Eating Disorder Success Stories
Stacey: From Struggling with an Eating Disorder, Substance Abuse, and PTSD to Freedom of Her Addictions
When Stacey came for counseling she had been in a binge-purge cycle since she was 14 years old. She had a substance abuse problem but sought treatment for this 2 years prior to entering therapy for her eating disorder. Stacey had also been experiencing post traumatic stress (PTSD) symptoms most of her life.
Stacey experienced overwhelming anxiety that she couldn’t understand. As a result, she felt she wasn’t normal and felt out of control. Stacey would have unexplainable pain in her body, panic attacks for no apparent reason, and flashbacks of events that made no sense to her.
Stacey wanted to understand why she would binge and purge.
Stacey was caught in a cycle of binging and purging. She felt so much shame, it took up so much of her head space yet it provided relief. She binged and purged to feel numb. To feel calm. Then the cycle would start again the next day.
Stacey hated her body.
Stacey talked about feeling dirty and that she was ashamed of how she looked. No matter how low her body weight, she would measure how she felt that day by the numbers on the scale. They were never good enough.
Stacey felt she would never get better. Her eating disorder felt like a life sentence.
Stacey chose to come to therapy because she didn’t know what else to do. Food was everywhere. She would binge to push down her feelings of pain, anger, and fear. When the binge didn’t work, she would eat more so that she could purge. She felt horrible. The cycle would start again the next day.
Stacey’s partner became exasperated by her eating disorder.
She had been in a relationship for 4 years but he was becoming exasperated not understanding her eating disorder and her post traumatic stress.
The only chance Stacey felt she had was therapy.
When Stacey started therapy she felt hopeless. In fact, she would say that she had no hope but perhaps through therapy she might feel better.
Therapy helped Stacey understand the connection between her binge-purge cycles and her post traumatic stress.
Stacey worked hard in therapy to understand the impact her family had on her eating disorder. She learned healthy ways to set boundaries, deal with conflict, and express her feelings. She could manage her PTSD by using strategies that helped her stay in the present.
She changed her patterns of thinking so that she could stop and do something different than binge and purge to cope with her feelings. Her feelings weren’t so overwhelming anymore.
For once in her life Stacey liked herself and her body.
Stacey could eat foods that she never allowed herself before. She would say “It is hard but I don’t want to do harm to myself anymore”. She would do things for herself that were self-nurturing such as get the occasional massage, bath or walk with her partner.
Stacey’s relationship healed.
Stacey’s partner could see that she was working hard. She was no longer so plagued with overwhelming anxiety, shame, and sadness, and was not triggered as often. She was more able to be present in her relationship and more able to manage the post traumatic stress.
Therapy helped Stacey develop “hope”. She now had the freedom to live with joy.
Through many months of therapy, Stacey met the goals she set in the first session. She wanted to understand her triggers, better manage her anxiety around food, feel comfortable in her body, and have a good relationship with her partner.
Janice: A 38-year-old Woman Comes to Therapy Struggling with Disordered Eating and Body Image Problems
Janice had struggled with binge eating when she was 16 years old and received counseling at that time. She was concerned that it was creeping back into her life. She just had her first child and was on maternity leave.
When she entered therapy, she would think about food most of the day. She would tell herself that she was ugly, not attractive, and had to change how she looked.
Janice feared getting fat.
Janice felt overwhelming anxiety about getting fat. She had trouble concentrating, as her attention was focused on what she “should or shouldn’t” eat. She obsessed about the next diet she would try, and when she would exercise. Janice was terribly distressed that she would start yo-yo dieting again.
Janice wanted to change her eating patterns, but she felt stuck.
She divided foods into “good” and “bad” and wouldn’t allow herself to eat the “bad” foods. This caused her unbearable fear which would often lead to a panic attack. She would have trouble breathing, her heart would race, and her palms would sweat. She felt hopeless.
Janice couldn’t understand why her eating went off the rails after having her baby.
Janice was quite anxious about being a new mom. She felt guilt, anxiety, and fear. Janice felt that she had no control over her life anymore.
When Janice came to therapy she was extremely distraught.
She was preoccupied with food and her body image. It was affecting her ability to have a healthy relationship with her husband and her daughter. She found herself angry all the time. She was having trouble making decisions. Janice’s anxiety and fears were immobilizing at times. She was terribly distressed as she had not experienced this feeling prior to having her baby.
