"Early Warning Signs" Chapter 3 excerpt
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Defining unusual eating behaviors is a challenge, because what’s considered normal keeps changing in our culture. Unfortunately this difficulty makes it easier for early warning signs on an eating disorder to be missed, denied, or rationalized. Today, eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS) cover more of the population than identified eating disorders. Disordered eating, emotional eating, binge eating, or occasional purging may qualify as EDNOS. For recovery purposes, look at any form of eating that seems disordered and that troubles you, causes you problems, or is essential for you to cope with unbearable feelings.
“Every patient carries her or his own doctor inside.”
Your first and ongoing challenge is to not judge yourself. Merciless self-condemnation is a symptom of an eating disorder. You may have people in place who do that for you – that’s another sign. If you can’t resist criticizing yourself, give yourself a time limit to do so, and then do your breathing exercises. A brief mindful breathing practice after a bout of self-criticism can help you realign yourself with self-kindness.
In the not-so-distant past, taking time to sit at a dining table and eat three meals a day at a slow and gentle pace was normal. Now, grabbing a smoothie for breakfast while you dash for the car, rushing through a twenty-minute lunch “hour,” or ordering Chinese food and then eating it from the container with a group of friends are not extraordinary or bizarre activities. Living on fast food may not be part of a healthy lifestyle, but it doesn’t necessarily signal an eating disorder.
Eating a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast and having pancakes or scrambled eggs for dinner is not unusual in a fast paced urban life, nor does it signal an eating disorder. Eating leftovers for breakfast doesn’t indicate an eating disorder either. Such behavior may mean the food is convenient when you are in a hurry or that you liked it and are eager to have more before it spoils. It could also mean that you are being economical by not wasting food.
Similarly it’s possible to have a seemingly healthy diet and suffer from an eating disorder. For example, in the past decade the term “slow food” has entered the mainstream American vocabulary. Growing your own food or shopping at farmers’ markets for items you will cook slowly at home can enrich family life, enhance health, and help the environment. Eating slow food however, doesn't mean you don’t have an eating disorder.
Excerpt from Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder, by Joanna Poppink, MFT, Conari Press, 2011. Copyright protected August, 2011. Joanna is a Los Angeles psychotherapist specializing in eating disorder recovery for adults and counseling for their loved ones. For an appointment call: (310) 474-4165.