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“You’re Too Sensitive” and Other Lies Your Eating Disorder Tells You

 

Dr. Linda Shanti, PsyD is an eating disorder expert with almost two decades of experience working in the field. As a recovered professional, she understands what her clients are facing on a day to day basis and is able to support them on their journey. In her writing, Dr. Shanti tells some of what her clients share with her in treatment due to the “Eating Disorder Voice”, and how she responds to these statements.

In an effort to Honor Sensitivity, and I’m going to jump right in with what I hear on a weekly basis in my therapy practice working with recovering women:

1.“You’re too sensitive.”

My adult clients often say, when entering eating disorder recovery, “I’m too sensitive,” as if it were a curse, or something that needs to be gotten rid of in the recovery process. Often they received this “too sensitive” message as children. Maybe when they cried, felt things deeply, were highly intuitive, or were sensitive to stimuli such as noise, textures, or smells, they were told: “Get over it,” “Don’t be a crybaby,” “If you feel scared or ashamed don’t show it” or (covertly)”Don’t talk about feelings. They are weak and we don’t have room for them here.” Your Eating Disorder (ED voice) is the one that judges (and then tries to hide, numb or cut off from) your sensitivities because they were not embraced and/or too painful to experience as a child.

I tell these adults that, even though it may be the opposite to what they want to hear,

“Recovery is an invitation to embrace what wisdom your sensitivity has to offer.”

Being sensitive means that your are strongly in touch with the part of you that knows, intuitively, what is right for you and what isn’t. It is the part of you that gets, on a gut level and often immediately, (even if it’s not what you want to know) whether someone is a good or bad fit for you in dating. It is the part of you that feels a palpable rise in anxiety before you engage in disordered eating behaviors, because it knows that you are about to act violently toward your sensitivity, trying to numb it rather than listen to it. It is the part of you that senses when a friend is feeling sad or mad, even when they try to mask it. It is the part of you that easily connects with nature or animals or young children being themselves. It is the part of you that knows when someone needs help or is not being treated fairly and feels a protective and empathic response toward them. People who struggle with disordered eating often are highly attuned to other’s feelings. However, they can be insensitive toward their own feelings, judging them as “bad” or “wrong.”

2. If I’m having a feeling, it is bad and I should make it go away.

Closely related to being sensitive is having feelings. The voice of the Eating Disorder (ED) does not like to have feelings. It really doesn’t matter which feeling – sadness, anger, shame, joy, happiness ED doesn’t like it. However, as Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, states:

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”

We have to go toward the feelings we’ve left behind in childhood in order to reclaim those parts of ourselves and become full human beings again. We have to go toward, not away, from the feelings that scare us. I often give clients a feeling wheel to look at and identify which areas they are comfortable and which areas they are not. Some people like to hang out in “purple,” some in “red,” some in “yellow.” You may be very comfortable with sadness, but terrified of anger – or vice versa. Instead of judging this, recovery involves getting curious about it and learning to inhabit all the different colors. Because if you don’t feel, you can’t heal.

3. Needs are bad/weak/not okay unless you are taking care of someone else’s.

It’s so interesting how sensitive people can be fabulous caretakers but – how shall I say this – absolutely and completely suck at identifying, asking for support, and receiving care for their own needs. It’s called codependency in recovery lingo. The underlying unconscious assumption is: If I take care of you, you won’t be uncomfortable. And then I’ll be okay, because I’ll just match all of my needs to yours! But people have different needs.

And people who develop eating disorders usually haven’t been allowed to identify their own needs separate from others. There are many good reasons for this, often stemming from family of origin dynamics. Being a chameleon pretending you don’t have any of your own needs certainly has some benefits: you can blend in to many environments and “fit in,” You are not going to be singled out as “the scapegoat,” you can get along with many different kinds of people and work environments without being offensive.

However, at some point, a person recovering from an eating disorder will need to start risking the vulnerability of identifying their own needs. And this can be uncomfortable because, as a wise friend of mine says, “When you stop people pleasing, people aren’t pleased.” However, you WILL most likely, as you identify and start risking having some of your needs seen and met, feel less anxious, more at peace, and less concerned with the necessity of pleasing others.

4. If I just get the RIGHT food plan then I won’t have these uncomfortable feelings or needs anymore.

This ED belief can actually hang on for a long time. Because, even in recovery, it morphs and becomes clever, saying things like “I’m just trying to help you be healthy. You felt so much better when you were eating (fill in your own ED’s version of no sugar/whole grain/not wholegrain/gluten/fat-free/high-or-low protein obsession here).”

