Saturday, July 11, 2015
Contemplating Deprivation and Abundance
By Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
In a recent Women’s Eating Disorder Therapy Group, we discussed Good foods and Bad foods. This dichotomy refers to foods that you have permission to eat and foods that are forbidden. When a client says, “I just started eating cookies and I couldn’t stop” I always ask, “When was the last time you let yourself eat cookies?” I predict her answer will be, “I never let myself have cookies.” The more you deprive yourself of a food (or a whole group of foods), the more this food glitters and calls your name. When you finally break down and allow yourself to have it, you’ll go overboard. A Part, whom I call The Child on Your Tongue, says, “You’re going to let me have cookies!? I don’t know when you’ll let me have cookies again, so I’m going to eat them all!”
This makes sense from your Anxious Part’s point of view. Imagine you are in a refugee camp, and here comes the rice truck. You don’t know if or when the rice truck will come again, so how much rice do you eat? Most of us would eat until it came out our ears. But if you knew the rice truck will return every two hours, you could then eat just enough, knowing that in another two hours you can have more, and in another two hours you can have more, and in another two hours you can have more. You can trust that food will always be there for you.
A long time ago, the members of the group decided to do an experiment. It took a while, but we finally found a food that no one had ever binged on: tuna. So we said, “Whatever you do this week, do not eat tuna. But on top of that, remind yourself constantly that you can’t eat tuna.”
The next week, some members said, “That was no problem for me. I don’t really like tuna. I didn’t eat tuna at all—I didn’t want it. I was fine.”
Another woman craved tuna all week, knew exactly how she wanted it cooked, and where she was going to get it. After the group was over, she had plans to eat tuna. (Did you notice any craving for tuna just by reading this experiment?)
Another person forgot about the experiment. She went to a restaurant, ordered tuna, and in the middle of the meal realized she wasn’t supposed to have it. She felt so guilty that she thought about not going back to group. She considered lying, “I was fine.” She felt so much guilt and shame she confessed, as if she had smoked crack!
One person binged and purged tuna several times that week!
So think about it, why did that happened? When we focus intently on something, when we forbid ourselves from having something, the more alluring that food becomes. When a Part of us or an outside authority puts rules on us, “You shouldn’t be eating that!” our Rebel Part is inclined to do the opposite, “You think you can stop me! Well, I’m going to eat it all! You think you can take it away from me! Ha ha! Just try!” Or The Child on Your Tongue grabs it and eats it greedily—just in case you won’t let her have it again.
The Food Police Part and the Rebel get locked into this circular argument, “I’m going to grab the food out of your hands because you will eat it all.” “I gotta eat it all because you grab it away.” “I have to grab it because you will eat it all.” “I gotta eat it all because you grab it away.” And so on and on and on…
Total recovery from an eating disorder means that you do the work (recover your sense of Self and get your Parts back in harmony so they feel heard, appreciated, and taken care of) to resolve the underlying issues so that eventually food, eating, and weight become non-issues. I tell my clients that we have to take the magic out of Food! and turn it back into, well, food. Total recovery is being able to eat whatever I want without feeling guilt, remorse, despair, panic, or self-hatred. After I eat I forget about it; it becomes a non-issue. I can get on with the rest of my life. Total recovery means listening to my body for what it wants and needs—such as delicious brussel sprouts and kale salad with pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries—while also allowing my body to have fun foods, such a pizza, cookies, or ice cream.
At this point, I usually get quizzical looks, “You mean you can eat ice cream or pizza and not feel bad afterwards? That’s fine for you, but I can’t stop eating! I can’t have those foods. I must be addicted to them.” Part of my recovery process involved learning how to eat like a “normal” eater. Normal eaters eat foods like ice cream and pizza. Normal eaters eat three meals and a snack or two a day. Normal eaters eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Normal eaters do not panic at the sight of pizza!
I have a story that will illustrate this concept. When I was in college, I had a friend who would bring a slice of leftover pizza for lunch every Tuesday. At the time, this truly amazed me. For one, the words leftover and pizza never went together in my vocabulary! Second, she brought it EVERY Tuesday! I was dying to find out how she could do this without blowing up like a hot air balloon.
I finally got up the courage to ask her about it—how could she have pizza every Tuesday and feel OK about it? She told me that she and her roommate had a Monday night ritual in which they would have pizza and watch a certain special TV show. They always had leftovers, and so each would take a piece for lunch the next day. At this point I was totally in shock. Pizza on Monday AND enough left over for two on Tuesday! What was her secret? How did she do this? How could she “control” herself having pizza so often?! I don’t know how I asked since I was desperately trying to not let on that I had any food issues. She said simply, “If you knew you were going to have pizza every Monday night for the rest of your life, it would be no big deal to you too!”
That’s it?! I thought there was some wizardry at work here—like calorie-free pizza or eating it with cabbage to take the fat grams away. Nope. She simply had taken the magic out of the pizza and turned it back into, well, food. Wow! I saw a line of pizzas stretching off into infinity! She taught me about the opposite of deprivation—she was talking about Abundance.
This story illustrates that when we give ourselves True Permission to have a food, we do not have to control it like we did before. Total recovery involves learning how to give ourselves True Permission: “Yes I can have that and I can have it again too.” This is opposed to Sort-of Permission: “Well, OK. I’ll have it this one time, but never again!” (You know the consequence of Sort-of Permission: “Since I can never have it again, I better eat it all and then some!”) The positive outcome of True Permission is that we do not feel deprived and can trust that there will always be enough and that we will always be able to get our share. When we have True Permission to eat anything, we can listen to our body and enjoy nourishing foods without feeling like the fun treats are being withheld.
When we embrace the abundance that is waiting for us, we no longer have to eat as if our favorite treats will be snatched away.
Amy is the Founder and Director of The Awakening Center and for almost 30 years has been helping others get to full recovery from eating disorders. If you would like to inquire about the Women’s Eating Disorder Therapy Group, please contact her at (773) 929-6262 x11.