5 Keys to Recovery: #1 - Stop Unwanted Behaviors NOW


Many of the clients I work with in The Anchor Program have told me that they’ve finally given up on dieting as the solution to the food and body image issues and come to realize that their food addiction, binge eating and emotional eating will not be solved by losing weight, dieting or focusing on the number on the scale.

Food and body image issues are not about size or about food.
These issues are about how you use food to deal with your emotions, experiences from your past, and beliefs that have resulted from past hurts or traumas. By working on your food and weight issues on a deeper level, you can expect your healing to also be deeper and more sustainable.

Over the newsletters, I will be sharing with you the 5 Steps to Recovery from food and body image issues.  You can access the free e-book by the same name with the link below.

Step #1 of the 5 Steps to Recovery – Stopping Unwanted Behaviors

Here’s a case of a patient I saw to illustrate:

Billy had always been a “husky” kid. His parents were both somewhat overweight. Everyone thought that because of Billy’s size, he would follow in his dad’s footsteps and be a star football player in high school. When Billy was in fifth grade, his life took an unexpected turn—his mother died of breast cancer. After her death, he began to put on a lot of weight. By high school, he weighed over four hundred pounds. In desperation, he decided to have gastric bypass surgery to get the weight off. Initially he lost weight, but over time he found himself unable to stop bingeing despite his doctor telling him he could rupture his new post-surgical stomach. Within two years, he had regained the weight he’d lost. Treating the surface symptom—his weight—did not solve Billy’s problem.

Problems with food or weight are like an iceberg.

Everyone can see the ice that is above the surface of the water, but they can’t always see the larger part of the iceberg that’s beneath the water. What gets everyone’s attention is what’s above the surface—weight, eating behaviors such as bingeing or overeating, and body dissatisfaction. These behaviors can make your life unmanageable, creating financial hardships, medical problems, and general unhappiness.

.Imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t spend most of your time thinking about your weight, how to lose weight, what you look like, how ashamed you are of your body, what you’re planning to eat or what you are trying to keep yourself from eating, and so on.

The unwanted eating behaviors at the superficial level include overeating; bingeing; dieting; the use of diet pills, diuretics, or laxatives; purging; and emotional overeating. Other behaviors that can be put in this level are drug addiction, alcoholism, sex addiction, and love and relationship addiction. While these latter behaviors may not be specifically food related, they often co-occur with weight and body image issues.

The first step to healing is learning to stop the behaviors, which will give you the space to recover your authentic self and learn to understand and cope with troubling emotions in ways that don’t involve food.

Just as icebergs come in many shapes and sizes, you may find your reaction to addressing your weight, body image, and food problems will show up in many different forms. Sometimes what’s on the surface seems so big and overwhelming that you may feel like you are standing on the edge of a cliff and are terrified of jumping off. In other cases, when you start to look deeper—at what’s beneath the surface, at the emotions driving your behaviors, at past hurts and traumas, or even at core beliefs you’ve held dear most of your life—you become fearful and overwhelmed and can’t see a way through. Both reactions are normal and not unexpected.

You may also find that you have a dual or conflicted relationship with these behaviors. For example, you may recognize that you can't stop eating certain foods even when they make you physically sick or when you feel guilt or shame after a binge.

As part of preparing yourself to stop these behaviors, it will help you to become more aware of how food came to represent love, comfort, safety, or whatever it currently represents to you.

Until you are able to identify the original connection that you forged with food, you will have difficulty breaking the cycle that keeps you stuck because your mind may think you want to eat because you are hungry while your emotions are driving you to eat because of long-lost memories connecting specific foods to love, comfort, or safety. This awareness will explain why you couldn’t stop bingeing on certain foods or why you find yourself overeating to the point of feeling sick even though you don’t really want to.

Often the behaviors that are part of the superficial level started when you were younger but only became disruptive as you got older.

These behaviors may have been preceded by events in your life that you probably have not thought about in years and may not connect to your current problems with food or body image.  Difficult life experiences can often cause confusion between eating for nourishment and eating just for pleasure. This can lead us to convince ourselves that we need to treat, reward, or comfort ourselves with food.   For Billy, his mother's death led him to using food for comfort and to numb his pain.

Each of us has within us a longing for our best life, for our dream life.

What is confusing is that we have equated superficial qualities of appearance and size, for example, with what they represent for us in our best life. For example, if you believe you must be thin in order to have the relationship you long for, you may have forgotten what you’re really longing for, which is the feeling of intimate connection and how that would fill your heart. Or you may have shut down other goals that you have for your life because of your size as Billy shut down his desire to play football.

So, what can you do about all of this?  Here is some homework that will help you identify and understand these surface level behaviors.

1.    Make a list of all your behaviors that are unwanted. Some examples may be:

a.     Hoarding food

b.     Binge eating

c.     Eating in secret

d.     Emotional and stress eating

e.     Using laxatives or diuretics

f.     Skipping meals

2.    Next make a list of foods you tend to crave, eat as a reward or eat as a way to rebel against someone or something in your life.

3.    Next ask yourself what would be missing in your life if you no longer could turn to those foods for numbing, to deal with stress or cope with your emotions?

4.    Finally, ask yourself and journal about the dreams you’ve put on hold because you’re waiting to have a different body

In the next newsletter,  we’ll talk about Step 2 of the 5 Steps to Recovery: Emerging from the Emotional Soup.

Free e-book:  5 Steps to Recovery –

If you’re ready to make a change, to begin your healing journey, schedule a free consult


Dr. Carolyn

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