Much to her amazement, after counseling she could manage the feelings that caused her so much distress.
Through counseling Janice learned healthy ways of dealing with feelings of powerlessness, shame, and anger. She learned strategies such as an evidenced based approach called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), breathing, and meditation to stay calm.
Janice learned that by changing her self-beliefs she could feel better about herself. She felt free from the distress of guilt, fear, and shame she had been feeling. She felt positive about her body and didn’t use food to maintain this good feeling.
Therapy helped Janice understand the issues underlying her disordered eating.
Janice learned that being a new mom was a change in roles for her. She set healthy boundaries in her relationships, and found effective ways to deal with her fear, anger, and guilt instead of obsessing about food and her body. She discovered that she could feel joy in her life again by making time for herself, and engaging in self-nurturing activities, such as a bath, a walk, or a meditation.
In therapy, Janice moved from self-loathing to self-acceptance.
Janice learned that having a healthy relationship with herself and others was critical for her to feel more positive about herself. She was more assertive about her needs and wants, particularly with her husband. She could set clear boundaries which she found was essential to not losing herself.
She didn’t need to use food and exercise to feel good about herself anymore. She would spend time celebrating herself by taking walks, listening to music, or just spending quiet time with her daughter.
By the end of therapy, Janice felt joy again.
Janice could spend time with her friends and family without obsessing about food or exercise. She felt a sense of freedom. She felt comfortable in her body. Janice left her final session feeling that she had tools to manage her stress and anxiety. She no longer needed food to enjoy life and herself.
George Was Distraught with His Weight and Negative Body Image
George, at 35 years old, had struggled with his weight and body image for most of his life. He blamed his weight and negative self image on the reason he was single. He would overeat on foods when he was alone. He felt extremely self-conscious when he would eat around others. George really wanted to be physically active but couldn’t get motivated. This caused him significant distress.
George blamed his appearance for his low self-esteem.
He would berate himself daily with negative self-talk. “I hate my body”, “I am not good enough”, “I have no discipline”, “Who would want me?”. This caused him overwhelming anxiety and extreme pain. He would look to food for comfort so the feelings would go away. But they never did and the cycle would start over again.
Unfortunately, when he tried a new diet it just made him feel worse.
George felt so terribly alone. He would go on a new diet every several months. They never worked and he would gain more weight back after stopping. He would think about food all the time, sometimes in his dreams. He would look for the next diet that would work this time. But they never did. He felt like a failure.
George desperately wanted to feel better.
By the time George came to counseling, he feared he would be stuck in this cycle forever. He felt he would continue to live alone, with his binge eating. He knew that there must be a healthier way of living. He was sure his weight was the reason he was feeling so disgusted about himself.
Over the course of a few therapy sessions, George discovered that his weight was not the reason he felt bad about himself.
George realized that the pain he experienced in his childhood from bullying contributed to his emotional eating. George recognized the relational patterns he was replaying in his adult relationships. He learned healthy ways of asserting himself, setting boundaries, and most of all, he discovered that it wasn’t his fault.
Therapy helped George make healthy choices in his life.
George was now aware that his eating was directly related to his negative self beliefs. He could eat a chocolate bar and feel okay. He could say “no” and not feel guilty. He never did weigh himself but decided to get rid of his scale. It was only a reminder that he felt “fat”. He felt good about himself now.
By the end of therapy, George was happy for the first time in his life.
George was in a new relationship. He felt confident. He pursued his interests and socialized more than he ever did before. He didn’t feel alone anymore. For the first time, George felt joy in his life. Food and body image were no longer the focus. His self-esteem was no longer dependent on his body size and shape.
Lisa: From Suffering Severe Anxiety to Finally Being Able to Enjoy Life
Lisa, at 30, had been struggling with overwhelming anxiety since she was 14 years old. She would wake up at night in a panic. She would have trouble breathing, her heart would pound, and her palms would be sweaty. She would have racing thoughts about what might go wrong the next day, things she forgot to do, and the things that she did wrong.
Lisa’s anxiety got worse after she started College.
After starting College, Lisa would stay up late ruminating over her papers, deadlines, or exams. She would become so fatigued that she had trouble getting organized. This affected her grades and her relationships.
