Being caught in this binge purge cycle to any degree will not help you have a good relationship with food. When you purge, the binge will always return. When you binge, the purge will always return. You can’t have one without the other.
What they lead to and remind you of is how much you still hate yourself. You still feel all the shame, sadness, anger, hurt, and fear you did before. But now you also hate what you are doing to yourself. You want out. But how?
Feel your feelings. That’s how.
I know, not as simple as it sounds.
Feeling your feelings is hard because you weren’t really taught how. Your caregiver told you to “Stop crying”; “That’s enough”; “I’ll give you something to cry about”; “Go to your room, no one wants to listen to you”; “Change your attitude”; “Here, have a cookie, you’ll feel better.” All of this equals one thing – don’t feel! It may have translated to “I don’t love you when you have feelings.” If that was the case, you had to shut them down. It was survival.
Maybe you learned it from your mother who dieted all the time and talked about her body in the most negative ways or from your father who called you a pig or a couch potato. Or perhaps your parents lovingly told you that you need to lose weight so you will be happy. Maybe you learned it from friends at school. Possibly you learned it from society in all its wisdom. Perhaps all you recall is that it just made sense.
However the eating disorder came along, it did so to help you stop feeling, to be a better person, to be a lovable person. It became, if I look good, I will get love. It worked. Then. But, it is a treacherous cycle and it isn’t working anymore.
Another reason that feeling your feelings seems hard is that your resistance to it is strong. There are two things going on here… your feelings and the resistance to the feelings. It is your resistance that is painful, not the feelings.
Think about it as swimming upstream. It takes work, it is tiring, exhausting, and you never get very far. One rest and you slip down to where you were or lower. However, if you let go and just go with the stream, ah, this feels easy, smooth, enjoyable even.
It is the same with emotions. Resist and you are swimming upstream. Go with them and it is easy, smooth, even energizing.
The other reason feeling your emotions is difficult is that it feels so overwhelming. It can be. There are many years of feelings stuffed down there. Feeling a little may strike fear in you that they will all come up at once, no stopping. Many people tell me it feels like they might go crazy! Or perhaps you have experienced depression in the past and feeling your feelings means you are headed toward that depression again. You swore you would never let that happen.
There are lots of reasons feeling your emotions seems hard and scary. But, this is the way out of your eating disorder! It is your new survival, your sanctuary. I heard once that healing from an eating disorder means living life on life’s terms. Life is difficult at times, but also wonderful. Learning how to feel the emotions that go with a life worth living is important and necessary. And, it takes courage.
You have the courage!
There are many ways to help you get to your feelings, at a pace that works for you. Just changing your behaviors around food is one way. When you stop engaging in eating disorder behaviors, the feelings just seem to come up. Try it. Pick one eating disorder behavior to change, just a small, tiny step will do. Do what you can and then seek support when it gets difficult; too scary.
There is another little secret to feeling your feelings. Start right where you’re at. It is scary to feel. Guess what? Fear is a feeling. Start right there. Right now. Take three deep breaths and say out loud, “I feel scared to feel my feelings” Repeat. Continue (change the wording to fit for you) until you feel a shift. You will know it when you do.
After a moment of this or when you begin to feel something, say out loud “It is okay to feel scared.” Repeat each of these several times, continuing to breathe as you do. Your breath is the very best way I know of to get into your body and connect with what you are feeling. If you do nothing else, breathe, and be open to feeling.
Notice if you are swimming upstream, resisting your emotions (noted by shallow breaths or holding your breath, thinking about other things, analyzing how you must look if someone saw you, etc.) When you notice resistance, this is fear again. Gently remind yourself that you are scared to feel your feelings. Repeat step one.
If you do this for 3 minutes each day, you are well on your way to feeling. Your capacity to feel will increase greatly. Your fear of feeling will decrease. You are on your way to feeling another emotion. Do the same exercise with any new feeling. You could pick one (i.e. I feel angry, I feel sad, etc.) or you can just sit and breathe and be open to feeling. They will come.
Your emotions are just waiting for any little invitation to surface. Your feelings want to be acknowledged. When you do, they tend to say “Thank you for noticing me. I feel better now.” And they subside a bit. It isn’t much different than a child begging for your attention. Ignore her and she gets louder and more obnoxious. Give her focused attention and she is satisfied.
Feel your emotions often and suddenly you won’t feel out of control with them anymore. As you do this, you won’t need the eating disorder to help you feel in control or to help you cope. It is possible. Start small. Start today.