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Articles by Professionals

Listed below are articles written by Doctors, Therapists, Nutritionists, and others who have worked in the field related to Eating Disorders Awareness and Treatment. If you have an article you'd like to submit, please contact us to make arrangements to place it on the site with proper credit and referring information.


The Reach for Food

by: Linda Goodrich, R.N., P.H.N.

If you are among the many women who reach for food when something upsets you, then I think this article will be of help and perhaps might encourage you to begin kicking the dieting habit. I still sometimes reach for food when something is up and I cannot readily explain or grasp what is happening with me. Then after I have eaten something I can relax. I will reach for the kind of food that seems to calm the problem; sometimes it is cold and sweet, sometimes it is warm and just comforting.

I'd like to introduce myself by way of personal experience and dieting history. I believe that many who read this will identify with me. Please feel free to share your own experiences with me, comment on what you read here, or ask me any questions you may have about the process.

Memories, OH Sweet Memories

At the age of about 2 years old, I began to get very finicky about the foods I would eat and remained quite thin. I have since learned that it is quite common and was entirely normal. But because of my mother's insecurity and her constant anxiety about me and that I be healthy and look well-cared for, she force-fed me foods that would "fatten me up." Quite understandably by the time that I was 8 years old I had become quite the "chubby" little girl. And then of course, she became very anxious about me being too fat!

So, when I was about eight years old, my mother put me on a diet. She would hide the cookies, the chocolate, the candy, etc. I can still recall searching for the foods that I knew were there because I would see her eat them at night, and never offer any to me. I was endlessly searching for the foods that I craved. I usually had very little money and so was unable to buy anything outside. I can still recall the painful experiences during our nightly dinner mealtime. My father and mother and myself would all have dinner together. She would always serve us, and define the amount that we would each have. My plate was always unsatisfactory to me. I never had enough of the pasta that I loved, or the fried fish cakes that we always had on Wednesdays, or the bread with butter. The soggy vegetables were always more that I wanted. My father used to play tricks on me to get the food off my plate when my mother wasn't looking. The game was, he would all of a sudden say to me, "look at that on the wall, oh my god what is that", I would look up to see, and that's when he would quickly grab something that I wouldn't have eaten yet. I always felt guilty that he didn't have enough; he was also put on a diet by mom. We were the fat ones, and she was the skinny one, who never wanted to eat, except at night all the candy and ice cream she wanted. And, she never gained any weight!!! (What a concept, the one who ate whatever she wanted never gained any weight!)

I learned in those days to please my mother with my eating. The trade-off was that I became less and less in touch with myself and my feelings. I got to control her anxiety sometimes and gained some power, but I lost a sense of my self-esteem. By pre-puberty my self-identity and food issues were extremely confused and the confusion was internalized.

Sweet Sixteen

During puberty I began to feel very ugly, very fat and self-conscious. I became very depressed about myself and my lack of self-worth. My very painful self-consciousness led to an inability to learn in school, with much underachieving, and to socially inappropriate relationships with my peers. I felt that my mother was keeping me from developing in a healthy way, and I deeply resented her and my father. I found that I could get subliminal pleasure from hurting her for revenge, and that food was my only pleasure and solace. Food was my only source of comfort.

Becoming a woman

As I reached young adulthood I chose to become a nurse and continue to help other people rather than have to face my own problems and become self-aware. Nursing school also afforded me the chance to get out of my parent's home and live by myself (along with 250 other nursing students). This culture shock really catapulted me into a new phase of my life. Three years later, I emerged an RN. I was married the same month that I graduated from school--way too young, and pregnant with my first daughter. The immense pressure that I was feeling during my pregnancy and while dealing with the first year of marriage, along with a new job as a staff nurse on a medical and surgical floor of a large hospital of course led to a weight gain. My inability to communicate my feelings was still a major problem for me, and my marriage suffered as a result. Although my husband and I continued to live and sleep together and have two more daughters, we were miserable.

