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Disordered Eating: The Root Cause

This is a big topic, and one that frankly is still hard to put into words. Getting to the root cause of my own disordered eating took a lot of courage and vulnerability.

Most of us know what to do to lose weight. I can’t begin to count the number of times I vowed not to eat after dinner or avoid that second cocktail. While I know how to make peace with my food, this is still a daily practice that requires a conscious and honest effort. If I want to make lasting change, there is internal work to be done to get to why food became a “tool” in managing my demons. I do not pretend to know all the answers. I can simply share my personal story and what I’ve uncovered as to my “why.” What I do know is, throughout my entire life, I’ve used food to cope with trauma, insecurity, loneliness and anger. Turns out, it’s not a very solid coping mechanism.

I began this Luminous journey out of pure desperation. The scale was pointing to well over 200 pounds and I was at my wit’s end. I was still recovering from a very difficult transition, making a dramatic change that left me feeling like a failure. I was depressed and incredibly sad.

The trigger was a transition to a new home, leaving my former home of 20 years. If you know me, you know I am a homebody. While the decision to make this transition was absolutely the right one, it brought up a lot of unresolved pain. The fact that it shook me to my core was a huge sign there was more inner work to be done. I mean, home is where the heart is, right? My family didn’t go anywhere. They were right there with me.

I believe we continue to receive lessons or events that push us to resolve or heal. And if we don’t do the work, the same kinds of events or challenges will persist. What we resist WILL persist.

What is Disordered Eating?

According to wikipedia, disordered eating can show up in many forms:

  • Chronic restrained eating.[1]
  • Compulsive eating.[1]
  • Binge eating, with associated loss of control.[2]
  • Self-induced vomiting.[3]

Disordered eating also includes behaviors that are not characteristic of a specific eating disorder, such as:

  • Irregular, chaotic eating patterns.
  • Ignoring physical feelings of hunger and satiety (fullness).[1]
  • Use of diet pills.[4]
  • Emotional eating.[5]
  • Night eating.[5]

When I began my Luminous journey I was addressing the most immediate fire burning: My 100+ pound weight gain, and the recognition that if I didn’t do something radical, I was not ever going to get to a place of peace with food or acceptance of my body. I can’t recall a time in my life when I wasn’t dealing with disordered eating. There are several reasons, and they all boiled down to lack of self-esteem and self-worth, and failure to heal from traumatic events. Rather than finding other ways to manage and heal, I numbed my pain with food.

Going Luminous helped me to feel more in control. It gave me a structure and a sense of fullness I hadn’t experienced before. I needed black and white rules. It also inspired me to take a bigger risk and make my journey public. I surrendered to my truth, warts and all. For awhile, this worked brilliantly. I lost 85 pounds and I felt fantastic. I maintained my weight longer than I ever had doing other plans. I was within my goal, and then, I began to fall into old habits. I began neglecting meditation. I stopped getting on the scale. Why would I do that when I was so close?

The Triggers

As a very single-minded person, my work can be all encompassing. When I’m in the midst of any project, it is all too easy to neglect self-care, to stop focusing on what I need to feel grounded and secure. I went from one project that took me out of town and required long hours to another project that required more of me emotionally. My weight began to creep up, and I ignored it – pushed it out of my brain. I was also easily distracted with our home renovation that involved a temporary move out of the current home.

I began a project that was a dream job for me. I directed a two hour documentary that told the stories of four women who survived child marriage in the United States. There were long hours and I was interviewing women who suffered severe trauma. The empath in me began to take it all in, and I was doing nothing to work through it or to protect myself from taking on all of that intense emotional energy.

There were moments when I would “get back on track.” They were short lived. I was patching holes rather than addressing the foundation. I continued to put my own well-being on the back burner. Shortly after that project ended, I began having shoulder issues that required surgery. During the recovery process I had a few moments of “back on track” but once again, they were short-lived.

All of these experiences happening in the present were triggering past trauma and negative thinking. The old demons of not being good enough or talented enough or liked enough, came rushing back into my brain. They all became amplified during stressful periods. I learned quite young to use food as a way of calming myself, of “filling up.” The weight gain became exhibit A that I was a loser.

