We're very lucky to have, for our next Guest Post, a Case Study by author Talia Mana. Ever wondered how mental health clinicians work with people with eating disorders? Well, here's an example! You may know Talia from her helpful and informative blog at The Centre For Emotional Healing-- which has WAY more actual information than this blog does. Be sure to check out the blog and her books.
Anyway, so, here's Talia!
Through The Eyes of An Emotional Eater
Jennifer has tried just about everything. She's been to Overeaters' Anonymous, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and counsellors. She has even tried fasting for long periods though this isn’t an approach I recommend. While Jennifer lost a lot of weight during her fast, not long afterwards her old eating habits took over, and she started bingeing.
We talked about her perceptions about herself. For most of us our identity is wrapped up in the 'labels' we give ourselves. These labels can be anything from the job we do, to our relationships with others, our goals, our passions, our strengths or our weaknesses.
Are you a career woman, a mom, an accountant, a politician? Are you a failure or a winner? Are you a "fat girl" or a "pretty girl?" Think about how you describe yourself to others and how you think of yourself. When I ask students in my workshops to write down the labels they attach to themselves, many will identify themselves with their size or their eating. This is especially true if they have an eating disorder. They will say, “I’m a compulsive overeater.”
With Jennifer, it soon became clear that her identity is wrapped up in her opinion of herself as a wife and mother. Any time that she perceives problems in this area, she reaches for food. For Jennifer the state of her house is a barometer of her internal health. When her house is spic and span she feels confident and in control of her life. When dirty dishes accumulate on the bench and washing piles up in the bath she feels like a failure as a wife, a mother and a person.
In short, Jennifer overgeneralises. When something goes wrong in the area of her life that she identifies with she personalises this, and judges herself as a failure in all areas of her life. So if she’s a failure, she might as well eat, right?
You guessed it. When she doesn’t feel like doing housework, or is confronted with a messy kitchen she eats.
Here are some of her comments:
"If my house is a mess and I can’t keep up with the housework or I can’t get motivated to get it done I feel like I’m not coping in life."
"If my house is tidy I feel like I’m coping."
"For me cleaning my bench is a big deal. Some days I look at it and I have no idea where to start. Yet my daughter can come along and in less than five minutes she sorts everything out, wipes down the bench and it’s done. I don’t know why I can’t be like that. So then I start telling myself that I’m lazy, or that I just didn’t get taught right by my mother. She did everything for me as a kid, and I find it hard to do all this stuff. I don’t enjoy it so I put it off."
"I start feeling dumb and inadequate and then I need food to make me feel better."
"Even when I do clean the bench I feel like I should treat myself because it’s such an effort. I feel exhausted, so I sit down with a big plate of unhealthy food or a packet of biscuits and scoff the lot."
That’s only part of the story. Jennifer also has very distorted ideas about her role as a perfect parent. So Jennifer's homework is to examine her distorted perceptions.
We started at the beginning, by challenging her assumption that an overindulgent parent who did everything for her has created a lazy monster who is incapable of doing housework. Jennifer is still having trouble convincing herself that she can break free of old beliefs. She is very attached to her family and is having trouble separating today's Jennifer from the Jennifer of her childhood. She accepts logically that she's not the same woman--but emotionally she's still letting go.
She's also promised as part of her homework to not immediately dismiss positive feedback. When her husband and friends tell her she is a good wife, a good parent and a good person, she's too quick to find fault with herself.
Finally, she's working on understanding that the state of her house is not a reflection on her as a person. We know this is going to take some time but Jennifer feels that knowing that people "get" her and understand where she is coming from will help.
I hope sharing Jennifer’s story will help illustrate the impact that your beliefs have on your eating and give you some pointers to change.