Sunday, November 23, 2008

That Awful "Fat" Feeling

Hi, Everyone,

This past month has been a whirlwind of activity for me. I've had the distinct honor of being on the CBS Early Show, featured in the New York Times, and just this week the 10:00 p.m. news on a local TV station. All can be viewed by clicking on the addresses below.

CBS Early Show:

NY Times:

WFRV Channel 5 News:

Since then, I've been contacted by many people with questions and looking for hope. Hope is available, and I encourage anyone struggling with and ED to seek it out. It will not likely fall in your lap, though I believe God does toss an unexpected gem our way every blue moon. Enough of that for now.

The topic I wanted to talk about today goes hand in hand with the Thanksgiving holiday coming to a dinner table near you next week. Hands down, Thanksgiving is probably one of (if not the) most difficult time of year for someone with an ED. The topic I'm referring to is that pesky, irritating sensation of feeling "fat" that just doesn't want to go away. I know how you feel when you talk about feeling fat. Most of the time it didn't matter what I ate or how much I exercised or dieted. It was a contant battle with this feeling, and it got old really fast. When I was in therapy for my anorexia, I learned that my fat feeling, though strong and real, was my brain's way of anxiously snatching up some some morsel to control, other than the real issues that lead to me having an ED in the first place. These issues were vague and cloudy to me, and I wanted to keep them that way. I didn't want to touch the parts of my life that were too painful.

Keep in mind that feelings, though very real and okay, can be extremely deceptive. Just because you feel fat does not mean you are fat. Feelings do not always reflect reality. They are a by product of our thought life. Once I began to tackle my thought life and confronted irrational beliefs, my feelings were a bit easier to handle.

In my experience and those of others I've spoken with who have overcome EDs, the fat feeling will eventually go away. For me, it didn't totally disappear (it did to some degree); it's more like it doesn't matter to me any more. I've accepted that it's a normal feeling for a body to have, just like hunger and the feeling of being satisfied after a meal. The fat feeling was just more noticeable when I had my ED and gave my brain something to play with, to control. My mind perceived my body as being fat when in reality it was only skin, body parts, and the ordinary internal workings of my body at work. Once I worked in therapy and started developing a new me, and my weight increased at a slow steady pace, I began to accept that I was at a normal body weight for my height and bone structure. The fat feeling monster was reduced to a mouse.

So, when you're sitting at the dinner table next week with all that food staring back at you and "scolding" you with: "You swallow me and you swallow a balloon" or "It may taste scrumptious for a few minutes but oh! how you'll suffer for it the rest of the day" or "You're too weak and defective to be like the rest of your family, who can eat and eat and shrug it off as no big deal" or "You will feel so fat ten minutes from now. Is it worth it?" and the indictments went on and on to infinity. I used to think I could almost hear the voices audibly.

Tips for the battle:

1) Resign yourself to eating small portions, ones where you'll not invite the stares and attention from family but also not have to needlessly suffer the rest of the day. Enjoy Thanksgiving. I don't recommend using this day to test yourself. Pick another day to do that. Work on transforming Thanksgiving's notorious reputation of battling with food into a holiday of relaxation and being with family and friends.

2) Make a plan before you enter the home with the big meal. Decide ahead of time what you'll eat, who you'll converse with (as much as possible anyway), and when you'll leave. Stick to the mission and do your best to make it work. It will help keep your anxiety in check and provide you a sense of more control.

3) Reward yourself after the day is complete. This helps put closure on your day and build your sense of worth. It reinforces the fact that you deserve to enjoy life and have "good" things.

4) Take at least two small breaks during your day to get alone and rest from all the "people pleasing" and looking "all put together." Journal what you feel. Talk to yourself quietly. Pray. Reflect on what you are doing succesfully during the day so far.

5) If you get yourself in a tight situation, like you ended up bingeing/purging or just ate a little too much and now it's too late, do your best to find a quiet space and reflect on what just happened. Journal your thoughts and especially your feelings immediately. Or, better yet, find a trusted person to confide in. "Yell" at God. Get your hurt out. He can handle it. The Bible says He won't chastise you for it, and actually wants you to do it (I Peter 5:7; Phil. 4:6). It's important not to stuff this anxiety, defeat, shame, guilt, anger, and other emotions. Start to work on forgiving yourself. Remind yourself once again that you are not perfect, and that you don't need to go through it alone. Try to remember all the times you've slipped up in the past and how you worked through them okay. You will this time, too.

God's speed to you next Thursday.

As my high school chemistry teacher used to say at the end of every class: "Okay, any questions, comments, criticisms, remarks?"

Send them my way. I'd enjoy hearing from you.

Till next time,