Being an Empath Can Make Eating Disorder Recovery Seem Unbearable

Eating disorder recovery is exhausting, and for empathetic people it can seem downright unbearable. Being an empath adds a layer of difficulty to the recovery process, because we eat or restrict to stuff our constantly-changing feelings along with the emotions we pick up from other people.

I once considered myself an extrovert, but since being on my recovery journey I’ve realized I prefer to be alone or with my closest loved ones the majority of the time. When I was working full-time as a nursing home activity director prior to becoming a writer, I would come home mentally exhausted and never really know why.

A few years ago, I heard the term “extroverted introvert” and it resonated with me. I don’t mind being out with friends and acquaintances from time to time but, with a few exceptions, being with people tends to drain me. I need peace and quiet to recharge my batteries. Unfortunately, browsing my Facebook feed or seeing heartbreaking stories on the news can be just as exhausting. Just this morning I stumbled across a news article about a little boy who was left in a daycare van and died from the heat. I didn’t open the article, because the details would have taken over my thoughts and wrecked me emotionally for the rest of the day, but I was overwhelmed with grief just from reading the headline.

One more example: A few weeks ago, my ex-husband’s wife got sick and he needed to bring the kids home. He told me how bad he felt that he had to cut his time short with the kiddos. When I heard the sadness in his voice, I took on that emotion. Then I thought about his wife having to make the decision whether to send the kids home, and I felt bad for her. I felt additional sadness for the kids, because they hadn’t seen their dad much that week. I also felt bad for my husband, who was looking forward to our evening alone together. Finally, I felt frustration and guilt for being disappointed that I wouldn’t have time to re-energize myself with some R&R before the kids came home. By the time they got here, I hadn’t dealt with my own emotions at all because I was too filled with everyone else’s feelings.

In the short-term it’s much easier to cope with difficult emotions by using food, excessive exercise, or other behaviors rather than attempting to sit with them and let them pass. Unfortunately, stuffing the emotions or avoiding them ensures that they’ll continue to pop up again and again. I know this because the same issues popped up for me for over 15 years. I binged and dieted to avoid them, but they always came back.

These days, I know it’s time to deal with an emotion through journaling or reflecting or talking it out when a hurtful comment or unresolved issue keeps unexpectedly interrupting my thoughts and altering my mood. I continue to struggle with this part of my journey, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. I do know that recovery for empaths takes additional work… It adds twists and turns to the recovery labyrinth, but I believe it’s possible to emerge from the other side.

If you are an empath and struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder, know that you’re not alone. If you’ve found any books, blogs, or other helpful resources, please share them below. We’re all in this together, and I’m so grateful for that!

Kelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is “Letting Yourself Go” Really All That Bad?

Years ago, I remember hearing someone close to me muse that a family friend had “let himself go.” As a teenager, I didn’t understand the sentiment, but I recall hearing the same statement multiple times over the years and eventually equating fat with a lack of ambition.

As a person who was unable to maintain a “healthy weight” by societal standards, I internalized my loved one’s comment and quietly identified myself as a thin girl stuck in a fat girl’s body for self-preservation. If I did lose weight, I’d gain it back quickly. I felt ashamed of my weight fluctuations and disappointed in myself for not working hard enough to lose my big belly and double chin. My self-deprecating internal dialog left very little brain space to go after my dream of becoming a writer or pursue any of my other goals.

The same person who degraded people’s appearances throughout my adolescence later confronted a fat family member about her weight before she graduated from college. “Employers pay attention to these things,” she told this young woman, who had worked her ass off to maintain a 4.0). She added: “You should start working on your weight now so you can find a good job after graduation.”

I’m ashamed to admit that, at the time, I had no idea this was horrible advice. Thankfully, I’ve woken up since. No matter how ignorant or “well-meaning,” those hurtful words surely had a lasting impact. Did the fact that this college student chose to pursue her dreams mean she had “let herself go?” Should she have spent long hours at the gym instead of studying? Counting calories rather than looking for career options? Would that have made her more worthy of acceptance?

During my eating disorder recovery, I felt like it was me against the world. “The whole world is on a diet,” I used to tell my dietician. Although I still feel that way sometimes, I realize now how much space I’ve freed up in my life to actually live! See, when I was restricting and bingeing and hating myself for having no control, I had no energy left to actually live my life.

If letting myself go means finding peace in my bigger body and not striving to reach another temporary weight loss goal, I’m happy to let myself go. I now feel sorry for people who are so superficial that they can’t see past physical appearances and perceived “flaws.” Their judgments keep them from fully embracing life and loving perfectly lovable people. Their perceptions are no reflection on the people they choose to judge.

I no longer connect fatness to laziness. In fact, I realize now that perpetual dieters lack ambition, not because they’re incapable of amazing things (they are!), but because their main goal in life is to shrink themselves, leaving no room to accomplish great things. I would rather be known for my advocacy, positive attitude, and the mark I made on the world as a writer than an empty soul in a pretty little package.

 

 

You Don’t Have to Be Skinny to Have an Eating Disorder

Believe it or not, you don’t have to be skinny—or even thin—to have an eating disorder. When I started therapy in 2004, Binge Eating Disorder wasn’t even recognized as an official diagnosis and I was well above the recommended BMI for my height. (Side Note: I now know the BMI chart is a load of crap.) But my thought patterns surrounding food and my body were definitely disordered. I knew deep down that I had an eating disorder even though I couldn’t be officially diagnosed.

I’ll be honest, there were many times that my disordered self would’ve gladly traded in my BED for anorexia or bulimia. Not only would treatment eligibility have been a possibility, but I truly believed that being thin would equal happiness. But the more effort I put into restricting, the bigger my binges became and the more I hated myself for getting further from my goal of thinness. I couldn’t break the restrict/binge/loathe cycle, and even when I did lose weight I was completely miserable.

An escape for me back then was television. I watched Rescue Me religiously (I remember having a massive crush on Denis Leary). One episode in the first season introduced a main character’s girlfriend who was dealing with bulimia. What stood out to me was the fact that the girl wasn’t thin. Many years later when I started recovering from my own eating disorder, I learned that many people who struggle with bulimia don’t lose weight despite frequent purges.

I believe it takes real courage and transparency for movie stars and other famous folks to open up publicly about their eating disorders. Sadly, we rarely hear recovery stories from BED survivors, but I have hope! Years ago, anorexia and bulimia were just as hush-hush as Orthorexia and BED are now. As I wrote that last sentence, WordPress didn’t even recognize the word Orthorexia. The red squiggly line under that word is just another sign of how far we have to go with the understanding and acknowledgement of ALL eating disorders.

Thankfully there are resources available for individuals with these disorders. I’m so grateful for Christy Harrison’s FoodPsych and Jessica Raymond’s Recovery Warriors, because they offer a safe place for ALL of us who are ready to recover. These two resources have helped me realize that I’m never really alone.

Many of us who struggle with BED also tend to struggle with finding our voices. I smothered mine for years, stuffing down any negative feelings and feeling ashamed of any breakthrough positive moments. We deserve to have a voice, too. We are just as worthy of recovery as those who struggle with the more mainstream eating disorders. Use your voice… to ask for help, to define your goals, and later down the road, to speak up for those in need.

I believe in you and your recovery!

♥, K

PS: I mentioned this book in a previous post, but if you need a launching point for your recovery journey, I highly recommend Dr. Anita Johnston’s Eating in the Light of the Moon. It’s truly amazing.