You are most likely to need a food plan in the beginning of your recovery. That is appropriate. If you have been skipping breakfast and lunch and bingeing on ice-cream for dinner, you are going to need to add the first two meals back into your day as well as get some vegetables, protein and carbs in there. If you have been avoiding “fear foods” such as cookies, bread, or salad dressing with fat, then you will need to practice having salad dressing (on the salad not the side), dessert, or scary snacks, in order to know you can tolerate the anxiety and be okay. Your food plan may be more structured or less structured during different parts of your recovery. It will change, just as you will. But finding the exact “right” food plan in order to not have uncomfortable feelings is a lie. Your food plan should support you having feelings rather than restricting or numbing them.

If you are sensitive, you are going to feel. Therefore you are going to feel the food you eat. If you have an allergy, are celiac, or have another medically related issue regarding food choices, then you need to tend to this. Otherwise, we need to look at the feelings not the foods. Because the feelings are what your ED is trying to avoid by obsessing on whatever food plan you are convinced will make you “right” or “better.”

Here is one of my favorite quotes from Cheri Huber, a zen writer and teacher:

“There is nothing wrong with you.”

Really. There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing to fix around you being you. Be YOU and consider there is nothing wrong with that. That is the work of a lifetime and not fixed with any food plan.

5. And the number one lie I hear from ED in my office every week is: Once I’m recovered, I will be “thin” (which means…)

And then we work on filling in the dots for the associations with what “thin” symbolizes. Some of them include:

  • I will feel confidant/comfortable in my skin.
  • I can dance, wear a bathing suit, do the-thing-I-won’t-let-myself-do-at-this-size.
  • I will be worthy of a romantic relationship.
  • I will be worthy.
  • I can go back to work (postpartum) or
  • I can get or go after the job that I really want.
  • People will love me.
  • People I love won’t leave.
  • People I love won’t die.
  • I won’t have to feel grief, sadness, anger or shame.
  • I won’t be sensitive anymore.

The list can go on, but the important piece here is calling ED out on the lie: if you are human, you are not always going to feel confidant, you are going to be imperfect, regardless of the size of your body. You are going to experience loss. You are going to die. What are you going to do before that? Because that is what ED is doing its darndest to prevent you from experiencing and engaging in: your LIFE.

Stop believing the lies and keep taking tiny (or huge, this can change day-to-day, moment to moment) steps toward fear: your recovery is there, as is your life. Because FEAR can mean many things:

Forget Everything And Run (in the land of ED);

Face Everything And Recover; or

False Evidence Appearing Real.

I hope you choose to walk right into and through that false evidence that appears real according to ED.  It is worth it. Love is on the other side of this false evidence. You are worth it. You always were.

 

For more information about Monte Nido please call 888.228.1253, visit our website and connect with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.


It’s Not Your Body’s Fault


Monte Nido Manhattan Primary Therapist Kelsey Fisher, LMSW
approaches each new therapeutic relationship with hope and the belief that full recovery is a genuine possibility for every person who embarks on the journey to wellness. In her writing, Kelsey discusses her work with clients in identifying and challenging their negative body image.

Bad body image is not your body’s fault. In fact, it is not even about your body. Your body’s shape, its marks, dimples and folds, its sensations, pressures and pulses, are not to blame.

Whatever happened to your body, or was said about your body, was also not your body’s fault.

If your body is big or small it is not an accomplishment or a failure.

It is incredibly easy, however, to get confused because we are indoctrinated into a culture of “thin is in” that privileges some bodies over others, a culture in which women and other marginalized people, in particular, are subjected to intense body scrutiny at best and horrific boundary violations at worst.

Our clients often come in with skepticism, despite the well-established assertion (see below for further reading) that it is not your body’s fault. I hear the familiar refrain from people of all sizes, “If I could just lose some weight I would be more of this good thing, less of that bad thing.” In an instant, a glimpse of yourself in a shop window is translated into the litany of ways you could be better, which is often conflated with the newest diet plan. And it’s gratifying for an instant to think that whatever was so objectionable is fixable, but we’re so far off the target that it’s soul crushing. Thinness makes so many promises on which it could never deliver.

When we trash our bodies, we are actually trying to avoid or manage difficult emotions and painful, oppressive social realities.

When I ask my clients to be curious, to consider what they were feeling or thinking right before they hated on their bodies, they might be able to observe for themselves how the thought pattern or feeling associated with hating their body is separate from their actual body.

When we are curious, mindful observers of our bad body image we are developing skills for critical consciousness. By perceiving our painful automatic thoughts or reactions in their full context, we make breathing room for our souls.

“Culture is the way of seeing and speaking that is so much a part of everyday living that it never has to be articulated. Fish don’t know they are swimming in water, until they are a fish out of water.” –Carol Gilligan

Further reading:

The 8 Keys to Recovery from and Eating Disorder By Carolyn Costin

Overcoming Overeating: When women stop hating their bodies By Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter

The Beauty Myth By Naomi Wolf

For more information about Monte Nido please call 888.228.1253, visit our website and connect with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.


