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Eating Disorders – Coaching Yourself To Recovery
Eating disorders, food obsession, and perfectionism don’t always end with a nutrition degree or a 100% vegan diet. Yes, cutting out toxins and processed foods helps—sometimes tremendously—but the pressure to look healthy, thin, and beautiful can continue beyond education or dietary changes. Often, it actually increases.
As a medical intuitive and life coach, I have met many nutritionists and raw foodists who feel ashamed and embarrassed about their ongoing problems with food. As health advocates, they “shouldn’t have these problems anymore!” “Why can’t they practice what they preach?” “Why self-sabotage?”
Secret binges of cooked food, bulimia (overeating followed by regurgitation or excessive exercise), long fasts and dangerous attempts at detoxification, uncontrollable cravings. This dark side of radiant health can plunge people into a sea of shame and depression—which, of course, they shouldn’t feel either. “What if my customers or readers find out?” they worry.
“You’re human,” I say. “And it’s more common than you think.” So common and under-reported, in fact, that I decided to write an article.
Fortunately, our bodies never betray us. They work on behalf of our souls – trying to get our attention when nothing else will. As with any health concern, once we decode and accept the message, we can let the symptoms go.
Most psychologists recognize the tendency of these patients towards perfectionism. Therapy tries to deny self-judgment. This helps to some extent, but most “recovered” anorexics or bulimics privately confess that the disorder returns whenever they feel out of control. Best case scenario, they can manage the stress and not revert to old behavior patterns – but the thoughts remain.
Telling someone to “stop being a perfectionist” does not provide a cure. In fact, it prevents curing! Because, truth be told, these people know they can do better. They know they can live bigger, brighter, more impactful lives—perhaps more than anyone around them imagines. The quest for the perfect body or perfect health reflects a deeper desire to perfect the Self. Successful eating disorder treatment must honor this inner drive—and create a safe space to explore unusual gifts and talents.
In a society more comfortable with mediocrity, it often seems easier to transfer the soul’s mission to the body. Thus, the anorexic who carries within her a fully compassionate, radiant, healing presence feels less conspicuous as a walking skeleton. The bulimic, whose best-selling words of wisdom can transform millions of lives, finds it easier to throw away food than write her book. The personal trainer, who intuitively knows how to heal the self-esteem of his clients, puts all his energy into pumping iron – so that people notice his body and not his soul. The psychic overweight piles on the pounds to overwhelm her very bright inner glow.
I have noticed a complex but consistent dynamic in people with eating disorders. Yes, they exhibit perfectionist tendencies, but not in the way most people assume. The shame of imperfection comes less from damaged body image than from living below their natural abilities. At some level, these people realize they have gifts to share, but they are afraid. Perhaps the world will not accept their unusual talents. Maybe family tells them they have to live a certain way. Maybe some people find their message offensive. What if everyone thinks they’ve lost their minds?
Whatever the reason for avoiding their gifts, these perfectionists intuitively know that they are not sharing what they can. The shame they express about their bodies or eating habits really reflects a deeper shame about not living as authentically and compassionately as they could. It doesn’t matter if people tell them they look good or consider them experts in their field. It doesn’t even matter if they are experts in their field! These people know they can do more, and feel ashamed of their laziness.
Ultimately, though, it’s not about perfection. It’s about the “r” word. Responsibility. Having the kind of life-changing impact can seem daunting. Self-sabotage provides both distraction and “proof of unworthiness” to exert such influence. But physical/psychological symptoms can only be a distraction for so long. Eventually, they demand attention, forcing people to tap into those latent gifts. The good news is that people recover from eating disorders, and you can too by supplementing your traditional treatments with targeted personal growth exercises:
1) Practice mindful eating. Pay attention to your food. Notice the tastes, colors, textures and how they make you feel. Think about all the people and processes involved in growing and producing your food and express gratitude for the gift on your plate.
2) Start a meditation practice. You can buy a CD such as Yogiraj Alan Finger’s Life Enhancing Meditations or Deepak Chopra’s SoulofHealing Meditation. Both offer excellent guidance for forgiving yourself and others, allowing you to unlock a greater and more powerful you.
You can also try a kundalini yoga meditation called Sa Ta Na Ma. The words “sa ta na ma” roughly translate to birth, life, death, rebirth and are thus a powerful transformative mantra. When you sing Sa Ta Na Ma, sit on the floor with your legs crossed and press your elbows into your ribs so that your arms each form a 90-degree angle at your sides. Press your fingertips to the pads in your palms and stick your thumb up like a hitchhiker. Inhale deeply and then exhale all the air, drawing the navel towards the back. Keeping your stomach empty, silently chant four rounds of “Sa Ta Na Ma” to yourself. Inhale deeply and repeat this process at least six times, for up to eleven minutes. The combination of completely emptying and then filling the lungs and abdomen, combined with mindfulness, make this a super technique for people with eating disorders.
3) Whenever you feel “too big” physically, explore your spiritual gifts. If you don’t consciously know what these are, ask for guidance. They will reveal themselves! You can also take a 60-question inventory here: http://www.elca.org/evangelism/assessments/spiritgifts.html. (If you are not a Christian, modify the questions for your personal belief system.) People often feel “big” not because of their actual girth, but because they have a lot of unused “stuff” inside them.
4) When you feel the urge to purge, release in other ways. Honor pent-up energy, words and talents that seek expression. Write, paint, draw, volunteer. Share something beautiful!
5) When you want to starve, “feed” the world. See the people around you starving for emotional or spiritual nourishment. Offer random acts of kindness as support. Clean the house and donate old clothes. Give until you feel balanced to receive again.
6) If you feel ashamed of your “issues”, remember where you’re going. Shame will dissolve as you embrace your deepest purpose and share that beauty with the world. We change the world and our lives one small step at a time. Each day, focus on one small step—a journal entry, conversation, or application essay. An outfit of old clothes put together in unexpected ways. A walk in nature. A letter to the editor.
7) If your stomach bothers you, focus on your heart center. If you have trouble getting into your heart, imagine green, gold, or pink light moving in and out of you with your breath. Follow your breath and feel a pulsating warmth in the center of your chest. Let that warmth envelop you and radiate from you like warm, honeyed, oozing sweetness. Your heart is only one step above your stomach, but that one step takes you out of ego and into community.
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