my body can create and grow and sustain a whole person! It’s amazing to me. To that end, I can’t believe that women’s bodies are exploited the way they are. Mens’ bodies should really be the display pieces, I mean, their nipples are vestigial.

So, do I still run several days a week and do yoga and have a great deal of consciousness about everything I eat? No. No. and No. But I’m not concerned. I imagine that when my baby isn’t a baby and longer, I’ll have time to do those things. Right now he is bringing me pleasure. He is my workout. He is my downtime and my fulltime job. My meditation and mindfulness practice still exists, though, not to the extent that it did. My baby is what I’m mindful of. I’ve definitely had to cut down my Psychotherapy practice a great deal, as I run home to nurse my baby between patients, and have to be home in the evenings to feed, bathe, and nurse him to sleep. And I’m happy. And very, very, very tired. But happy.

So what spurred me to write all this? It was this ad that I came across the other day: If you can’t read it, it says: Kick-start your day. Focus. Hit your stride. Breath. Change your pace. Change the oil. Make a difference. Make a home. Be courageous. Encourage others. Stay fit. Fit it all in. Breathe. Hug a kid. Kid around. Run your life. Run your heart out. Power to the She.

I know it’s supposed to be inspiring, but this ad made me really, really angry. It’s not new news that the media is detrimental to women, but this particular ad really rubbed me the wrong way. More than the ancient herion chic Calvin Klein ads with waifish Kate Moss, more than the diet pill ads, more than the Chanel ads of tiny women weighed down by big jewelry– I’ve become immune to all those ads and the messages they send. This one however, it really got to me, because it sends the message to women that not only do we have to be skinny, not only to we have to be perfect, but we have to be everything to everyone and nothing less is acceptable. We have to be to be Real Women.

What happened to us as women that we are expected to do all this? I mean, that is a lot to do in a day. When do I get to take a bath? When do I get to sit and eat a meal? When do I get to go to the bathroom? When do I get to check my email? Talk on the phone to my girlfriends? When do I get to relax with a glass of wine and watch reruns of Sex & the City on E!?   Obviously I don’t, because I’m busy running, doing laundry, cooking dinner for my husband, taking care of my kid, making sure that I don’t “lose my figure,” taking care of people around me, doing volunteer work, and being in complete control of everything around me– Running my life. But rejecting myself.

It’s just not okay. We as women have always been the ones who take care of everything. And we are expected to. This ad sends a message not  that we can have it all, but that we should be everyone to everything and still manage to workout all the time.  It sends a message to women that they have to be on top of things all the time, they can’t stop for themselves, it’s not okay to be tired, to be run down, to relax, to lose their shit, to freak out, to be sad, angry, lazy, or to be messy. This ad tells me that the “Power to the She”– Being a woman, is about being totally perfect, being in control all the time, and sacrificing my needs so that I can spend my days being everything to everyone. And skinny.

I call bullshit. I don’t think that these are feminist beliefs. I don’t think that men are held to these standards. My husband goes to work everyday, he’s a wonderful man and he’s a great Dad, but he’s not up three times each night breast feeding our son. He doesn’t run home several times during the day to nurse him and play with him and to make sure that he’s feeling safe and secure. Yet, because I’m the woman, I’m still expected to keep our house clean and cared for,  maintain my career and still go out for a run? No not in our house. Not ever.  I think that women are held to much, much higher standards, nearly impossible standards, lest they be judged. Women who stay home are lazy, women who work are neglectful, women who don’t exercise are lazy, woman should bear children, then still stay in shape to be sex symbols for their husbands, go to work, and still do the laundry.

No. That is not power to the she. Power to the she is responsibility to self first.  And that means not beating yourself up if you can’t be everything to everyone and still have a hot bod. It means splitting up your responsibility with your husband or partner.   It means taking care of your kids if you have them, taking care of your needs and asking for help if you need it. It’s not about being an island. It’s not about being perfect. That’s just a dangerous message. That’s just a woman trying to control herself and her environment to such an extreme extent that she’s not left anymore. She becomes what she does rather than who she is.

