Not surprisingly, a major focus of therapy for people who have eating disorders is helping them to develop healthier ways of coping with and releasing negative emotions that do not “hurt” their bodies. Learning to give up these self-harming behaviors and live in ways that are consistent with their most cherished values is not easy, but it is doable, with help.
As I often tell my patients, when we suppress, we depress. Humans were built in such a way as to make verbal communication a crucial part of our existence. When we don’t communicate, we suffer emotionally, and sometimes physically, as well. People who have difficulty communicating often turn to (or away from) substances outside themselves (e.g., alcohol, drugs, food, etc.) that aid in the suppression of thoughts and feelings. In much the same way that a person who is addicted to alcohol may turn to a glass of wine whenever they are feeling stressed, a person who struggles with Binge Eating Disorder may turn to food when they are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety in an effort to distract herself. Similarly, the person who is struggling with anorexia nervosa may turn away from food to regain a sense of composure and control in the face of overwhelming feelings of helplessness or uncertainty.
Communicating with others about how we are feeling is one option that can give a person who is stressed a great deal of relief. However, because venting to others is not always an option, learning how to communicate with ourselves in ways that are self-affirming and self-validating is most important.
While clearly not a one-step solution to resolving depression or an eating disorder, developing constructive ways of communicating with one’s self and others and pushing one’s self to practice these skills can help a person to utilize healthier methods for managing overwhelming negative emotion and to lead a more fulfilling life.
All human beings struggle in some capacity. Sometimes, recognizing we are in the same boat as the rest of humanity can make it feel safe to explore options for removing our masks and being true to ourselves. Reach out to someone you care about who might have a problem and encourage her or him to get help. After all, every one of us knows what it is to struggle. We are all works in progress.
Stefanie Gilbert, Ph.D. is a seasoned licensed psychologist and certified hypnotherapist in Maryland. Dr. Stefanie Gilbert has counseled patients in private practice, at George Mason University Counseling Center, and at Howard University Counseling Center since 1998. She gives frequent talks about eating disorders and body image to elementary, middle, high school, and college students throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. For more information or to contact Stefanie, please visit www.stefaniegilbert.com.