Well I looked my demons in the eyes
Lay bare my chest
Said do your best
To destroy me
See I've been to hell and back
So many times
I must admit
You kinda bore me
It is always surprising to me how similar my clients’ stories are. If they only really knew (and they usually do end up knowing, as the process continues) that they are so not alone in their behaviors – they always think they are uniquely flawed, not understanding that the culture has set them up to behave in these odd ways with food:
“There is no way I can keep chips in the house or I will eat the whole bag in one night.”
“I try to never have ice cream around because I won’t be able to stop thinking about it until it’s gone.”
“I never go out to eat because that kind of food makes me go home and binge.”
I had a client recently who has a choking phobia. She had choked on food several months ago and the experience was so terrifying that she has only been drinking fluids ever since. Of course her physical health is now compromised, she is losing weight and feeling overall terribly.
“After I try to eat I get so scared that it takes me a whole day to try again.”
“I can’t eat solid foods because they make me feel like I’m going to die.”
“The only thing I can tolerate is thick liquids because I panic with anything else in my throat.”
There is a technique used in the treatment of binge eating disorder called “stocking”. The idea is that if having a particular food or foods trigger you to overeat it, then you should keep it around in quantities greater than you could ever eat at once. If Oreos are a trigger food, then keep 5 packages of them in the cabinet. When you go through one package, then replace it with another so that you always have 5 packages.
What ends up happening is that your brain becomes desensitized to the Oreos, and over time you stop thinking about them and they no longer have power over you. It’s the pushing away of the food that empowers the overeating – not a sugar addiction, or a character flaw, or the food being so good that you can’t control yourself. Oreos are good and everything but they can’t make you eat them – they’re not THAT good.
…and the food is just one example of something that we try to push away in the hopes that controlling it will set us free. If I don’t like a particular feeling, if I avoid feeling it, I will be free. No -- it simply doesn’t work that way. In order to be free of an emotion, a behavior, an “enemy”, you need to bring it as close as possible. Holding it away from you gives it more substance, more reality, more power.
For my bingeing clients, they need to stock their fear foods as much as they can as often as possible. As long as they are willing to have it be “ok” if they do overeat, because they will before they won’t. For my restricting clients, they have to eat x, y, or z, not knowing where their body will end up – because they don’t.
For my client with the choking phobia, she needs to eat that yogurt , pudding, cottage cheese or whatever as much as possible, as often as possible even if she is feeling absolutely terrible. As long as she is willing to walk straight into it not knowing if she will be 100% “safe” she will conquer it – because it is the search for certainty that keeps us trapped. It is at the times that she’s feeling the absolute most terrible that she has the greatest potential to finally be free.
It’s the times that you’re feeling the absolute most terrible that you have the greatest potential to finally be free.
And then you’ll realize that the “enemy” was the greatest teacher that you ever had.