Lisa’s panic attacks became severe.
Lisa would have panic attacks that came out of no where. She would be in a meeting, in class, or out with friends and begin to feel dizzy, her heart would beat fast, and her breathing would become shallow. As a result, she would avoid these situations as much as she could for fear of having another panic attack.
Unfortunately, Lisa had to defer exams, cut back on her work, and saw friends less.
Lisa’s anxiety had a tremendous affect on her physical health. She was exhausted all the time, her worry led her to have a few emergency room visits, and she couldn’t sleep. She could not stop the worrying and negative thinking, no matter how significant the losses.
Lisa knew she couldn’t live this way anymore.
When Lisa came for counseling, she was ready to face her anxiety. She felt scared. She had always thought that things would just get worse. She wanted to understand where this ruminating, worry, and panic came from. She wanted to learn how to manage the anxiety.
Therapy helped Lisa gain control of her anxiety.
After a few counseling sessions, Lisa learned that her anxiety didn’t always have a rational basis. She learned that she would take situations and think about the worst possible outcome. Through tracking her behaviors, thoughts, and feelings Lisa could change how she reacted in certain situations.
She learned strategies that helped her decrease her anxiety. She felt empowered to have tools that worked. A process involving tapping on acupuncture points, an evidence based approach called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) was most helpful when anticipating an anxiety provoking situation or when feeling the anxiety. This strategy would take only a few minutes, which she found exceptionally helpful.
At the end of therapy, Lisa felt the freedom to do the things she wanted.
Lisa could fully engage in school again, work the hours she needed, and enjoy socializing. Most important to her, was that she had tools that she could use when she needed. She felt calmer, able to sleep, and had the confidence to manage her anxiety.
Stephanie: A 45-year-old Woman Enters Therapy Struggling with Depression and Anxiety
Stephanie has struggled with anxiety most of her life but never went to counseling. She feels overwhelmed by work, being a single parent, and taking courses. She doesn’t feel in control of her life at all. She ruminates about things such as when dinner should be ready or getting her kids to school on time. She is unable to stay in the present, because her mind is off thinking about the next thing that she needs to do.
Stephanie felt she would never enjoy life.
She had few friendships in her life because she didn’t trust people. She had constant anxiety about getting hurt. Stephanie was uncomfortable with crowds so would avoid social situations.
Stephanie talked about her anxiety a lot to her friends.
Stephanie’s friends were supportive of her but they couldn’t help her. They would suggest “just get a handle on things” or “stop worrying so much” but she couldn’t just stop worrying. They suggested that she talk with her doctor.
Fortunately, Stephanie did seek counseling.
She was referred to counseling by her physician. He diagnosed her with depression and anxiety but she didn’t feel she was depressed. She was not comfortable with medications and felt that counseling would be a better alternative.
Therapy helped Stephanie understand her anxiety.
Stephanie learned that the worry that caused her such overwhelming anxiety was not rational. She understood how her thinking would spiral quickly from something benign to catastrophic. With this understanding, she could change her thinking quickly and would be prepared when she felt the anxiety. This made a big difference in how she felt.
In therapy, Stephanie found tools to manage her anxiety.
Stephanie realized that her anxiety could be managed with the right strategies. She learned that when she felt tingly or flushed, or had certain negative thoughts, that an anxiety attack was coming on. She would then move to a calmer place by using approaches that would bring her back to the present moment and reduce her anxiety.
A research-proven approach called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) was one such approach she used often. She had the confidence that she could stop the anxiety attacks. She could sleep through the night and didn’t feel exhausted anymore.
Much to her surprise, the overwhelming anxiety was gone.
Through the course of therapy, Stephanie used Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to eliminate the anxiety triggered by her thoughts. This is an evidence based therapy using eye movement to tax the working memory so the feelings associated with an event or thought disappear. Hers disappeared.
By the end of therapy, Stephanie felt a sense of empowerment.
Stephanie felt a sense of peace. She had a new relationship. A circle of friends that she trusted. Stephanie believed in herself. She could manage her work, being a single parent, taking courses, and a new relationship. For once in her life she felt empowered to move forward while being gentle with herself.
*Note: The stories on this page are composites of several clients that I have worked with over the past several years. All names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.