Redefining Resolutions in Recovery

Angie - Color Head shotClinical Psychotherapist and Eating Disorders Specialist Angie Viets, LCP speaks to the pressure and stress the new year can bring to those suffering from an eating disorder. In her post, Angie pushes us to reflect on the idea of a “resolution”, and to use it to help encourage and support recovery.

This will be the year! Back and forth the conversation in my head repeated. One hour the upcoming new year meant I was going to ‘perfectly’ recover, eliminating all eating disorder behaviors, all at once, once and for all. Done. The next hour I plotted methods for ‘perfecting’ my eating disorder. Ambivalence highlighted and amplified by what, another day?

Now, as a recovered clinician, I watch the internal battle I overcame play out in front of me with the beautiful souls who entrust me with their hearts as they recover. As we creep ever closer to the new year, black and white thinking—a hallmark of a brain hijacked by an eating disorder—goes into overdrive. My work as a recovery guide is to aid in softening the sharp edges of all-or-nothing thinking.

The middle path—the place between black and white—offers a bright golden light (gray is far too depressing, we need more light!). When we allow the light to wash over and within us, we find an opening, a secret door. Behind the door is the truth.

The truth about recovery is it doesn’t happen on a certain day. Nor does it happen all at once. We set ourselves up to live in a never-ending failure funnel when we buy into the belief that January 1st we can walk away from behaviors entirely. People, in general, are unable to keep their New Year’s resolutions. Why? Because we set ourselves up for failure.

REWORK YOUR RESOLUTIONS

What if reworked resolutions? I had a conversation with Dr. Ovidio Bermudez, Eating Recovery Center Chief Clinical Officer and Medical Director of Child and Adolescent Services to understand how he approaches this time of year with his clients. Here’s what he had to say:

“People’s desire to start fresh or to draw a line in the sand and step over the old and into the new has been around a long time. There’s nothing wrong with the desire to say this is my last year of illness, or I’m going to do whatever I value even better (my sport, school, job, art, passion). However, if it’s unrealistic, too much too soon, or tied to an increased level of stress then it’s an invitation not to make the mark and to continue to chisel away at our self-esteem.”

I loved his criteria for whether or not a resolution will serve you! Check out your resolutions and ask yourself:

  • Is this goal realistic?
  • Is it too much too soon?
  • Will this increase my level of stress?

Dr. Bermudez shared that when resolutions immaterialize it adds to the sense of ‘I can’t’ and ‘I’m stuck with this eating disorder no matter how hard I try;’ which can then become a perpetuating factor of the illness. Beliefs become further entrenched when we’re unable to meet recovery goals, with thoughts like: This is who I am. Who would I be without the eating disorder? This is all I’ve known for such a long time.

MAKE THE NEW YEAR A TIME OF REFLECTION

I had to laugh when Dr. Bermudez said, “Our biology doesn’t recognize the season. Our body doesn’t know the difference between the 4th of July or New Year’s Day.” That’s so true! We put unnecessary pressure, not only on ourselves, but our body by shocking it into massive change.

Let’s pause and reflect instead. Dr. Bermudez encourages another path. “What if we made this a time of reflection?” He has the following suggestions to consider when you’re making New Year’s resolutions to improve your self-esteem, instead of tearing it down:

  • Set realistic goals.
  • Make your resolutions gradual and sustainable. Small changes rather than unsustainable drastic changes.
  • Remember that change is a process. Make it attainable, which is by far more helpful.
  • Slow down! Make room for subtle shifts which increase your chances of success.
  • Be careful not to add more angst than relief.

By following this more gentle approach to resolutions, you are more likely to find your path to recovery.

BABY STEPS!

Sometimes our New Year’s resolutions seem as ridiculous as tucking in a newborn baby on December 31st and asking the baby to walk when they wake up the next morning, despite their inability to even hold their head up independently, sit, or crawl. We would never put such an impossible task on someone we love. So why then would we do it to ourselves? It’s because we aren’t gentle enough with ourselves. We put too much pressure on ourselves. We don’t treat ourselves with enough compassion. In fact, sometimes we are just down right mean to ourselves.

Perhaps on December 31st we could whisper softly to ourselves, much like to the new baby: “I can’t wait to watch you change and grow stronger over the next year. To witness your courage as you slowly stand back up, careful to regain your balance when you fall. I’ll be right here, ready to hold your hand.”

HOW DO YOU WANT TO FEEL?

One of my favorite author’s, Danielle LaPorte, talks about how her New Year’s resolutions always seemed to add stress, “Earn more money, remodel the kitchen, plan a trip…” Danielle realized even as she was considering her goals for the upcoming year she felt dread, overwhelm, and pressure by the process of reaching those goals. Of course, the end result of the kitchen remodel is great, but the stress of having it torn up, managing contractors, the cost and so on are a lot! She got clear that the never-ending striving, hustling, and grinding it out was tearing her down.

