Every once in a while I come across something that resonates so powerfully that it’s truly startling. Usually it’s song lyrics or book excerpts, but I recently stumbled across this incredible Ted Talk by Dr. Laura Hill entitled “Eating Disorders from the Inside Out”. It’s just under 20 minutes long, but if you have the time – it’s a wonderful representation of what it feels like to have an eating disorder:
She specifically talks about Anorexia and Bulimia, however I believe this version of self-talk and brain response is representative of many forms of disordered eating.
I’ve been slowly unraveling distortions and emotions around food on this blog (and in therapy itself) as I attempt to better understand and connect with River. The closer we get, the more access I gain to her daily experiences.
Dr. Hill talks about the noise that occurs around eating for people with eating disorders. She delves into brain anatomy (in a user-friendly way) to help explain the differences between brain reactions in individuals with versus without eating disorders. Something in particular that struck me was how she describes the absolute terror associated with even making a decision around food.
I relate to this so much.
ANY variation from River’s strict food routine causes absolute chaos. I get so frustrated by this, but watching the video helped me understand what’s going on a little better during these moments of panic and fear and confusion over eating within any given day.
If River does not know exactly what she will eat, when she will eat it, how she will eat it, and what her options are if something should go awry, we tend to either not eat at all or just have a free-for-all (not in the sense of true binging, but in the sense that other Parts will jump in on River’s panic and use that as an opportunity to eat the foods they’ve been craving, but denied).
A perfect example was this past 4th of July weekend. We went to Wife’s parents’ house for a BBQ. We didn’t plan what to eat, nor did we know what was going to be served. I (stupidly) assumed it would be fine and River would just figure it out as time unfolded.
I was so wrong.
Being in a different environment, especially an environment that tends to cause regression (which seems to happen at any place that feels like we’re the “kids”), led to a situation where River completely stopped functioning. Several other Parts were more than happy to partake in the holiday offerings and the end result was the consumption of many foods that are MASSIVE triggers/fear foods for River.
I felt this on a visceral level as it was happening, but somehow I couldn’t figure out how to stop it. I didn’t know what to do. I’d so fully enveloped River’s emotions around food that I became just as stuck as she was. And we both watched helplessly with terror as the rest of the System consumed more sugar, sodium, and carbohydrates that we’d normally eat in a month (which may or may not be an exaggeration. I honestly am not sure, but it feels that way).
I’ve been thinking that all of River’s planning and obsessing around food is all part of the eating disorder. And perhaps it is. But what this video makes explicitly clear is that it’s also part of the recovery.
Dr. Hill talks about how effective it is for eating disordered persons to plan their meals to the tee because it is the only thing that quiets the endless noise that torments them all day long. It’s the only thing that offers them any semblance of peace.
And, really, that is all I want for us. So if it means we have to bring our own food to social gatherings or eat the same food every day, so be it.
I know this isn’t the entire answer. But I think it’s a really good start.