Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Compulsive Overeating Disorder: The Something's gotta give lifestyle

Image compliments of
The fact that writing these words brings up sensations of nausea means it is real.  Too real.

I've struggled with Compulsive Overeating Disorder (COE) and Binge Eating Disorder (BED) for as long as I can remember.  For most of the time, I didn't know it was an eating disorder.  I just thought I was a terrible dieter (and person).  

When I first read about the OTHER eating disorders (not anorexia or bulimia but COE and BED) I was on top of the world.  There's a name for this!  There's a treatment strategy (therapy).  There are other people like me!  I thought it might be one of those nice, linear experiences of healing one fantasizes about.  I did read that it takes 7-10 years to recover from an eating disorder, but I never thought that would be me.  Let's see... that was October 2007, and here I am, April of 2015.  Time and Date tells me that it's been 7 years, six months, and 15 days since I had my big "problem solving" epiphany.

Let's take a look at Wikipedia on COE and BED:
Individuals suffering from compulsive overeating are obsessed with food and typically eat when they are not hungry. They devote excessive amounts of time and thought to food and secretly plan to eat or fantasize about doing so. Compulsive overeaters engage in frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating, or binge eating. The term binge eating means eating an abundance of food while feeling that one's sense of control has been lost.[2] People who engage in binge eating may feel frenzied, consuming between 5,000 and 15,000 calories in one binge. As a result, some will cancel their plans for the next day because they "feel fat".[3] Bingeing in this way is generally followed by feelings of guilt and depression.[4]
Unlike individuals with bulimia nervosa, compulsive overeaters do not attempt to compensate for their bingeing with purging behaviors, such as fasting, laxative use, or vomiting. When compulsive overeaters overeat primarily through bingeing and experience feelings of guilt after their binges, they can be said to have binge eating disorder (BED).[2]
In addition to binge eating, compulsive overeaters may also engage in grazing behavior, during which they return to pick at food throughout the day.[2] These actions result in an excessive overall number of calories consumed, even if the quantities eaten at any one time may be small.
Fantastic summary.  This talks about the what of it.  Not the why, of course.  That's much more complicated.

First thing to work on was bingeing.  I remember it clearly - having stopped at the store while my husband was away on business to pick up a few things (pretzels and ice cream?) to take home "for dinner..." and then I sat on the couch and ate them in the thundering silence of our cabin on the mountain.  It dawned on me mid bite, "Oh this is a BINGE."

I legalized all foods and went through some of the quality literature on the subject:
When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies
Geneen Roth's Breaking Free from Emotional Eating
Intuitive Eating

I am happy to say that I was able to stop binging after a year or two of therapy.  In the above example, I was eating to avoid loneliness or boredom.

I still suffer from the last part of that definition above - I eat emotionally, and I take in more food than I need throughout the day which results in a bodyweight that is too heavy for my liking, and for my function in the world.

I've used mindfulness training and have gotten to the point where I can see that I'm about to eat when I'm not hungry.  Sometimes I can stop it.  Sometimes I don't stop it... so there's awareness and then a "diving into" the compulsion anyway.

I've recently started having some success with the wonderful book Lean Habits by Georgie Fear.  I plan to document my journey through these next few months/years becoming a competent eater... I consider this blog to be the beginning of the Patient Zero series where I work openly with my yoga practice - which is transcending these compulsive behaviors, resulting from compulsive thoughts, resulting from complete identification with my emotions... attachment... ego... etc.

The past few days I was at a business conference, at the end of a stressful month where strep throat ripped through my house, I sprained my ankle, had lots of turmoil at home, and was WAY overbooked with job 1/job 2/job 3 and oh yeah my family my health my sanity...  So as much as I was trying to stick with the practice of eating 3 meals a day and feeling hunger before each meal...  I pretty much tanked.  I've had some success with these new habits, but the stress of traveling and everything else caused me to lose touch with my power.  Something's gotta give... and so I'll eat for pleasure.

I find that I eat for almost every emotion!  Tired?  Food.  Happy?  Gotta celebrate by filling up.  Sad, lonely, bored - well that's a no-brainer right?  I mean I jest here... to lighten the reality that I've been eating every emotion on the spectrum for way too long.

So here I am, in wonder and awe and observance of the human condition... laying it all bare and sharing my story in the hopes that others will see themselves and feel a feeling that does not require a food to accompany it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What's a spiritual practice for, anyway?

Image compliments of
After I returned from my last session of yoga therapy training, on mental and emotional health, I felt an awakened urgency in developing a relationship with _____ (insert your word of choice - God, the Universe, Divine Mother, Nature... something greater than myself).  I finally felt capable of sitting in wonder and silence and not controlling the outcome.  I've struggled with meditation for years and so its availability to me as a tool was quite exciting and novel.

