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If you suffer from an eating disorder now or have in the past, please email Joanna for a free telephone consultation.


Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
serving Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon and Utah.
All appointments are virtual.

Anxiety, Binge Eating, Intimacy Issues: The Fire Alarm Is Not the FireThe Fire Alarm Is Not the Fire

Fire Alarm Symptoms

Symptoms such as binge eating, anxiety issues and eating disorder behaviors are alarms. Stopping the anxiety or binge eating alarm without addressing what’s causing the alarm to sound off accomplishes little or nothing.

It also can be dangerous because the metaphoric fire continues to burn and may increase in ferocity. When a fire alarm goes off the problem is not the sound of the alarm. The problem is the fire. The deeper problem is the cause of the fire.

We are anxious for a reason, often not the reason we tell ourselves. We binge eat for a reason. Again, for the reason we tell ourselves. Anxiety and binge eating are alarms signaling something needs attention.

In my opinion, we waste time, money and emotional well-being when we focus on the alarm.  Too often we ignore or deny what causes the alarms to go off.

It’s also a waste of time and money to put out the fire without understanding the conditions that were created. We remain ignorant and don't know how to take steps to prevent a blaze from flaring up again. It doesn't make sense to run to the same emergency and never look to the cause.

In hillside communities of Los Angeles, California alarms sound at a fire. The fire department launches an attack on the flames. But we also keep the dry brush away from our homes. We use non-flammable materials for the roof. We clear brush, even to the extent of having goats graze the hillsides. Alarm, behavior, and cause: All three need to be addressed.

People binge eat or suffer anxiety symptoms when something is not right in their lives. In California, the most Google mental health search item involves intimacy issues.

Anxiety disorders and eating disorders are among the five major categories of mental illnesses. These three mental health issues have a variety of symptoms.

Often symptoms will switch and change. A person can be left feeling that nothing is working or that they are personally failing because one symptom that seems to be decreasing is only revealing another that might be worse.

Intimacy Issues: Symptoms as Alarms

If a person is emotionally unavailable to her partner she

  • Lets him down when she knows she is needed,
  • Has relationships that rarely last more than 6 – 9 months,
  • Is wary of committing to a one-on-one relationship,
  • Avoids physical intimacy after three months,
  • Is more comfortable having sex with strangers
  • Continually questions in her own mind whether this person is the right partner for her.

These symptoms have a powerful effect on relationships which will suffer or break down completely. She may avoid these symptoms if she protects herself and isolates herself from the possibility of any intimate relationship.

Anxiety: Symptoms as Alarms

If a person suffers from anxiety she has:

  • Panic attacks,
  • Physical symptoms such as pain, nausea and headaches,
  • Nightmares,
  • Obsessive thoughts,
  • Fear of leaving the house.

These symptoms can hamper her ability to function fully in her life.

Binge Eating and Eating Disorders: Symptoms as Alarms

A person suffers from an eating disorder if:

  • She eats too little or too much,
  • Binges,
  • Starves,
  • Feels anxiety around food and is compulsive about what and how she eats,
  • Is anxious and self-condemning about her weight and body shape,
  • Has a poor or distorted self-image.

Getting to the Cause of the Alarm in Psychotherapy Work

Living with these alarm signals puts her physical health at risk, foils healthy relationships and limits her ability to use her energy more productively in her life. Addressing these symptoms directly is an attempt to control the alarm. Using willpower or self-lecturing or promising to stop or start a behavior is an attempt to control an unconscious process with the conscious mind.

Each of these issues means something to the person. Each behavior and feeling is often a defense around some past emotional damage that remains unaddressed or partially addressed and remains unhealed.

A person contacts a psychotherapist for help because she experiences the alarm. She doesn't know what's beneath her symptoms. She just knows she needs help.

Deep psychotherapy goes beneath the surface of behavior and conscious recognition. Deep psychotherapy responds to the alarm by going to the fire and then the cause. That’s what makes the necessary deep healing possible.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.

She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder

Appointments are virtual.

For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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