Welcome back to A Magical Life Podcast. I’m your host Magic Barclay. Today we will be talking about Eating Disorders and Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
One of our listeners had some questions about eating disorders. They asked;
What are they? What can you do to overcome them? And also, how do they affect weight loss?
So today we’re going to look at this in depth, and really nut out what effect it has on your health. It’s important to note that an obsession with dieting has directly contributed to a high failure rate in weight loss, and has drastically increased the incidence of eating disorders in our modern world.
We’ve all heard of anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and to a lesser extent binge eating disorders. Unfortunately, very few people link these debilitating diseases to fat gain. When suffering from an eating disorder, you actually suffer drastic changes in mental stability and chemical signals in the brain. This in effect changes your ability to reason, make choices, and perceive weight for what it actually is.
Physically, many people turn to drastic diets, laxatives, binge eating, restriction and purging. This then sets the stage for serious weight problems after what is considered a successful recovery. This is actually more common than we’d like to think.
One main character trait of an eating disorder sufferer, is a thirst for high achievement and that leads to a thirst for high stress. We’ve talked before about how stress affects your health. Now, many eating disorders actually stem from the same factors as incremental or steady weight gain and obesity.
Research has uncovered a strong link between depression, poor self esteem, and the inability to cope with stress with both weight gain and weight loss of any drastic proportion.
To truly understand what eating disorders do to the body, we need to look at the main characteristics of each disorder.
Anorexia nervosa is a refusal to maintain body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, disturbance in regard to body image, restrictive dieting, binge eating, or purging.
Anorexia often stems from the teenage years and begins with a diet. The start of the disorder can be triggered by the smallest of events, a need for high academic or workplace achievement, perfectionism, and submissiveness all fuel the desire for control that is found in having this disorder.
I have a friend named Libby. From an early age, she felt like her life was not in control. During secondary school, she felt the urge to excel in every class. Her competitive nature created a compulsive need for high achievement. She fatigued quickly and in a desperate bid to control what was happening, she limited herself to small glucose packets or barley sugar lollies.
She hid her eating issues from her family and her weight dropped drastically. She wore bigger clothing to hide her illness. At her worst, at the age of 17, she dropped to a weight more fitting for a seven year old. The end of one of her first meaningful relationships, sexual abuse since the age of 11, and the need for perfectionism all contributed to her punishing regime.
Libby’s friends were her saviours, and she distanced herself from her family as they were unsupportive and in denial of her illness. After the reality of involuntary hospitalization it dawned on her, Libby saw that she needed to fight back. Unfortunately, her body reacted to her attempt to get well and she suffered from involuntary bulimia.
Libby has a permanent reminder of that period with many serious dental issues now ongoing. After many years, Libby is still struggling to put weight back on. She has one goal: to be healthy. Libby lives with constant fear that she may put too much weight on and become overweight or obese. The damage done to her body and mind from the anorexia is a constant. Libby asked me to use her as an example today on our podcast. To illustrate just how susceptible some people can be to an eating disorder. A large part of her recovery is sharing her story.
Now, I myself had anorexia when I was younger. But for me, it happened just before my wedding. I was already quite thin and I thought I was fat. So, I went to Jenny Craig, which I should never have done because I was a normal weight, I lost even more weight. I remember going for the last fitting of my George Gross suit for my wedding and it was falling off me. It was a size eight, and it was falling off me. And do you know what? I just couldn’t see it.
Now I had the start of anorexia, which was part of another eating disorder or mental health disorder for me, and I’ll talk about that towards the end of today’s podcast. But I had the same feelings I discussed about my friend Libby. It was that high achievement to be perfect for my wedding day, to be perfect for my husband. That’s what drove my issues.
Now let’s look at bulimia nervosa. This has recurring episodes of binge eating or purging. It is inappropriate compensatory behaviour such as self induced vomiting, use of laxatives, use of enemas or other similar medications.
It creates weight fluctuations of approximately four and a half kilos or 10 pounds with each binge and purge. It’s an addiction to carbohydrates in an attempt to raise the serotonin level in the brain for mood suppression.
Bulimia is characterized by halitosis (bad breath), and irritable bowel syndrome. In fact, all stages of IBS are experienced by someone suffering from bulimia nervosa. The purging and vomiting causes gastrointestinal problems and tooth decay at an alarming rate.
Eating becomes a chore with bulimia and the pleasure that most people gain from eating is replaced with an excessive pleasure in the vomiting and purging.
Binge eating disorder
Binge eating in a discreet period of time, usually between half an hour and two hours, it’s secret eating, but maximized. It creates a feeling of compulsion to eat rapidly until uncomfortable and disgusted by oneself.
Binge eating is not associated with regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors like purging, fasting or excessive exercise. It is the bingeing itself. Many studies are currently underway in regards to the VLCD diets, or very low calorie diets, preceding binge eating disorders.
Impaired work and social function is common with this disorder and several medical journals suggest that this disorder is more of a psychiatric disorder than any other eating disorder.
Now that we’ve looked at the main three eating disorders, it is quite clear that the body and the brain are both susceptible to an addiction to weight fluctuation. Fat, or more precisely weight, plays a major role in the perception of the body, social position, and even relationship formation. An approach that encompasses nutrition, activity and mindset to any eating disorder is imperative.
My Story & Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Now, I did say that we would discuss other psychiatric disorders or mental disorders. I myself have body dysmorphic disease, or body dysmorphia or body dysmorphic disorder, it has a gazillion names, but it basically means the same thing. I cannot see my body for what it is.
In my teenage years, I was a heavy drinker. I didn’t eat very much food, but I drank. I drank to avoid pain, I drank to avoid my family’s break down. I really had an issue there. Food was not my go to. I already had the start of anorexia. Now, I would eat once a week. I would probably binge eat that once a week. And then I would spend the rest of the week panicking about putting weight on. Absolutely freaking out about it.
Was it true anorexia? No, it was body dysmorphic disorder. But I didn’t know that then. Again, as I said, right before my wedding, I went on this massive weight loss kick. But I didn’t have a weight problem. In fact, it took me to get to the point of such frailty from my eating disorder that I still could not see it, because of the body dysmorphia. But it took the dressmaker pointing out to me, for me to actually see what was going on. And even then, I argued the point.
Beyond my wedding, having the children, I had no relationship with myself. So I put weight on and I got pregnant, and boy did I put weight on. I actually tripled my body weight. Yes, I was carrying a baby. But I became super morbidly obese because I had no concept of my weight, what I looked like, I had no relationship with myself. I had low self esteem, and my weight tripled.
That takes us to psychological trauma. What trauma did I have? I had the breakdown of my family. I had been a very high achiever at school, having to get the best marks, the best grades. I had my alcoholism. I had the start of my eating disorder, I had so many psychological traumas, and that all wrapped up in very low self esteem and very low and poor self worth.
The human brain can be a wonderful and fascinating organ. What sets us apart from our primate ancestors is our ability to make choices that are relatively independent of biological and genetic history. With our rapid progression to becoming a dominant species, we have evolved quicker than our emotional and psychological capabilities. How many times have you heard of people eating for pleasure, pain, or reward? How many times have you been tempted by that chocolate in the cupboard? Or that drink of alcohol just because you felt you needed it?
The fact is, part of your brain did need it. We have an attraction to chemicals that can soothe our psychological response. Whether we are happy or sad, we are compelled to seek comfort in foods and substances. Combine our natural desires for food with conditioning, and you will soon see why we have a link between psychological trauma and overeating.
When I was young, I learned very quickly that pain was rewarded with food. If I fell, I was offered a sweet to soothe me. How many of us have had parents or grandparents who rewarded us like that? Even a trip to the doctor was rewarded with a lollipop. It’s quite common for us to use food as a comforter.
Even as babies, if we cry we are given a bottle or a feed to soothe us. This creates an ingrained need for food as a crutch. Later in my life, getting sick with cancer and other multiple other conditions, I found that I was reverting to food as a soother, as a reward. When I had a really bad day, I would comfort eat. I would crave things. As my pain levels had risen, I would have to stay alert and aware of the messages my brain was sending through my body.
This is something I’m sharing with you so that you know what to look for. The response you experience to trauma may be only slight, and you may not recognize it straight away. When you battle with fat gain or loss, you need to be analytical with your actions. Newton’s third law of motion: for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Now, this is not entirely accurate, but can be a mantra that can save you from extra weight gain.
As a species, humans are attracted to psychological trauma. We create it. We put meaning on it. No other animal does that. We need to be aware, we need to be alert, ready to respond, and most importantly, ready to act on any psychological trauma. We need to see it for what it is, before we make it mean something else.
Addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on a psychoactive substance that crosses the blood brain barrier once ingested, temporarily altering the chemical status of the brain.
Now this could be alcohol, it could be food, or a substance or chemical. An addiction could also be to an emotional response. In many developed countries, addiction is common and well publicized with relation to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs, however little is known about food addiction.
With any addiction there is compulsion for continued reliance on the substance despite the negative and often dangerous consequences. Pleasure and satisfaction may be the original state sought, but over a period of time, involvement and dependence is needed to feel a sense of equilibrium.
Any addiction involves four main stages.
The first is experimental
This stage may happen due to curiosity or peer pressure. Many people do not go past this stage and that is normal human compulsion to try new experiences and feelings.
The second is recreational
Regular patterns of use are formed and become easily integrated into social settings.
The third is early dependency
Regular use morphs into regular abuse. Relationships with others are affected, as is employment, social inclusion, and the abuser may start to miss events, withdraw from relationships or become irritable when questioned about the addiction.
The fourth is full dependency
This is a self-destructive phase, and the need for the addictive substance becomes more important than any other aspect of the abuser’s life. Risk-taking and insufficient reasoning become the new normal.
How addiction works
Addiction follows a reward system and is pursued in the end for relief and for comfort. This is usually a reaction to a stressor. The stressor leads to the addictive behaviour, this then sustains guilt and remorse. The guilt and remorse create shame and depression which in turn creates a new stressor.
