Eating disorders have been around since food, vanity, greed, and addictions. Documents of eating disorder behaviors have been found worldwide. The frequency of self-starvation and purging vary significantly across specific periods of history, indicating that certain combinations of social and economic factors often facilitate or inhibit these behaviors.
Historical evidence suggests that anorexia and bulimia have existed since at least the first century. During the time of Caesar (700 B.C.), elite ancient Romans overindulged at lavish banquets and then relieved themselves by vomiting so they could return to the feast and continue eating. Ancient Egyptians drew hieroglyphics that depicted their use of monthly purges to avoid illness. Persian medical manuscripts and Chinese scrolls originating in early dynasties also describe ailments that are very similar to conventional eating disorders. The vast body of tribal lore from Africa contains several stories concerning adults who fasted during times of extreme famine to save food for their children, and then continued to restrict their diet and were in danger of dying even after the hunger was over.
Wealthy Roman ladies of the post-pagan Christian era acting under spiritual direction sometimes starved themselves to depreciate (show contempt for) the body, which was considered evil. The first recorded case of anorexia occurred in an upper-class Roman woman who was a member of a spiritual group being led by St. Jerome. Her Gnostic religious beliefs drove her behavior.
In his book, Holy Anorexia, Rudolph Bell described European religious women of the Renaissance period, who punished their bodies by fasting to reach a higher plane of spirituality and closeness to God. Medieval societies respected holy anorexia as a sound method for cleaning a woman’s spirit. In fact, these pious women were elevated to sainthood for their extreme fasting and devotion to the church. A controversial and widely known example in Bell’s book is Catherine of Sienna (1347-1380) an Italian Catholic woman who was canonized in 1461 by Pope Pius II.
The first formal description and diagnosis of anorexia as a medical condition occurred in England during the 1680’s. Historical documents show that Dr. Richard Morton of London described his twenty-year-old patient in 1686 as “a skeleton clad in the skin.” In his work, “A Treatise of Consumption” he suggested that her sadness ate away at her. She reportedly died two years later. He also reported a young man that was “wasting away due to emotional turmoil.” This patient made a full recovery after he got some rest and moved away from the city.
Sir William Gull, a physician to England’s royal family, was the first to characterize anorexia as a disease different from religious hysteria or biological eating problems. Although he felt that the condition arose from a mental state, he did not believe that patients suffering should be treated as mentally insane. He addressed the young women who came to him by prescribing force-feeding, moral teaching and a change of scene. In October 1873, he presented his ideas in “Anorexia Hysterica” to his colleagues in the Clinical Society of London, and named the malady anorexia nervosa, meaning loss of appetite.
At the same time, French psychiatrist, Charles Lasegue, described anorexia from a social and psychological standpoint, emphasizing the role of the family. He believed that anorexia was a disease that could develop only in comfortable homes with an abundance of food. At meals, children were expected to eat everything on their plates, making meal times stressful and leading some children to refuse to eat as a form of rebellion. Dr. Lasegue also postulated that women, who found their lives suffocating and could not display emotional distress, protested by not eating.
Medical symptoms of bulimia were not widely discussed until the early 1900’s. This disorder was first described in medical terms in 1903 in “Obsessions et la Psychasthenie,” where Pierre Janet discusses Nadia, a woman who engaged in compulsive binges in secret.
As the previous information suggests, anorexia and bulimia were initially thought to be physical diseases due to a medical condition. Researchers attributed these disorders to hormone imbalances and endocrine deficiencies. Simmond’s disease, a lack of pituitary gland functioning, dominated popular conceptualizations of the time. Physicians also thought at one time that anorexia was a form of tuberculosis.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the medical community began to understand that the causes of these troubling eating disorders were in part psychological and emotional rather than wholly physical. The case study of Ellen West (1930-1933), provided further support for this shift in thinking. This paper presented Ellen’s perspective, describing her desperate obsession with food and thinness that eventually led to suicide. It is understood today that eating disorders have multiple and complex causes. Biological, social and cultural, psychological, and family factors may combine to contribute to the development of these disorders.
Roxanne S. and two other women created OA (Overeaters Anonymous) in January 1960. Following the success and popularity of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), OA was formed to help people suffering from compulsive overeating, binge eating, bulimia, and anorexia. Although it wasn’t until the 1990’s, that binge eating disorder was first recognized as a formal diagnosis. Before 1992, when binge eating disorder was officially “introduced” at the International Eating Disorders Conference, individuals with this type of behavior were labeled emotional overeaters, compulsive overeaters, and food addicts.