My feelings? As a woman, power to the she is taking care of what you need to and taking care of yourself first. Eating real food and honoring your hunger and your nutritional needs when you are pregnant and breastfeeding. Having integrity, being kind, and saying no to things that are too much. Knowing what is too much and being able to create boundaries. You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to beat yourself up if you can’t.

A lot of my clients feel so driven to be everything, that they wind up having these secret binge or binge and purge episodes or starving themselves, or exercising themselves into the ground. This isn’t okay. Women are being given the message that they have to be everything and they are hurting themselves to be so.

Power to the She? I’m rewriting this ad.

Be powerful, be strong, be good to yourself,  be everything that you can be, be proud of yourself, be encouraging to yourself and others, be loving to yourself, be loving to people around you, be kind to yourself, be compassionate to yourself, be calm, be bitchy, be happy, be sad, surrender control, honor your appetite, be in the moment, laugh, cry, let go, smell the roses, eat ice cream, drink wine, exercise when you can and try to relax and be you. 

 

 

 

108

This is a more personal post, but a story that I think is important to tell.

My Mom was an amazing woman. She was smart, beautiful, kind, and cared about everyone she came into contact with. She was a dedicated junior high school teacher in the South Bronx in New York City and spent an incredible amount of her time taking care of her kids. She called all her students her kids. She loved them and they loved her. She was just an awesome person.

My mother however was not perfect- none of us are. She had an obsessive relationship with her body and a rigid relationship with food. Her meals and her diet were macrobiotic vegan and she was unwilling to waver and eat a piece of cake or drink a glass of wine or eat nachos or anything not considered healthy once in a while.

She also had an obsession with a number. The number.

A very petite 5’2″ and 112 pounds, my mother believed that she should weigh 108 pounds.  For as long as I can remember, every morning she would wake up, pull the scale out from under her armoire, step on it, curse and kick it back under. She hated that scale. She hated being 112 pounds. And so she obsessed. She did everything she possibly could to lose those 4 pounds. She ordered Sweatin to the Oldies, the Abdominizer, the Gazelle, Oxycise and other things that I forget and probably never knew about. And keep in mind, we had a small apartment in NYC, not a lot of room for these devises and contraptions. But she was a woman obsessed and the elusive 108 lbs was the object of her desire.

I remember her routine of  cursing and kicking the scale  as early as age 4. She did this for my whole life. By the time I was 28, my Mom became ill. Very ill in fact. Not from her food issues, but from a random autoimmune disease that life threw her way.  She lost a lot of weight very quickly. Her whole body deflated. She was nothing more than bones with skin hanging on it. I think that her final weight in her hospital bed was 68 pounds.   But that number, 108, it haunted her for most of her life. She was never quite satisfied with what she had because she was fighting so arduously for 108. But then, at 54 years old, her life was over. And she never got to her “goal weight.”

What the hell is a “goal weight?” It makes me so mad. It makes me SO mad. Because it makes me think of my mother and her obsession with her goal weight, and her inability to be happy with a body that worked. A goal weight is an arbitrary number that’s not grounded in reality. Who tells you what your goal weight should be? How is that realistic?

If you are a normal weight, and your body holds onto it, despite what you do to it,  you have to know that this is a healthy response from a healthy body. You are blessed. A healthy body wants to maintain the homeostasis.

You can run millions of miles, you can binge, you can starve, you can purge, you can diet, you can use laxatives, but no matter how much you abuse your body, a healthy body will do what it can to maintain the homeostasis.

So throw out your scale. Throw out your goal weight. Your goal should be health. Your goal should be a long healthy life with love, with adventure, with fun, with pain, with sorrow, with self love, with self criticism, with anger, with sadness, with joy, with excitement, with ups, with downs. But your goals should have nothing to do with sizes and numbers.

If you are healthy, your body will do what it can to get to its healthy number, and that might have nothing to do with what the BMI says, or with what Hollywood says or with what Met Life height and weight chart says.  When your body is healthy, it knows where it should go. All you have to do is treat it with love and respect. Feed it, exercise it, water it. Give it lots of fruit, lots of veggies, lots of protein, and even let it have a piece of cake or slice of pizza or a glass of wine every now and again.

I know it’s not this simple. It wasn’t for my Mom, nor for many, many people.  But it’s your one life. Take just one day or even one week if it’s doable to let go of your number and embrace health.