What Happened?

When I began gaining, it wasn’t because suddenly I was hungry and was tired of making progress. In fact, many of the food-related habits I developed are still with me, and I remain consistent with them. Instead, it was the cumulative effect of me resisting the internal work. I stopped meditating, I stopped journaling, I stopped caring about my own well-being. I was struggling with proving myself at every turn and depleting my reserves, then using food to “fill up” at night when I was at my weakest. I lost faith in myself, and instead of coming back to the consistency of checking in with what was happening internally, I put up walls and stumbled back into old habits, probably because they had been with me longer. Rather than managing my thoughts and my energy, I was in emergency mode. I allowed all the negative self-talk to rush back in. The tidal wave went unabated.

Old Habits = Protection

What I’ve come to understand is those old habits were born as a means of protection. I am not a glutton or someone who has no self-control. Instead of loathing those behaviors, I recognized they were put in place at a very young age to help, not hurt me. But those decisions were made by the little girl, not the adult. Those solutions to avoiding pain or insecurity are long past their due date. Instead of judging them, I’ve begun to understand them and think of them with kindness and forgiveness. The adult inside can recognize the old thoughts are not real. And just as that little girl came up with “solutions” to protect from pain, disappointment, trauma or insecurity, the adult can begin to replace them with new ways to soothe and protect. The adult can begin to call bullshit on the old negative thought patterns and create new ones.

Thoughts become things. When we do the internal work, the external shifts. What we tell ourselves is powerful, and it can go either way in terms of hurting or healing. When we allow the negative “low vibe” thoughts to run rampant, they can and do impact our behavior and sense of well-being. The way toward healing disordered eating is not just about what gets put in our mouths. Like most other disorders involving particular behaviors, it came into being as a solution to shielding or protecting from pain, trauma, or insecurity. We cannot simply remove them. They must be replaced with new behaviors and habits or we risk filling that void with the old arsenal.

Coming Back

If you are struggling with getting back to your own self-care, the first thing to do is something you can do right here, and right now: Begin listening to your breathe. Becoming conscious of our breathing is the quickest way to jog the mind into the present rather than dwelling on past or future. Here are some other tools to helped me move to a better feeling place:

  1. Surrender – I recognized I needed help. I surrendered to meditation and journaling. Something powerful happens when we just throw up the white flag. Something cracks open.
  2. Water – Each morning I drink 16 oz of water. I try to do this before coffee, when I take my thyroid medication.
  3. Sleep – Without at least 7 hours of sleep, I begin to eat more just to keep up my energy. Studies show that sleep-deprivation leads to a higher calorie consumption. Trust the science.
  4. Food Journal – I surrendered to tracking again, simply writing down what I ate without judgment. This felt like surrendering as well because I recognized I needed this tool to help me be honest and transparent with myself.
  5. Challenging The Thoughts – a big excuse for me is “I don’t have time for that”. During the pandemic, I could really see how this particular thought was total BS. We make time for what we deem important. I don’t care how busy I am, I call BS when I use the excuse of “no time.” I remind myself that I have the power to choose what I think about. There isn’t some random podcast playing in my brain! That’s me generating the thoughts. I can stop the negative chatter at any time.
  6. Abandon All or Nothing – in the beginning I wasn’t in a good place to start the plan hardcore, so I decided what I could commit to. Decide on one thing you feel reasonably sure you can do consistently. When you fall short, come back fast.
  7. Begin A Judgement Detox – It’s interesting how the minute we begin to get conscious, it can often turn into a slam festival, shaming and blaming ourselves for where we are. I began to see why I was avoiding getting back on track! Who wants to get hit with shame and blame?! So I was gentle, and realized I had to let that shit go.
  8. Reach for higher thoughts – It’s all to easy for me to go toward the negative, so beginning to notice when I was in a negative jag, and reaching for a higher thought really works. Example: “How could you let yourself gain all this weight again?” Shift to: “I’m grateful to be aware of my body and appreciate knowing this awareness is helping me achieve my goals.”
  9. Remembering change happens in the moments, not in months or years. Consistency does not equal perfection. It’s about making better choices more often than not. I will not start tomorrow, I am doing it today.

xox Sara

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