In 1978, Hilde Bruch’s The Golden Cage was one of the first books to suggest that eating disorders were becoming a serious problem. “The Best Little Girl in the World,” a movie released in 1985, gave the average person a glimpse of what it was like to have an eating disorder. During that same year, the high profile pop singer and composer Karen Carpenter died from heart failure brought on by her anorexia nervosa. Other famous icon’s that helped pave the way for eating disorder awareness are Princess Diana, John Lennon, Alfred Hitchcock, Amy Winehouse, unfortunately, this list can go on and on.
The current study indicates that eating disorders are likely the result of a combination of genetics and environment. While environmental factors alone cannot cause an eating disorder, many people have pointed to the role of social pressures for thinness as an influence that can have an impact on individuals who may be genetically predisposed to eating disorders.
It is not surprising that the worth society places on being thin and “beautiful” can impact those already at risk for eating disorders. In the United States and Europe, for example, men and women are given the message at a very young age that to be happy and prosperous, they must be thin and fit. These areas have abundant access to media, t.v., internet, magazines, movies, etc.
The one common thread that history has pointed out is that since the dawn of time, there has been a “self-worth” puzzle. Eating disorders feed on and progress when there is a lack of self-worth. It is not about food, and it is not about body image, it’s about not thinking you are enough.
The Holidays are over and one thing I noticed, as I wrestled the dead Christmas tree out of the house with a fever of a 102. I need to learn to ask for help!
How do you feel about asking others for help?
I’ve noticed that many of us, myself included, get a little funky about requesting support. While we’re all different and we each have our own unique perspective, reaction, and process as it relates to reaching out to others, it seems that this can be quite a tricky exercise for most of the people I know and work with.
I have somewhat of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relationship to asking for help myself. I can definitely be a “do it myself super bitch” at times and often, especially when I feel stressed or pressured, try to do everything myself — either because I feel insecure about asking for support or because I self-righteously think that I’m the only one who can do it the “right” way. On the other hand, I can sometimes be quite pushy, forceful, and bigheaded with my requests (to my parents) of support. Ah, to be a mentally ill human!
However, as I’ve also experienced personally and seen in others many times throughout my life and in my work, there is a lovely place of balance between going it all alone and demanding help from others in an obnoxious way. This all stems from our ability to genuinely ask for and kindly receive the support of other people. The paradox of this whole phenomenon is that most of us love to help others, while many of us have a hard time asking others for help ourselves.
Requesting support can often make us feel vulnerable (gross not the V-word). We usually think that we should be able to do everything ourselves or that by admitting we need help, we are somehow being weak. In addition, many of us are sensitive about being told “no” and by asking others to help us we put ourselves out there and risk being rejected.
What if we had more freedom to ask for what we wanted and for specific support from other people? What if we could make requests in a confident, humble and empowering way? What if we remembered that we are worthy of other people’s help and that our ability to both ask for and receive it not only supports us, but also gives them an opportunity to contribute (which most people really want to do).
It still might be a little intimidating, we may get our feelings hurt from time to time, and on occasion people may have some opinions or reactions to what we ask for or how we do so. But, when we give ourselves permission and remind ourselves that it’s not only OK, but also essential for us to ask for help — we can create a true sense of support and empowerment in our lives and in our relationships!
Here are a few things we can do to have more freedom and confidence when asking for help.
- Know your own worth. You are worth it! Everyone deserves help.
- Know your limits. You are not the only one that can do it right. Stop being controlling!
- Be of service! The universal law of giving and receiving is the ultimate way of keeping abundance balanced.
- Be easy to support! Let people in to love you and care for you. Again you are WORTHY!!
- Give your support! Its true people love to lend a helping hand and they also love to be listened too. Ask how can I support you today.
Happy 2018 ED Warriors may this year be filled with limitless dreams and goals to make them come true.
Holiday Self-Care Tips That Will Take The Stress Away From “Stress Eating.”
The holidays are packed with stress, and we all know the easiest, safest, most affordable place to relieve that stress is in a plate of stuffing or ginger bread, a box of Christmas cookies, and lots and lots of red wine.
I always think about the scene from Mall Cop when emotional eater Paul Blart (Kevin James) is spreading peanut butter on his bread, saying, “Pain, go away.”
But the more we give in to the patterns of emotional eating, the deeper our pain gets, especially for those of us who are intolerant to sugar, gluten, dairy, and alcohol — which includes lots of people who struggle with chronic depression and anxiety.
If you’re prepared with some action tools, it’s possible to not get trapped into emotional eating even during the holidays — or at least not as much.
Here are a few ways you can avoid turning to food for comfort and exercise discipline during this self-indulgent season of the year.
