Interview with a fellow bulimia survivor

I recently discovered Lori Hanson and her blog, Learn2Balance, full of wonderfully insightful articles about eating disorders and recovery. Lori should have insights—she’s been there, too. Although I share with you my experiences dealing with food issues from time to time, I have only my narrow perspective to provide. No research. Few answers.

So, I sent Lori an email asking if she’d be willing to answer some of my burning ED questions—both for my benefit and for yours—and she was kind enough to respond. I think you’ll find Lori’s answers fascinating (I do). Here is our verbatim virtual dialogue:

Deb: How would you describe what it feels like to have an eating disorder to someone who's never suffered from one?

Lori: It is incredibly difficult to explain an eating disorder to someone who hasn’t experienced it because to the logical mind it makes no sense. This is part of why I wrote my book so people could read about it first hand. When you have an eating disorder, you are consumed…with food, your body, your inability to control certain things mixed with an intense desire to overcome, but feeling like there is no way you will ever overcome it because you don’t know where to start.

It’s total entrapment, surrounded with the worst form of obsession, shame, embarrassment and hoping no one else will notice. It’s thinking about how much you hate your body from the moment you wake up until you go to bed at night. As a bulimic, it is concern about what you ate, when you ate, how much you ate and how you screwed up. Every morning you wake with new found hope that this day you won’t fall prey to the behavior, and every night you go to bed consumed with anger, fear, guilt, shame and hatred for yourself. I’ve often explained it in my speeches as living in a bubble, life is going on outside of the bubble you’ve built around you and you have no way to connect with it. Life is all about “when I weigh 108 pounds, then I’ll be happy and my life will start.”

Deb: To your knowledge, is there a hormonal link with disordered eating? (I personally overcame almost all physical urges to binge and purge after going off of the Pill.)

Lori: I haven’t researched any hormonal links; however, there is a huge connection to body and brain chemistry and eating disorders. For bulimics and binge eaters and even some anorexics, sugar and simple carbs have become part of the addiction. Even on a good day, mentally you still fall into a binge because you’re body is screaming for more sugar. Part of my recovery came from getting my body and brain chemistry back in balance.

Individuals with eating disorders have low serotonin and many are depressed, by using natural supplements, body and brain chemistry can be restored and balance can be attained. Incidentally, low serotonin is also connected with obsessive behavior. Things that contribute to the imbalance and cravings include heavy use of antibiotics, using the pill, a diet filled with high sugar content food and simple carbs, these can lead to an overgrowth of Candida [a type of yeast], which is common in many binge eaters.

Deb: Did you have any major "aha" moments in your own ED recovery?

Lori: My biggest “aha” moment in my recovery was realizing that in order to recover, I had to reconnect my mind and body. I lived for over 30 years in my head because when I looked in the mirror I could not own the body looking back at me.

When I learned how to get my energy flowing from head to toe through some alternative bodywork I reconnected my mind and body and it felt incredible. The next day on the treadmill I was aware of my legs, calves, and felt the movement of my hips and butt as I ran. I realized in that moment what it must be like to be an athlete and very tuned in to your body. It was the start of learning how to be in the moment and feeling the place I was in while I worked out.

Deb: What is your top advice for getting back on track after a slip-up or relapse?

Lori: Go back to basics. Life (including eating disorder recovery) isn’t about perfection; it’s about progress. Give yourself credit for all you have accomplished. Individuals with eating disorders are so quick to count the screw ups. I had a client who was able to stop purging after just one week of working with me. She went five weeks before having an episode. I had to remind her of her progress vs. focusing on the slip-up. Also critical to making progress is keeping focused on your goal. What you focus on is what you manifest in your life. If you spend hours and days beating yourself up for a slip-up, you’ll soon have another one. But, if you realize that you’re human and making progress and focus on something positive in your life you’ll overcome much quicker.

Deb: Have you noticed any common denominators among those who successfully recover from EDs?

Lori: This is going to sound funny, but attitude has a lot to do with it. Getting to a conviction of knowing and believing that you can recover, that you deserve live a good life. But beyond that, in my practice it’s addressing several things that I call the Hot Pastry Principles™: improving self-esteem, understand what contributed to your eating disorder, diet and nutrition (learning how to eat balanced meals), reprogramming your mind to support you vs. beat you up and improving your mental and physical health with body work.

Deb: Top advice for promoting healthy eating habits/attitudes in our own children?

Lori: Listen to what you are saying. Don’t make frequent comments about how skinny they are or fat they are or how big their nose is or how short they are. Comments are digested deeply in young kids and often plug into eating disorders. And above all, don’t compare your kids to others! The critical piece is making sure they have healthy self-esteem, value themselves, understand what is unique and good about themselves and what makes them special. Keeping them away from tabloid TV and magazines might help too!

Deb: What should you do if you are a parent and suspect your child has an eating disorder?

Lori: Approaching your child is a delicate situation. The hardest thing for a person suffering with an ED is to admit to themselves they have a problem. And since eating disorders are behavioral addictions, it means it’s a “mental thing” and most people don’t want that label, especially kids. If you notice your child starting to become intensely focused on their body, food and image, telling them to eat and that they look fine does not help. And making a big issue of their problem will only push them away. Many parents experience guilt and disbelief when their children are diagnosed because it’s a reflection on their parenting skills.

It’s important to understand that although some comments and actions may have contributed to the eating disorder (as well as society, the media, physical and sexual abuse, a difficult transition through adolescence, family relationships and divorce) the child has to find their way through the behavior and recover. As a parent you cannot do it for them. Many children feel the eating disorder is something the parents want to quickly fix and hide out of embarrassment, which does more damage than good. Realize that for whatever reason this is part of your child’s passage and path in life. They can recover and will gain strength and beauty in the process.

Deb: What's the first thing you tell yourself when you feel the tug of your ED (if you still do)?

Lori: I quit binging on food back in ’96 and then spent 10 years using alcohol in the same pattern, which I didn’t realize until I started to write my book. This is common with addiction and addictive behaviors until you get to the core of the issue and resolve it. When life gets really stressful at times I feel the call of the wine, which is still the call for the sugar and simple carbs I used to binge on.

Two things are important: #1 – keeping your body chemistry in balance, and #2 – it’s critical to learn to live “in the moment.” If I’m feeling a craving for something, I stop and identify what I’m feeling and why. I use deep breathing to pull me out of my head and back into my body, aka, out of impulsive behaviors. I’ve developed several coping tools that I share in my practice and use in these moments. For more information please visit: Learn2Balance.com

About Lori

Lori Hanson battled with bulimia and her self-image for 34 years. She recognized her experience and approach to recovery was a gift she had to share with others. Lori shares her story and approach in her award winning book It Started With Pop-Tarts®…An Alternative Approach to Winning the Battle of Bulimia. Her second book, Teen Secrets to Surviving & THRIVING will be released in 2009.
After a successful 28 year career as a software consultant and professional services salesperson she left to pursue her passion of self-improvement. She is founder and CEO of both Shewolf Press and Learn2Balance a company focused on improving the lives of others.

A media favorite, Lori has appeared on national radio and TV shows to bring awareness to the epidemic of eating disorders. Her goal is to help individuals find empowerment much younger in life than she did.

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Tags: Hanson, Learn2balance, Lori, Spawnocalypse, bulimia, disorder, eating, food

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