It is easier to shield our bodies against the harmful arrows from without than to protect our minds from the poisoned darts within
Anorexia is a very debilitating disease. While it looks like there is a physical problem, the real problem is the one we cannot see with our eyes but the one we can see with our heart. As hard as it is to accept, choosing not to eat is a way to deal with difficult emotions.
Most eating disorders are the same. Eating (too much) or not eating (at all) is the solution to worry, to fear, to shame, to confusion, to failure and to guilt, and gradually, the simplest strategy seems to be to shut down the desire for food.
I do not know if you have ever fasted for fun, for health or for weight loss. There is a point when you no longer feel hungry at all. I think it is important for people to feel this point to understand that we can eat or not eat at will. To survive, we really do not need much food, so someone who chooses not to eat, really does not feel hungry, but still has those emotions that he or she tries to keep away. If you want to help a person who has anorexia, remember that focusing on the food is (again) working on the symptom and not the problem.
The best solution to anorexia is increasing the emotional intelligence. The first step is to recognize the feelings and the second step is to manage the feelings.
Today, I will focus on tips to mange worrying.
Worry is a feeling of fear from a possible bad future. People go to the future inside their head and imagine something bad, then come back to the present carrying the fear of this possibility. If it seems to you not to be real, it is because it is not. We all do this in some form, but some people have a problem distinguishing between their imaginary future and the present and those people do not just worry. They have what we call an anxiety attack.
Here are 10 tips to address worry or, in its severe form, anxiety, that may be a trigger to choosing not to eat. These are good for anyone, whether they have anorexia or not, and can help you help another person too.
- Take a deep breath and feel the tension leaving your body. Exhale deeply and inhale deeply a few times. If the tension is still there, take deep breathes for 2-3 minutes. The oxygen to your brain will help your body trigger calming chemicals. Give your body the time to help you.
- Name the worry. Tell yourself what you are worried about. If you find it hard, imagine someone else saying it. For example, if you are worried about going to a pool party in your bikini, imagine your most popular, good-looking friend saying to you, “I’m worried about going to the pool party in my bikini. I think I am fat”. This will probably make you think about the statement as if it is not coming from you and help you question its validity.
- Write it down. Having a journal, where you write about your worries, is very helpful in getting a bit of perspective. Thinking it is different than writing it. Reading about your worries later, when you are in a better mood, will help you monitor your mood and find correlations between events in your life and the feelings you have. For example, you may have more negative thoughts about your body whenever you spend time with a specific person.
- Share with a friend. Sharing your troubles with someone who has the same problem can help. If you are both together in this, you can help each other out. Many anorexic people say, “You don’t understand”, and they say it because it is true. People who are not anorexic do not understand. If you join a group of people who do understand, you can feel safe and start considering ways to recover.
- Talk to a supportive person. Many times, taking to someone you trust can help you get the load off our back. Many girls with anorexia have problems related to control. Not eating is their way of protesting against someone in their life who is too controlling, as if they were saying, “At least you can’t control what I eat”. If they share their feeling with someone who is on their side and can reassure them that the controlling person is not OK, they can stop blaming themselves for this and feel better.
- Imagine the worst-case scenario. If you have a problem, if you are worried about doing or not doing something, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Sometimes, when you go all the way, you realize that the fear of the wolf is greater than the wolf itself.
- Imagine the controlling person sitting on the toilet. Again, anorexia is a control issue. Many anorexic people have a controlling person that they try to get off their back and they find comfort in controlling the only thing they think they can control – food. Yet, the controlling person is just a person. Whenever you have an encounter with this person, imagine him or her sitting on the toilet an taking a poo. It will make it easy for you to see them as a human being and not as powerful and controlling.
- Distance yourself from it. Many things we worry about today will not exist in two weeks, two months or two years. Ask yourself, “What will I think about this in 5 years?” It will probably mean nothing at all then. When my daughter worries about the score of one of her exams in 6th Grade, I say, “Think about yourself in high school, having the time of your life in the school production. Do you think you’ll remember that 5 years ago you got one ‘C’ in Geography?” She smiles and moves on to doing other things. It works. Try it. Take yourself 5 years into the future and many things will no longer matter.
- Do something! Anorexia is a feeling of helplessness. If you get into the habit of doing something to fix or improve the situation, you will not feel helpless anymore. I ask all my clients at the end of every session to write 9 things they can do immediately to get them closer to their goals. Even if you move slowly, you are in motion and you are taking control of your actions.
- Meditate. I know it sounds strange, but meditation is a very good way to regain control over your life. Meditation helps clear your mind and blocks the control that comes from the outside. Any form of meditation will do the trick. Find something simple that suits you.
When you clear worries from the system, it is much easier to switch to healing mode.
This post is part of the series Anorexia: