ABOUT EATING DISORDERS
(Please note that the terms “mind” and “brain” are used interchangeably)
THE MIND & EATING DISORDERS
The struggle to eat normally is only part of the problem. The primary problem is how the human brain processes information through our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
WHAT IS THE FIX?
We approach the start of the solution by showing how we think and why we think the way we do (pages 11 to 16 in the Dynamic Discovery book), knowing that the mind can be – with our NLP-like approach – very responsive to learning how to control and shift our conscious thoughts so as to also control and shift our feelings and actions, which in turn will allow the mind to self-evaluate for unwanted and wanted thoughts, feelings, and actions.
With appropriate guidance the new way of processing information can – through repetition – be improved (normalized?) and become our default position.
The goal is to turn our greatest weakness – or primary problem – into our greatest strength. After all, behind our greatest weakness lies our greatest strength.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE BRAIN WHEN SOMEONE HAS AN EATING DISORDER?
Nothing structural. If you think about it, everyone has a problem that their family and friends probably do not understand. If you have an eating disorder, your problem is considered a mental illness when everyone has some form of “mental issue” – a disorder is just looked at as being “bad” instead of what it may very well be; a thinking, feeling, acting problem that has a simple solution.
PLEASE DO NOT EVER CONFUSE SIMPLE WITH EASY. THEY ARE IN NO WAY THE SAME.
In Dynamic Discovery, we have found that most of our primary (or major) problems can be traced back to times when we were young and impressionable – times when we had little to no actual power and control – times when all adults were Giants and we were mostly powerless and helpless. Times when we were dependent upon the Giants for food and clothing and shelter, and, if we were lucky, for our security.
We believe that all human behavior is deliberate, purposeful, and intended to get us something we want. Whether it works or not. And, our selection of behaviours has nothing to do with being weak or stupid. The behaviours we select are chosen in an attempt to protect us.
With an eating disorder, as with addictions and obsessions, some powerless people “protect” themselves by adopting a behavior that seems, to them, to give them some control and power… until the behavior itself creates more feelings of lack of control and powerlessness.
Everybody has at least one “bizarre” behavior that they use in an attempt to make sense of their world. Most of those behaviours may be a bit weird but do not hold them back from being able to be happy and/or appreciate life.
THE NEURAL PATHWAYS INVOLVED ARE THOSE THAT MANAGE MOOD, EMOTIONS, REWARD, MEMORY, FEAR, AND ATTENTION. HOW DO WE KNOW ALL THIS?
Through the use of brain imaging, cognitive testing, and studies of the brain nerve cell functioning, scientists have begun to identify some of the key brain mechanisms, pathways and chemical signals (neurotransmitters) underlying eating disorders.
In other words, if you can develop a disorder, you can also develop a behaviour, or behaviours, that can replace the disorder and still achieve the feeling(s) that the disorder was originally used to create.
WHY DO CERTAIN PEOPLE WITH EATING DISORDERS BELIEVE THEY ARE OVERWEIGHT WHEN THEY ARE NOT?
The sense of feeling “fat” is perhaps the most puzzling eating disorder symptom and remains poorly understood. While sociocultural influences are thought to play a role, these body image symptoms are so persistent – even in very underweight individuals with anorexia nervosa – this raises the question of whether there is a biological cause. How big we feel not only depends on our physical senses but also on our beliefs, memories and emotions. It is possible that this information may not be being processed accurately by the brain.
Again, the “fix” for this is to learn how to control and shift our thinking so as to shift how we feel and act.
HOW DO YOU FIX THE BRAIN PROBLEMS IN EATING DISORDERS?
The brain is constantly learning and changing. Restoring healthy eating and weight, along with psychotherapy, skills-building, and a supportive environment and can help eating disorder symptoms improve or go away. The good news is that the majority of eating disorder patients, even quite severe cases, can recover and go on to lead a healthy, productive life. The earlier the intervention, the higher the chance of success, but there is always hope for successful recovery.
In Dynamic Discovery, we determine – through the client’s own self-evaluation – which skills need to be in place in order to work on change – as well as offering a supportive environment so that it is safe for the client to achieve the behavior change they want.
THERE ARE MORE THAN ONE KIND OF EATING DISORDER. ARE THERE DIFFERENT BRAIN PROBLEMS INVOLVED?
This is a question that is currently under debate. We know there is a relationship between the different eating disorders because of the high rates of people who “cross over” to other eating disorders over time. While it is likely that similar regions of the brain are involved in all eating disorders, it is also likely that different mechanisms and pathways are involved.
In addictions work, instead of using the term “cross over” we use the term “co-occurring disorders”. The “fix” for eating disorders follows the same process as for addictions and other obsessions.