With the awareness of how her goals were making her feel, she decided to flip her approach. She began a new ritual, redefining resolutions for herself by getting clear about how she wanted to feel, instead of what she could accomplish.

If you tap into how you want to feel in the new year, you’ll find your resolutions will take on a completely different shape.

SLOW & STEADY

There’s a reason the adage, slow and steady wins the race, is so enduring. What do you say, as we embark on another year, we set small, achievable and realistic goals for ourselves. What if one of our resolutions could be to cut ourselves some slack? To make room for more joy, less stress.

Cheers to baby steps, self-compassion when we fall, and steady, gradual growth!

Happy New Year, Beautiful!

 

For more information about Monte Nido please call 888.228.1253, visit our website and connect with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.

 


Article Inspiration

articles-for-the-soul

Join us in reading soulful articles we have cultivated from across the web. If you have found an article you feel is inspirational, explores current research, or is a knowledgeable piece of literature and would like to share with us please send an e-mail here.

 

5 Ways to Create a Safe Space for Those Struggling This Holiday Season NEDA Blog

Tips for Surviving the Holidays in Eating Disorder Recovery Psychology Today

Supporting a Loved One in Eating Disorder Recovery During the Holidays ED Recovery Specialists

Facing the Fear of the Unknown in Eating Disorder Recovery Eating Disorder Hope

To Tell or Not to Tell: Therapists With a Personal History of an Eating Disorder ED Catalogue

 

For more information about Monte Nido please call 888.228.1253, visit our website and connect with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.


8 Keys Series: It’s Not Just About Food

Monte NidoKeesha - Circle Vice President of Clinical Programming Keesha Amezcua, MA, LMFT, CEDS continues her series this week on the 8 Keys book by Gwen Grabb, LMFT and Monte Nido Founder Carolyn Costin with the 3rd key. In her writing, Keesha explains how this key stresses that the eating disorder is not just about the food, and the ways this is put into practice in treatment at Monte Nido.

Almost every person who has struggled with an eating disorder has been berated by a, often well-meaning, loved one to “just eat a cheeseburger already”. Key 3, which stresses that eating disorders are not just about the food, is the antidote to those comments. This is what makes healing from an eating disorder so complex. Key 3 can help create discussions that explore the range of complex multi-faceted meanings of eating, food, weight and shape.

This is the key where therapists get to pull out all the knowledge they used in graduate school; digging deeper into the underlying issues that result in food and exercise behaviors. In the absence of healthier, more adaptive coping skills, an eating disorder can develop as a way to manage stress, anxiety or depression, family dynamics, cultural pressures and traumatic experiences, among other things. There can also be biological factors contributing to a person’s eating disorder. Therefore, we can’t assume that just reestablishing someone’s relationship with food can heal his or her eating disorder completely. This is why there continues to be such debate in the field about evidence-based therapies and best practices for treating these disorders. If there was one right way, one clear winner in how someone can without-a-doubt get well, every treatment program would look the same and there would be less need for research and conferences. There are obviously some treatment modalities that have proven to work better with certain demographics and diagnoses; but still, those do not give us absolute certainty that a person will recover. Therefore, we continue to utilize an eclectic group of therapies to get at these underlying issues.

Key 3 is not intended to negate the importance of nutritional stabilization; this is addressed in another key. It does make clear that solely addressing the food, in the absence of exploring other psychological issues misses the mark. We can talk about food all day, every day, for a year and not see someone truly progress toward recovery. Someone can restore his or her weight, but if he or she hasn’t explored what was underneath the restricting and weight loss there is a good chance recovery will be short-lived. We need to understand what function or set of functions a person’s eating disorder has served. As clinicians, we have to identify these functions in order to help our clients get their needs met in more adaptive ways. A conversation about kale will only get you so far. Only discussing donuts can be a dead end.

One assignment that Carolyn and Gwen discuss in the 8 Keys book, which Carolyn had initially written about in her first edition of Your Dieting Daughter, is the “Real Issues” assignment. There is a list of 13 proposed issues to provide a jumping off point for clients to delve into what’s really going on underneath their fear of food or their over-attachment to it. This list covers the basic categories and can help a therapist determine what therapeutic modality might best address what’s going on. Is there a need for more psychodynamic work? Family systems? Existential? Feminist theory? Narrative therapy? ACT? DBT? Perhaps some specific trauma work needs to happen via CPT or EMDR? All the while we continue to utilize the CBT techniques as I’ve previously discussed.

It’s not just about the food. This makes this work exciting, ever changing, always challenging and forever interesting. It is also what makes an individual’s recovery unique and lasting.

 

For more information about Monte Nido please call 888.228.1253, visit our website and connect with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.