My marriage lasted for 8 years and ended in a very painful divorce. However, it was also the beginning of long term growth through 5 years of therapy for me. It was one of my biggest benefits in my life so far. I began to look at who I was and what I wanted in my life. The path of self-discovery still continues for me. I eventually was able to return to school, began working in my chosen field of public health, and began learning how to become a good parent. I earned my undergraduate degree in psychology and sociology, and several years later as a result of my many years experience working as a public health nurse, a PHN license to practice in the state of California.

I have served my community in many varied positions both as a clinical nurse and a public health practitioner. My career took me from New York to California. And my work ranged from hospital staff nursing, nursing supervision, outpatient clinic nurse, public school nurse, Lamaze natural childbirth educator in private practice, founder of an alternative school with my husband, forensic adolescent nursing, nursing administration in Home Health Care, a nursing instructor, and finally a Health and Lifestyle Counselor in private practice. I also lead workshops for women with compulsive eating problems.

Dieting Through the Changes

One constant remained... from one coast to the other, in one marriage to the next, from one job to the next, in or out of love, pregnant or not, working or out of work, I was always pleasing others and eating, and then dieting, and then bingeing; then repeating the cycle once again through the changes.

The first diet was Mom's; the next dozen or so were my own. First was the amphetamines on and off for about 15 years; then there was Weight Watchers on and off for about the same length of time; then I tried Macrobiotics; then all the rage in the 70's was the plastic food called the Nutri Systems Diet; then that good old Dr. Atkins Diet; and, another plastic food queen Jenny Craig; and then the stop the insanity guru Susan Powter low fat and high exercise Diet; and the 3 Day Diet; then, just don't eat, and see how long you can survive Diet. The worst of the madness was the diet pills with the speed that raises you to the ceiling and creates a living monster with uncontrollable rages, dries you out and damn near kills you, and then the downers to help you sleep with all that speed inside your body, and the water pills so that you will weigh as little as possible, and the palpating heart and the dry mouth. BUT A THIN, UNHAPPY MONSTER!

Then, finally some semblance of sanity and humanity entered my life, with the emergence of people like Geneen Roth, Susie Orbach, Kim Chernin, and Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter with their enlightened and feminist views about why diets don't work. And how women can finally start being themselves and happy with bodies that are specific to their own heredity and eating patterns, and self-images that are strong no matter how much they weigh or what shape their bodies are currently in.

One Unforgettable Day in l990- A Discovery

It's really funny how I found out about the concept of not dieting anymore, and how I could reach my natural weight that way. My daughter and her friend and I were walking along the beach one day with the babies, (just doing the girl thing, talking about this and that, you know, sex and love and relationships). My daughter's friend asked me if I'd ever heard of a book called "Feeding the Hungry Heart" by Geneen Roth. It was about how to stop dieting and why diets do not work. And, that there was a better way to reach normal weight and eat all the foods that you love. "Stop dieting!! are you crazy?" I said. "No," she said, "I am not crazy, and in fact I am doing just that and it is working." Wow, I thought, what a unique concept�stop dieting! How could I lose weight if I stopped dieting? Eat anything I want and still reach my normal weight? Am I hearing right? Wouldn't that be a trip!

She loaned me the book, and I found myself reading about many, many, other women's experiences with food and weight that just exactly mirrored my own!! Much to my surprise, they were talking about an epidemic of eating and food and body-hatred and size issues. We all shared the same painful experiences with diets and bingeing and worst of all the self-hatred. I saw that I was not the only one who suffered from the inexplicable and terrible desire to use food in place of a lover, or a friend, as a means to pleasure, and to communicate my feelings. Women were all in so much denial about so many issues that we could hardly begin to name them. Until now. I found myself beginning a journey that has lasted six years and is still unfolding as we speak.

My Work As A Public Health Nurse Counselor

In l991, after using the non-diet approach to caring for myself for about one year, I started a support group for women who wanted to explore this new approach to reaching their natural weight. I offered a 10 week workshop series in a small group format for women to deal with eating issues. The following is a story of one of the women in this group (I have changed names for this article).