WHAT PARTS OF THE BRAIN ARE INVOLVED?
Our process taps into both the limbic pathway, and the cognitive pathway – then we look forward by changing the focus from what our clients do not want to what they do want.
DOES FOOD PLAY A ROLE?
Starvation and weight loss have powerful effects on the body and the brain. Malnutrition impacts on the brain’s capacity to think, manage emotions and process information from its environment.
Starvation often exaggerates an individual’s personality traits and ways of thinking. Malnutrition may lead to changes in brain development even after they have restored normal eating and weight. We also know that the brain responds to, and has an effect on, hormones and other body systems that are undernourished. Food certainly plays a major role; the most urgent task of early recovery and maintenance is restoring the patient’s normal weight with adequate daily nutrition. An undernourished individual’s brain cannot recover.
Again, addicted persons exhibit the same symptomology and require the same or similar treatment.
DOES DIETING CAUSE EATING DISORDERS?
The Experts say that anorexia nervosa patients may feel less reward from eating and feel some relief from anxiety when under-eating whereas we guide our clients – through their own self-evaluation – to tie their problem to unwanted and wanted thoughts, feelings, and actions. In other words, they decide which behavior(s) they need to change in order to find the feeling they have been controlling for.
EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR FEMALES.
Rates of eating disorders are higher in girls than boys, especially for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. This does not mean, however, that the diseases are less severe in male patients. Just as with other illnesses where males are more likely to be affected, like heart disease and autism, there is no reason to refer to eating disorders as female problems.
Again, as with addictions and other obsessive behaviours, we guide our clients to identify the feelings they were controlling for when they developed heir unhelpful or damaging behaviours. Once they know what doesn’t work – or what they don’t want – they can move into what they’d sooner have or be – or what they do want.
IN EATING DISORDERS “FOOD IS MEDICINE” HOW ABOUT MEDICATIONS?
In eating disorders, “food is medicine.” So far, there are no psychiatric medications that cure eating disorders, but several may help with symptoms, or with the distress at certain stages of treatment.
We do not interfere with the doctor/client relationship; instead, we often find that behavior change results in our clients, in consultation with their doctor, requiring less – or no – medications.
SOME PEOPLE WITH EATING DISORDERS SEEM TO BE UNABLE TO STOP EXERCISING
Although these people give many reasons for “needing” to exercise, some of this drive may also be explained neurologically. Studies with rats have shown that the drive to exercise even when exhausted and underfed can be so strong that animals might run until they die. Dopamine, a chemical in the brain (neurotransmitter), may play a role.
We have found that the brain usually rewards us with a shot of Dopamine if it believes that particular behaviours are what we want and that those behaviours are good for us. For instance, if we overeat or under-eat and the brain believes that we are doing the “right” thing it will reward us.
EATING DISORDERED PEOPLE OFTEN REFUSE FOOD BECAUSE THEY THINK THERE IS AN INTENT TO MAKE THEM FAT.
Eating disorders are perplexing and difficult to understand, for both the family and the person with ED. Fears, sometimes irrational ones, can take hold and be impossible to argue away. Some of these fears have to do with what others are doing and saying. Eating disorder people are often on high alert to criticism and struggle to take in compassion while ill: as their attention is very focused on the immediate concerns of the eating disorder. They often report feeling disconnected and distrustful of family and friends. Some of these symptoms may be worsened by altered brain function and malnourishment. Repairing relationships with family is an important aspect of treatment.
This is the same for an addict facing loss of their drug of choice or working to deny their problem through distraction or attacking those whom they see as attacking them.
PARENTS ARE USUALLY RELUCTANT TO TELL ANYONE THAT THEIR DAUGHTER OR SON HAS SOMETHING WRONG WITH HER OR HIS BRAIN BECAUSE THEY’RE AFRAID SHE OR HE WILL BE STIGMATIZED AND FEEL BAD ABOUT HER OR HIMSELF.
This is, unfortunately true: there is a stigma around mental illnesses, including eating disorders. The stigma is based on ideas that are mostly unfounded: for example that brain problems can’t be fixed, that patients don’t recover, or that they are permanently “broken” or strange. Sadly, hiding from the truth may lead to poor care decisions and lower the chance of full recovery. It is important for parents to know that mental illness is very common but seldom discussed.
This perception may be getting better, but it still exists in our society. The truth – or the facts – about mental illness means nothing to lazy and/or ignorant people.
Don’t hide from it face it head on, you have more strength than you think!
“I am beginning to measure myself in strength, not pounds. Sometimes in smiles.”
– Laurie Halse Anderson