Friday, February 22, 2013

Help for helplessness over food (and life)


Helplessness*

In the span of three months, Patti lost her father to cancer and her grandmother to heart disease.  Shortly after the funerals, her brother launched a legal battle to take over their father’s estate.  Patti began to binge and was completely out of control with food. She was helpless in the face of death, and powerless to stop her brother from trying to take over the estate.  Her solution was to use anger and productivity to distract herself from the intolerable state of helplessness. 

Corinne’s insurance company made it difficult for her to have access to her benefits.  As a result, she could not see the therapist of her choice, unless she paid out of pocket.  Her challenges to the insurance company were unsuccessful and she felt powerless.  Corinne began to restrict food, which was a way of expressing her deprivation in terms of her therapist, and also a way of coping with the helplessness she felt.

Helplessness is a feeling that most people cannot bear to experience, either on its own or because it intensifies other painful or upsetting feelings.  Helplessness is defined as:  1) unable to help oneself   2) weak or dependent
3) deprived of strength or power 4) incapacitated.   The state of helplessness is connected to vulnerability and dependency, both of which can be extremely uncomfortable.

Anger, productivity, withdrawal and/or denial are ways of distracting from the intolerable state of helplessness.

Anger:   Anger is an active emotion, whereas helplessness is a passive emotion.  Like Patti, you may get angry at yourself for your weight, or be upset with yourself for what you’re eating, or the amount, as a way of avoiding your sense of helplessness.

Productivity:  Being busy is another way of turning passive to active.  Focusing on achievements, productivity, and being a slave-driver to yourself are all strategies to distract from helplessness.   Thinking about food, weight, and calories are examples of focusing on “doing” rather than “feeling.”

Withdrawal:  Withdrawal is a way of denying helplessness. Anorexia is a withdrawal from food, from wants, from needs, and usually from people.

Denial:   If you tell yourself that what makes you feel helpless “isn’t a big deal” you may be denying your true feelings in order to minimize the reality of the situation.   This is a way of dismissing your feelings.

How do you feel helpless in your life?


If you weren’t feeling helpless over food, what would you feel helpless about?


If you weren’t focused on being powerful over food and hunger, what would you be focused on?


If you weren’t trying to control food, what would you be trying to control?


*My appreciation & thanks go to Dr. Axel Hoffer and Dr. Dan Buie for their inspiring paper “Helplessness and Our War Against Feeling 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.


Monday, February 18, 2013

What NOT to Say


Check out this episode!

What NOT To Say:  Does someone you love and care about struggle with weight, food or body image issues?   Do you want to help but don't know how?  Dr. Nina explores what NOT to say, explaining what works and what doesn't work - and why.  She provides guidance on how to express concern without blaming or shaming, and gives tips on the most effective way to communicate. 

I created this podcast because so many people dealing with weight, food and body image issues have shared how their loved ones or friends try to help, but only make things worse. This episode is tells them what NOT to say, and also clarifies the best way to be helpful.  




Comments and questions are welcome.  Please share on Facebook and/or Twitter so more people can benefit from the information on this blog.

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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.




Saturday, February 9, 2013

Magic Wand


I have a magic wand in my office.  If only it worked the way Harry Potter's does in books and movies!  

If my wand had actual powers, I'd wave it over people and magically heal their relationship to themselves. I'd instantly create self-acceptance to replace self-criticism and help people process feelings instead of turning on themselves, using food/weight as a weapon.  

Alas, the magic wand doesn't work.  But here's the good news:  you do have the power to change, to identify patterns and destructive attitudes and to react and act differently in your life.  

We all have our own magic within us.  We can heal ourselves with a combination of insight, hope, tenacity, reflection, courage, and more.

Eating disorder behavior and thoughts often serve to distract from deeper fears and conflicts.  When you can work through these concerns, you may no longer need the eating disorder to cope with the uncomfortable/unbearable feelings that arise from them. Imagine if in a wave of a magic wand, all thoughts of food, weight, calories, fat grams, or anything connected to disordered eating are completely blocked.  If these concerns no longer occupied your mind, what would you think about? 

Fear of abandonment: concern that others will leave you and that you’ll be alone. Is this a familiar concern?  If so, what comes to mind?

Fear of rejection: concern that other people will judge you and won’t like you.  When is the first time you remember feeling this way?

Fear of punishment:  Fear that you’ll get in trouble or be punished in some way.  Do you feel this way a lot? 

Guilt:  Feelings of guilt or fear that you’re going to feel guilty in the future.  Often this guilt leads to anxiety, which is felt as one of the above fears.  For example, “If I do something wrong, then others are going to react by either abandoning, rejecting or punishing me."

Addressing the underlying fear and working through it, what it is and where it came from (easier said than done!!) can help you be less worried about these issues.  And when you're not as worried, anxious or fearful, you are less likely to turn to or from food to cope.



Comments and questions are welcome.  Please share on Facebook and/or Twitter so more people can benefit from the information on this blog.

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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.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Needs? Who Needs 'Em?


 Dr. Nina explains the difference between “having needs” and “being needy.” We all have basic human needs for love, connection, attention, and so forth. If you can’t get those needs met from relationships, you’re vulnerable to turning to food as a substitute – using food for comfort, soothing, and other things that ideally you’d get from people. Dr. Nina helps you get in touch with what you’re missing in life, so you can fill up those empty part, instead of filling up with food.

Check out this episode!



Comments and questions are welcome.  Please share on Facebook and/or Twitter so more people can benefit from the information on this blog.

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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.