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September 18, 2019
There are few things that make me sadder in my practice than losing a patient to their own unrealistic or overwhelming expectations. The decision to stop bingeing and purging, or to give up other elements of an eating disorder, is often accompanied by a “high.” Getting through that first 24-hours, that first day or week or even month, often brings an enormous amount of relief, satisfaction, even joy. After years of muddling through, using food for thought, the capacity to think clearly, to feel what you feel and think what you think is exhilarating. The mental clarity, the ability to think with your thoughts, is just amazing.
So amazing, in fact, that people immersed in uncovering their eating disorders are often totally unprepared for what are inevitable forks in the road. Often the glitches come when you least expect them: a lunch with your mother; a weird comment from your father; a sudden change in your work or financial status; a new partner. The “container” within you, your capacity to tolerate and process your emotions, fills up too fast. Suddenly you become overwhelmed, unable to sort through too much information. Your mind goes on overload and without even realizing it, you become desperate to make the chaos stop. Harkening all the way back to your infancy, the only thing your mind believes will stop it is food.
Uncovering an eating disorder isn’t just about finding an extra-large helping of will-power. It isn’t about how long you can hold out without bingeing or purging; it isn’t about being “good.” Uncovering an eating disorder is about being able to think, and never is thinking more vital than when your mind is overwhelmed or things are not going as well as you wish. Coming in to therapy when you are falling apart is far more important than when you are doing well, or artificially glued together. When you are struggling, we can take a deeper look and understand what kinds of things throw you off your game. We can explore what hurts and where. We can work together to identify ways of directly soothing that part of you that is in pain.
Take good care,
Alitta Kullman, PhD, PsyD, LMFT, Psychoanalyst, Eating Disorder Specialist
Author, “Hunger for Connection: Finding Meaning in Eating Disorders” (Routledge, 2018)