Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cookies Don't Take Away Feelings!

Recently I sat at a local park and watched two toddlers playing in a sandbox, scooping sand into a pail. One of them suddenly ran off with a shovel. The other burst into tears.

Her anxious mother ran up, saying, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, it’s okay.”

The little girl continued to bawl.

Her mother hurriedly reached into her bag and pulled out a box of animal crackers. “Here,” she said, shoving the cookie towards her daughter, “Have a cookie.”

In that moment the girl learned her feelings upset others and she either shouldn’t have them or show them, but if she absolutely can't stop the feelings, a cookie will resolve the problem.

                As I watched and listen to this exchange, I realized it replicated the internal process of disordered eating. Sometimes when people start to feel something - anger, sadness, hurt, resentment, and so forth -a part of them resists the feeling, as if saying, "Don't feel that! It's too uncomfortable! I can't deal!" And that's when people might turn to food to cope or distract, or start attacking themselves or their bodies in some other way.

Other possible responses to this situation:

A dismissive parent might not notice that the girl was crying or might glance over and say, “You’re okay. It’s not the end of the world.” The girl learns her feelings are of no interest to others.

An angry parent might snap, “Stop crying, already!” The girl learns her feelings upset and irritate others.

A supportive parent would say, “Of course you’re upset, it’s okay to cry it out. Your feelings are hurt.”The girl learns that her feelings are worthy of her attention and that it's okay to express them.

How do you soothe yourself when you’re upset?

Where did you learn to relate to yourself this way?

A note on mothers (and fathers): Parents usually do their best, given their circumstances and their upbringing, but sometimes their "best" can be harmful to their children. It's not helpful to blame parents, because that can keep people in a victim stance (ie, "It's their fault I'm this way!"). Explaining why you feel or react in certain ways can be healing, as it helps you understand why you react to yourself the way you do.  Considering a different response leads to empowerment (ie, "I understand that my upbringing impacted me in a particular way, but now that I get it, I can work to change it.")

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Legal Disclaimer:  The content on this site is for educational and informational purposes only.  It is not intended as psychotherapy or as a substitute for psychotherapy advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Kmurph235 said...

Hi my name is Krista and i'm going a project on eating disorders and i really liked your blod and was wondering if you knew some other articles or blogs on athletes and eating disorders. If you could get back to me ASAP that'd be great! Thank you!

Dr. Nina said...

Hi Krista, I'm happy to help. Please email me and I'll give you my thoughts (

Anonymous said...

Hey.. I'm Shannon and i'm 13. I know this blog is probably not for the likes of me but still...My grandparents have looked after my since 2 due to my mum not being able to are for me (schizophrenia). After the doctor confirmed their suspicions they got told NOT to do anything... They have taken my scales away and are force feeding me! it's just made it even worse and forced me into purging once again
:( My grandad is hurting and thinks that using sarcasm etc will make me start eating.. as if it's about the food -_- but he said I was attention seeking and that it was my own mind so i'm choosing to kill myself and that it's selfish because of my potential :( (perfectionist)
My nan just forces and forces food even when i'm physically sick and then shouts at me. I am loosing more than a lb a day because of the anxiety. How can I get them to understand :(

Dr. Nina said...

Shannon, this blog is for anyone who struggles with their relationship to food and themselves and that includes you!

It sounds as if your grandparents don't have an accurate understanding of what eating disorders are and are not. Here are some links that might help:

Good luck and let me know how it goes!


Dr. Nina said...

Another resource in the UK (but for everyone):