I came home and proudly declared myself a theist of some sort.  I've been relishing this new identity.  Reading Nietzsche in college, and a healthy dose of skepticism in my early childhood experiences with religion, had sort of ruled out spiritual experiences for me.  However, I'm a deeply spiritual person.  So I found these types of trances of connection and immersion in other ways (food, alcohol, etc.)  At first, my new-found ability to connect with that-which-is-greater-than-myself seemed like it could be a tool in dealing with my own anxiety and depression, and serving as a substitute for less healthy "trances."  A very solo pursuit... though worthy.

The past few weeks have been a wild ride.  Especially for me as a mother and a wife.  Not only have a few minor illnesses ripped through the house, but there has been a lot of arguing.  I'm not proud of how I've acted on all occasions.  I have a ton of very negative conditioning around inter-family relationships.  I often feel I'm being criticized when I'm actually being hyper-sensitive and reading negativity into interactions when there is nothing behind it.  My go-to reaction to perceived criticism is overt hostility and passive aggressive behavior.

I had a chance to explore some of my new practices this weekend (of the new moon).  I took part in a meditation using Liberation Breathing combined with Mantra and Murti (Om Namaha Shivaya) and Babaji on Friday night.  Yesterday I had the time to listen to some uplifting words of Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith about the yogic practice of calming the mind (9AM service).  And I enjoyed some Hebrew chanting with a women's Rosh Chodesh group yesterday afternoon.  I've also been reading a WONDERFUL highly recommended book about women's spirituality called The Unknown She - Eight Faces of an Emerging Consciousness by Hilary Hart.

I have experienced a truly awesome shift in my understanding of a spiritual practice over the weekend.  Before I was craving me-time to solve me-problems and seeing my family situation as a barrier to getting there, which was leaving me feeling tapped out, angry, snappy, and highly dissatisfied.

What I see now, thanks to all of these inspiring sources (but especially to Hilary Hart's book), is that my spiritual practice is a tool to be more present with my family and more loving with them.  Even through the hard times.  I see now that my me-centered spiritual goals have some merit, but that the true work I have to do here is to learn to be kind, and to not overreact.

I still need to carve out time to refill my tank from sources like these.  But I grow increasingly confident that I can do that (and less and less desperate) as I give myself these treats of soul nourishment.  And I can do it in the midst of my rich family life.  And my family life is not to be avoided.  It is the day-to-day that will provide the rich soil for my peaceful being to grow.  Nurtured by my ability to break the chains that have been passed down through many generations of people doing the best they could at the time.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cultivating gentleness

image compliments of
Consider this blog post 4,561 that you've clicked on to read about how destructive "chronic busyness" is to our tender souls.  So welcome!  Take a breath!  Slow down for a second.  There is no rush to reach the end of this post...

I can't remember a time I wasn't over-scheduled and living a bit beyond my means in terms of time.  Even at this point in my yoga therapy training I'm still working a full time job, juggling family, teaching a group class or two a week, and trying to see clients individually.  In order to do all of this, I sort of crash and thrash my way through the clock... always feeling like I'm a little behind.  I've learned to schedule self care like going to the gym and the occasional massage... and I'm finally at the point where I'm not rushing to and from those appointments.  Rather, I try to take time to feel the sun on my face and my feet on the ground.

I've had a longstanding resistance to meditation.  I've got a hyper, screaming, monkey-mind and some very negative thought tendencies.  Moving from crash and thrash through the world (doing) to sitting in meditation (being) has been a difficult transition energetically.  I thought that captured the essence of the issue - but I've gone a bit deeper and found something else that I'd like to share with you in hopes that it helps others find a way to a few peaceful minutes here and there.

Not only is going from moving to stillness difficult, when where you land is a very discursive place... but going from aggressive to gentle is an even bigger shift and challenge.  Doing the first without the latter is a gruesome transition.

I've never learned to be gentle.  There are natural times when gentleness manifests... like caring for an infant or cultivating seedlings.   However my day-to-day life does not manifest gentleness.  Within busyness, gentleness is a hindrance, not a value.  And that is, from what I'm learning, a fantastically easy way to waste a life.

There are a few things that I've put in place that have the effect of allowing a touch of gentleness, or tenderness, to enter.

  • A pre-meal blessing with my family, touching each other's hands.
  • Some kind of transition to honor the moment before sleep - whether it's breathing, reiki, or a 10 minute practice of asana and pranayama geared toward slowing down.
  • In my morning practice, using chanting to awake feeling, then allowing asana to transition to pranayama to prepare for meditation... to lead to prayer/sankalpa (intention).
  • In pranayama technique itself, being mindful of how the breath starts.  It's so easy to have a forceful beginning to every exhale.  I find that desiring gentleness in the moment of first exhale really gets me in the gentle and tender heart space.
In love and hope I share these small gifts I've found to help me cultivate gentleness in a crash-and-thrash world.  How does it work for you?