Laura

Laura participated in 2 of my workshops in San Francisco. She was about a size 8. She felt very, very fat, and out of control. She exercised compulsively to keep from gaining the weight from the small amount of food that she allowed herself to have. She had been dieting since she was a child, about 25 years when she started to work with me. She was living with a man whom she felt didn't understand her. She didn't feel respected by him or included into his circle of friends. He received his Ph.D. at the age of 26 in some scientific discipline and was researching cancer at a prestigious university. He was of course extremely bright, and talented. Laura, was also extremely talented but in the area of fine art and music. She had always felt that these talents were far below those of Frank's. On top of that she was raised in a stifling environment. She had to belittle and minimize any of her needs, desires, and wishes. It was only in her music and art that she was able to create and expand. She took space there without fear of rejection. However, Laura's own continuation of her childhood restriction and neglect reached into all of her adult relationships.

By attempting to work on changing her approach to with food and her body, she was sincerely trying to change her body hatred, and her compulsion to control and restrict her food intake. During the time she attended my workshops our group was small and we all got to know one another quite well. I am reminded of Laura's sense of unimportance in terms of her relationships and how she repeatedly belittled herself in dialogue with the group. Near the end of her work with the group she began to feel angry that the work was taking so much time, and she was expressed her feelings of frustration in dealing with the same issues over and over again. She began to voice her anger with the whole idea of continuing to talk about food, eating, and her body size. However, during the last couple of sessions the group helped her to see some of her defensive issues and her resistance to breaking through to the real feelings and conflicts that have kept her in the compulsive use of food and dieting. Laura had several interesting insights through dialogue with the other group members.

She felt that her mother, a devout Christian, had missed out on life's joy and spontaneity, and was extremely judgmental of most things and people, especially Laura's person and her talents and character. She was always trying to mold Laura into a copy of herself. Laura's artistic temperament was always at odds with her mother's stern attitudes. Although she did encourage Laura to attend art college. But unfortunately, Laura could not accept this encouragement, coming as it did from her mother,. So Laura never really developed her potential in this area.

After Laura's mother died of a very painful form of bone cancer, Laura was left with a large load of guilt and anger at herself, and her mother. She wasn't really ready to say goodby and mourn the loss. As long as she preferred to hold onto her mother's internalized picture of her she would remain in the prison her mother inadvertently built for her. Laura was unable to move into a life of creative fulfillment and freedom to be herself. It seemed quite obvious to the group that Laura was carrying her mother's attitudes within her, and that until she was ready to release her feelings about her mother would she not be able to release her own internalized self-concept that was given to her by her mother.

When, during her last session with us, Laura was able to address her feelings about her mother which included shame, anger, guilt and regret, she was at long last able to begin feeling some of her pain and with those feelings, to feel her real power as a woman. She also began to see and talk about how if her feelings remained unexpressed would lead to a continuation of their displacement onto her body, her eating, and herself. She eventually learned to trust the group enough to open the floodgates of her feelings. She then was able to begin questioning all of her previously held beliefs and values. Her life could then begin to change in ways that she wanted, and not in rebellion for her mother, or in compliance with her mother's own beliefs and values.

In their book, "When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies" , Carol and Jane make an interesting statement which I feel is rightly quoted at this point. They say, "Sometimes it's best to acknowledge that some things cannot be changed, that the best solution is to allow yourself to mourn what you have lost or what you never got, and then to move on." Such was the case for Laura.

An Invitation

If you have enjoyed reading this article as much as I have writing it, please join me in a reading of my next article. The topic for that one is Why Diets Don't Work. I will share more experiences from the Breakthrough Workshops that I lead in San Francisco as well as some of the issues that the workshop participants have challenged and overcome. I welcome your feedback about this or any of my articles, my email address is: goodrich@pacbell.net

©1999 Linda Goodrich, R.N., P.H.N. Reprinted with Permission.

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