Listen to your body: Many people ignore or override their body’s signals. Your body might be able to tolerate this neglect under normal circumstances but adding the increased stress of the holiday season might be more than it can take. To increase your chance of staying healthy during the holidays listen to your body. For example, take time to eat if you feel hungry and practice moderation. If you’re sleepy, get enough sleep.
Take a holistic health approach: Self-care means paying attention to more than how much you eat or exercise. It also requires paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, expectations, and interactions. Remember, optimal health means functioning at your best in all areas of your life not just in your body.
Create new, self-supportive traditions: If trying to do things “the way they were always done” creates more stress than joy, take a step back and figure out a new approach. Maybe your new idea will become the next family tradition. Traditions have to start somewhere!
Learn to say No it is a full sentence: Knowing your priorities and what is important can help overcome feeling overwhelmed. If there isn’t enough time to satisfy all the holiday demands, finish the most important and say “no” to the rest.
Surround yourself with positive people: The season is about Joy! Surround yourself with the people that bring you Joy and inner peace. When a person smiles the brain releases endorphins.
Enjoy holiday failures and imperfections: They are going to happen, so instead of judging them as a failure let them be and laugh. The truth is “prefect” is as made up as Santa Claus.
Take a real break: Remember being a child and having “Winter Break?” Give yourself a mini break when you can. This will relieve stress levels and balance your mood.
I’m in a bad way…
I don’t have time to make your naughty list; all I do is binge and purge.
Got a time machine? How’s about a ray gun that zaps calories with little to no fuss.
At this rate I’ll be dead before the 25th or asking the elves to hop skip and jump on making me a new esophagus…
I’d like my two front teeth back old Saint Nick… my blood sugar is acting crazy again. I want some new X-ray specks that see the clusterjam I have caused to my inners…
I’m the creature stirring in the middle of the night … I ate your cookies and your milk and didn’t gain an ounce!
Sorry if I’m coming off base or course… I stopped believing in you when I started believing in this. I need your help Santa.
I want a Holiday season that is bright and peace of mind.
Merry frocking Christmas Santa,
This year, I will not let my ED control my holidays; I will be present for my family. I will not leave right after a meal to go for a run as a punishment for nourishing my soul. I will not stick to pita chips & Greek yogurt, restricting my taste buds & soul from being adventurous. My ED use to strike fear into me anytime I even glanced into a kitchen, but not this year Santa. This year, I will make memories in the kitchen with those I love & who love me & I will participate in my recovery.
Numbers do not measure me, & I refuse to waste anymore time hating myself on the scale. I will not ruin my days by body checking every time I consume anything. I will not be a prisoner to your harsh comments & degrading remarks. I will declare goodness over my life & myself. Whenever I feel like weighing body checking, or myself I will instead see how I can be of service to others.
I deserve freedom. I deserve life. I deserve to enjoy this holiday season. And on the days I feel undeserving, I will remind myself that my family & friends are deserving of my full presence & participation. Santa, all I really want from you this year is support and maybe some more recovery tools. Like a shiny new journal or something. Thank you.
This is for everyone! When it comes to Turkey Day and eating disorders the whole holiday and the days leading up to it are filled with anxiety, stress and over exercise (well, to each their own.) An estimated 10 million Americans will be “freaking the Fuuuuck out” this Thanksgiving. As they sit, palms sweaty, mind racing, and resentments growing at a table filled with food, their addiction stare them in the face. Let’s not forget the poor family members who have the task of preparing this thankless meal. Think about the family that gets a meal served with fat free fixings and micro managed poultry. And finally, please for love of all things holy, please no one say a word about the pies that have gone missing. Yes, Thanksgiving and eating go together, but Thanksgiving and eating disorders do not.
My Thanksgiving experiences are not unique in the ED community. When I reached out to fellow colleagues, clients, family members and friends, the tales I heard all started out the same. High stress and anxiety levels began days leading up to the holiday. ED’s worried about what to cook, how to approach eating at the dinner table, whether to be excused from the meal all together, how to get rid of the food, how to hide the food, etc. The list of worries and concerns went on and on. The people who had or were suffering from ED were continually trying to come up with tricks to make it through the holiday. Meanwhile, the families and friends were just wanted anything to help them enjoy it. What jumped out to me was the disconnects in communication between each group. It was like they were trying to do or say what they needed but could not.
Let me explain…
ED Thanksgiving trick #1
The control freak that must micro manage every detail! He or she feels more comfortable eating when they know every single detail aka calorie that goes into the meal.
