Rethinking Disordered Eating Behaviors, Reflections on Enoughness

June 3, 2024

As the 2nd version of the book, Trauma-Informed Approaches to Eating Disorders is released this year, I am grateful that I was asked to be a part of this project as I know it will create an impact on those who treat and those who suffer from food related concerns. I also feel an impulse to speak more broadly about my journey through the field of eating disorders both as a client and later as a specialist in this unique field of practice.

I am one of the many therapists in the field who were called into this work due to my own personal lived experience of body image challenges in my youth and my subsequent food struggles. My own journey started at the age of 13 and lasted until the age of 18 when I finally engaged in treatment. But my psychological, relational, and spiritual healing continued well through my 20’s and into my 30’s, even though the symptoms and behaviors were not present. My story is not uncommon in that it illustrates the pervasive mind-body split that resides within this curious set of symptoms as an expression of foundational dysregulation. It also reflects a parallel process within the field of eating disorders treatment in which the body itself is excluded from the equation. This disconnect in the psychotherapy field prompted Rachel Lewis and I to create the Embodied Recovery Institute in 2017 - a training program for providers who are looking for a new paradigm for the treatment of disordered eating behaviors.

As I come to reflect on my path and that of the thousands of creative individuals whom I have treated over my 30-year career, I have come to an understanding that disordered eating behaviors are not about control, calories, or a desire to be thin. Rather, they are a creative solution to a range of complex dynamics that go beyond the obvious struggle with food.

Disordered eating is largely about connectivity. Simply put, it is about our sense of connection to ourselves, others, and the world around us. What gets in the way of our sense of connection can vary depending on the individual. For some, there are neurological challenges that come with “being sensitive” in the way one processes or ingests life. For example, many individuals who are highly sensitive are empaths in that they pick-up on subtle cues in others and the surrounding environment. For myself and those who are similar, discomfort or fullness can be misinterpreted as the cause of the discomfort in the body. What is actually occurring is that we often take in the energy or emotions of others without knowing it. It is not uncommon for there to be an underlying sensory integration challenge that has not been accurately diagnosed. This was a piece of my journey and attending to the sensory integration challenges has made a huge difference in my life.

For others, challenges with food may be a creative solution to tougher relational dynamics that have not been mastered due to nervous system disorganization and an inability to obtain these life skills in our family of origin. I often find that there are a range of relational dynamics involved as well. For example, in my journey and those I have treated, there was a tendency to hold back certain emotions due to social, cultural, gender, racial, or familial conditioning and experiences. If we are not taught to express anger in a healthy way, we repress it.

Take a moment and consider the messages and support you received in your formative years about feeling and expressing anger.

  • How was anger modeled?
  • Were you aloud to be angry?
  • How did you feel when others were angry?

Perhaps the most important aspect of my struggle centered around the concept of “enoughness” or the need to feel like one belongs in the world.

For myself, the questions that pertain to enough-ness are as follows:

Is the world welcoming of who I am?
Does the world embrace my being different?
Do I have a place in this world?

I have found that many individuals who have struggled with eating concerns sacrifice who they are in order to belong. We adhere to social standards. We conform to family expectations. We follow others rather than asking if this is something that we really want.

Collectively, we are a culture that perpetuates the experience of not being “enough.” This leaves us to feel disconnected and alone even within our communities. On a recent podcast Surgeon General Vivek Murthy notes that we are a civilization that is disconnected from one another and lost in our capacity to cultivate a sense of belonging for each other.

Do you have places in your life where you feel a sense of belonging ?

But enhancing our connection to others is only part of the puzzle. We also need to feel a connection to ourselves. Belonging by Toko-Pa Turner is a beautiful book that invites us to cultivate our sense of belonging by coming home to ourselves. Our connection to our deeper and wiser self (spiritual self) is truly our first home. Take a moment and ask yourself - Am I truly connected to my deepest wisest aspect of myself from inside my heart?

When we are aligned with our hearts at this very deep level, we will experience a feeling of “enoughness” that will permeate all the areas of our life. In this place of spiritual knowing, we will come to understand who we are in the greater cosmology and come to see the unique opportunities have been given to us during this lifetime.

We will know at a deep fundamental level that we are “enough” and that our existence is truly a gift. We will sense a connection to the natural world and to all of life’s beings. We will sense a connection to all aspects of life beyond the limits of the ego-mind. We will not be focused on external measures of enough-ness because we will be in touch with a greater knowing that we are more than our minds and bodies.

To listen to the interview with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy click here:

To read my chapter, Somatic Experiencing, the body as the missing link to eating disorders treatment click here: 

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