What purpose does your disordered eating serve?

About Lisa Schmidt

Lisa Schmidt is an expert in the sciences of nutrition and behavioral health change. As a nutritional therapist, she specializes in weight loss, healthy weight promotion, and disordered eating. Other therapeutic specializations include grief, loss, anxiety, depression and couples counseling. She is on the faculty of Arizona State University's School of Social Work, teaching courses on Mindful Eating, Sustainability, and Stress Management.

Have you ever considered what purpose your eating pattern serves?  Any type of disordered eating pattern, whether it is restricting food intake (a “diet”),

meditation calms the mind

Sit ten minutes a day and find some headspace

counting calories obsessively, counting fat grams, avoiding entire categories of food (dreaded “gluten”,  “carbs”, or “sugar” are three examples), overeating past the point of satisfaction, throwing up, compensatory behaviors like laxatives or exercising to extreme – all of these patterns are your relationship to food.  And your relationship, like any other relationship, serves a purpose in your life.

What would you be doing with your life if you weren’t spending all of your time counting calories?  Hating yourself?  Wishing you were something – anything other than you think you are?  How much time are you spending each day with thoughts about food, feeding, body size & weight?  Most importantly, what would you be thinking and feeling if your mind wasn’t occupied with thoughts about food and your body?

Imagine an anxious little girl.  Growing up in a chaotic household, with an anxiously depressed Mother, she begins to embody the maternal anxiety that is modeled.  She takes in all of the negative comments from her Mother about her own body, which she hates.  Since she’s an anxious little girl, emphasis on LITTLE, she begins to internalize these messages.  Her Mother’s hated body becomes her own hated body, with thoughts about the body becoming habit patterns.  She learns unconsciously, that her Mother’s anxiety “shows up” as body hatred, and when her Mother is the most anxious, she goes on a diet.  Or abuses laxatives.  Or chews up food and spits it out.  Or puts her children on diets.  Soon, the little girl connects her own anxiety which is not understood, it is simply a body feeling state, with her own disordered eating pattern.  The dance of disordered eating becomes habitual and an adaptive response to the anxiety which this girl habitually feels, since she’s lacking in tools to notice and dissipate the anxious pattern.  Once disordered eating becomes a habit pattern it roars its ugly head in response to any feelings, sometimes all feelings.

Waking up from the neck down is the treatment that works.  Finding ways to notice feelings in our bodies skillfully becomes a strategically important practice for overcoming dieting and overeating.  What do I mean by practice?  Every day, we find a way to sit and observe our thoughts.  We begin to notice how certain thoughts, which are just thoughts, with no power, become attached to us.  Our attachment to thoughts creates a biochemical response which includes the firing of neurotransmitters, hormones, and other chemical messengers that take us into the “fight or flight” mode.  Interested in this process?  I have a presentation posted on Slide Share which shows how this happens in the body.

I know you’ve heard about mindfulness and meditating – but it’s not for you!  It seems too hard, too long, too much time.  Do you know that in as little as ten minutes a day you can change your brain?  Grow the parts of the brain that are responsible for impulse control?  Increase the levels of GABA in your brain, which help promote the relaxation response?  Finding some headspace is just what we all need in order to build distress tolerance.  Once we build distress tolerance, then we have room to make changes in our lives, replacing habits that disrupt our quest for health and happiness like disordered eating.

Ready to begin?  Check out this wonderful app called Headspace that offers you ten minutes a day for ten days.  Then let me know what changes for you!

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