Tip #1 for the family:
If the ED has not been in recovery long or not at all, you need to realize this eating tactic is fear based. Holidays are not good times to address ED issues. My tip is to thank the ED for the hard work they put into the meal and bring some of your own sides to share. Let them know you just wanted to participate in the holiday. If they are working on their recovery, offer to cook along side them. It maybe healing to have support. Also if they share a fear about something they maybe cooking, just listen. I love it when my mom does this.
Tip #1 for the ED:
Communicate as openly and honestly has you can about why it feels safer for you to prepare the meal. Ask yourself is there anything you can let control of? If you have been in recovery for some time, share this time with a trusted member of the family and ask for support. Cooking is about sharing and love. My mom and I laugh now about all food I used to be so fearful of. Butter was on the top of the list and 2% milk, which means we made a lot of food with fat free everything at the beginning of my recovery.
ED Thanksgiving trick #2
The bossy ED barking orders that “everything must be cooked like this,” trick!! You don’t understand that I have an eating disorder, and if you want me to sit down at this stupid table, the food will be exactly the way I say!! (Btw this was I, sorry Mom.)
Tip #2 for the family:
Spend a holiday away traveling (even if it’s a day trip) and don’t put the focus on the meal. Put it the focus on spending time with one another and having fun. The disease can be selfish and self-seeking not the person. Try taking them and you away from the table.
Tip #2 for the ED:
When I was early in recovery my folks and I would travel to the Grand Canyon and go hiking. Those holidays we ate in cafeterias, it’s wasn’t moms turkey dinner but we did all get to choose what we wanted to eat and there was a lot less stress (and bitchiness) because the focus wasn’t on the meal. My girlfriend and her family would pack a picnic and go to the beach. Her dad told me it made his holiday a lot better because his wife and daughter weren’t fighting each other days before and he never saw one tear on those Thanksgivings.
“ED Thanksgiving trick #3”
“I will only take small amounts of everything, so no one thinks I am fat. When they aren’t looking, I will hide food in my room so I can eat alone.”
Tip #3 for the family:
If you know this behavior is going on, let your love one know you love them. Please, don’t shame them or guilty them. This behavior is part of the disease and the phenomenon of craving. Wanting to hide food can be for a number of reasons. Recovery starts with being aware of behaviors and getting rid of denial. Talk them about how much you love them, and that support is possible. Rebecca’s Foundation has coaching that is there for you and your love to reach out for.
Tip #3 for the ED:
Quiet reflection before and after meals can be helpful. I have clients write in journals about what feelings are coming up before and after eating. Then, I have them name 3 things they are grateful for or 3 things they like about themselves. This helpful tool gets feelings and emotions out, but always helps us reflect on positivity.
ED Thanksgiving trick #4
“Fine I’ll come to Thanksgiving dinner. Why not, I am just gonna throw it up anyway.”
Tip #4 for the family:
This one is hard. It’s a lot like watching your weird drunk uncle have way too much wine. You know things are going to get messy, but you can’t stop it. (This one is I practiced, too, but with the wine and the binging and purging. Sorry, folks.)
Get creative!!! Take the focus off the meal. Have them go volunteer at a soup kitchen for the holiday, seriously!
Tip #4 for the ED:
Play along with the creative idea.One of the most healing things I have ever done in recovery is give back, especially giving food to those who need it. Service is not only healing, but is one of the best gifts we give ourselves. It also keeps your mind, body and spirit busy, so you can’t think about yourself.
ED Thanksgiving trick #5
I wear baggy clothes so know one will notice my weight!
Tip #5 for the family:
Please reframe from talking about body weight. It is a sensitive subject!!! Also, don’t talk about what’s on their plate or what’s not on their plate. Make the meal casual for everyone. My advice is to have one meal, if not all of them, in peace.
Here is a fun and heart felt dinner table conversation tip. Ask everyone to bring a joke, poem, or a prayer to the table. Then share with one another. My family loves to do this, I always look forward to what my dad comes up with, it is usually a funky poem about dogs. Weirdo!
Tip for the #5 ED:
Be comfortable. Wear whatever makes you feel great. To help create the most peace this holiday, be grateful and try your best. And smile!!!
These are just a few examples that popped out at me when I nosed around. The biggest and best advice I could give to both parties is communicating. Be open and honest about how you feel. Recovery isn’t linear and eating disorders have a lot of masks. One thing I do know for sure is support and community is always an email or a meeting away. My final tip!! 12-step programs (any) have meetings all over the world, every single hour of the day. The same 12 steps are used in eating disorder recovery. So, if you need help on Thanksgiving, you are always welcome at an meeting. Just sit and listen to the message and replace the words with food or eating disorder (if it is a closed meeting you will be asked not to share but you can still attend). Happy Thanksgiving everyone and remember the best way to be thankful this year to take one step everyday towards recovery. XOXO