Many addictive foods mimic drug reactions in the brain and the body, and the food addict ingests the food to find the release from stress. The reward centre of the brain stimulates thoughts and emotions and the cycle of food addiction is fuelled once again. Now food addiction is often centred around high fat or high sugar foods because they stimulate the brain in similar ways to illicit drugs.
In fact, there was a study quite some time ago now, where it actually showed that sugar was more addictive than cocaine. High fat and sugary foods create a sense of euphoria and pain relief. The effect of these foods on the brain is similar to that of the opiates that we discussed and can quickly cause a high tolerance to sugar and fat. This further requires the body to seek more sugar and fat to be consumed. These foods create a high level of toxicity in the body, and this then leads to serious health concerns, which we’ll discuss in other episodes.
Now, back to body dysmorphic disorder.
I live with it every day. How does that look in my day? Well, it’s really quite simple. I can’t buy clothes. When I do buy clothes, I buy them off the rack. I, at my heaviest was 144 kilos so I was in size 22-24 and I find myself now if I need a pair of pants or something to wear to the gym, I go to the big girl section.I don’t try anything on. I really struggle with trying clothes on. So more often than not, my clothes are way too big for me when I get home and I just deal with it.
Does knowing that these clothes that I’ve bought are too big for me, does that affect my next shopping trip?
No. The psychological disturbance is still there. And so I tend to only see in the mirror when I do try things on, the 144 kilo girl.
Is it something that can be worked on?
Definitely, and we will have someone in a later episode of our podcast series discuss how exactly to do that. At the moment, I’m using health results coaching with my health coach which helps me target that.
Now last week, I actually went to a photoshoot. One of the hardest things for me to do, even harder than buying clothes actually. You see, I can be on stage talking to 10,000 people, and be absolutely in my element. But, if I see a camera, I turn into a robot, and I can’t seem to move. It’s like I’m stuck to the stage, like, every part of me is a forced movement or forced action.
So I tend not to focus on anyone in the audience for fear of that camera capturing me. Because if I see an image, I’m going to see what is stuck in my brain, not what the image actually shows. Now, as I said, I had a photoshoot last week and I had to take my PA along with me, – I did warn her that I have body dysmorphia to the photographer. Unfortunately, I thought she would look at what that actually meant.
I should have told her – it was totally on me. She was wonderful. During the photoshoot, she was going all out to make me as comfortable as she could. But to be honest, the only way to do that would be not to show me any of the shots that she took. But she kept coming up to me saying, “What do you think of this? What do you think of this?” It was repeated trauma through the day. When someone has body dysmorphic disorder, they cannot see what you see.
It doesn’t matter how nicely you ask them: they cannot see it. So for me, I ended up saying, “just ask her,” and pointed to my PA. Why? Years of conditioning, years of influence of my ex husband telling me I was fat and ugly, of my father (my now deceased father) telling me over the years, that I was too fat. Mind you back then, I was the size eight. Years and years of being beaten down by other people’s opinions to make themselves feel better influenced my brain.
Do I work hard on being fit and healthy?
Yes, I walk eight to nine K’s every day. I go to the gym several times a week. I eat very clean and very healthy. I don’t drink anymore. I don’t use any substances in my body. And yet, every time I look in the mirror, or a photo, I see the fat girl. The fat girl that just popped out two kids, that had several illnesses that were creating weight, that’s who I see. So body dysmorphic disorder, I’m lumping it in here today with eating disorders, because it often stems from an eating disorder.
Now today’s been fairly serious for good reason. The message I want you to take away today listeners, is even if you do not have one of these incredibly horrendous disorders, to live your life with tolerance and acceptance of others. Don’t make assumptions that the girl who’s a little bit fluffier than you think she should be, isn’t doing anything about it.
There’s no need for you to point it out. She probably feels pretty bad herself. Just let it go. It’s not affecting your life. Keep your attitudes and your opinions to yourself about what someone else looks like. Keep your attitudes and your opinions about how you look like on a healthy and positive level.
Find something in everyday that you are grateful for that you can do. Don’t base your day and your worth on how you look. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But beauty isn’t just what you see, beauty is what you say and what you think. Think about how you act, how you can be of service to others, how you can be of service to the environment. It’s not just what you can see in the mirror.
That’s a fairly deep episode for today. And I would really like to thank you all for coming on this journey with me today. It was something that I really needed to say and to all the people out there that have body dysmorphic disorder. I hear you, I see you, you are worth it. You have so many positives going on in your life. It’s not just what you can see.
To the people with anorexia or bulimia or binge eating disorder, I hear you. I feel for you. Please look at your positives. Every single person in this world has positives. Positive attributes, positive thoughts, positive skills, please look at your positives.
Now in Episode 13, we have gorgeous Kaye Doran coming on. Kaye will talk to us about all things wellness and positivity. Kaye’s motto in life is the power of change is in your hands. She’s a master trainer a manager, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend and a great businesswoman.
Please share this episode with anyone that has had an eating disorder, may have body dysmorphic disorder. Let’s start talking about this. Let’s start supporting people with these issues. For now, thank you for joining me. Go forth and create your magical life. We hope you enjoyed our talk today on Eating Disorders and Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
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