Monday, July 17, 2006

The Why of It All

Part of the purpose of this blog/book is to bring to light the personal struggles with food and weight that we all have in common. Psychologists use the word “normalize,” which Mirriam-Webster defines as: “to make conform to or reduce to a norm or standard.” To me, having something normalized is that phenomenon when you find out someone has had an experience similar to you, causing you to exclaim, “Oh, you do that, too?” The process of normalization is what makes support groups (and group therapy, for that matter) so effective. We realize that others are in a similar boat, and there’s a certain comfort in that. In a related way, writing (and speaking) about disordered eating/body image concerns illuminates just how common these struggles are, which hopefully provides a kind of individual solace. It also, in my opinion, weakens the grip of the issues themselves.

A metaphor I like is a storm out at sea—before hitting land, the storm has plenty of time to fester, to build up strength. But upon landfall, the storm’s power/speed/damaging potential weakens, to the point where by the time it reaches you, it may not be so harrowing at all. Through open and honest discussion, we enervate the storm.

I’d like to normalize food fixation, body hatred, and other concepts we’ve been discussing here. As individuals we may feel “crazy” or “dysfunctional” for holding such “odd” beliefs or engaging in such behaviors (as some have commented recently, who would have thought that such violent images of fat removal were so common?), but if we realize that we’re not alone, we may be more prone to discuss/work with our thoughts and feelings, which, ultimately can free us of our obsessions.


Kristi said...

I know it's helped me to realize that I'm not the only one who has some of these bizarre feelings. That I'm not the only one who feels like if they have to worry about their weight or berate themselves for eating another cookie/chip/whatever one more moment, that they'll go crazy. It takes a weight off my shoulders, so to speak, to know that I'm not the only one in this situation.

PalmTreeChick said...

I love this post, Stacey. You raise such thought provoking points here because, yes, with this site you do realize that "you're not the only one" who is like this or does this or whatever. Also, when you talk to people and realize that they have issues too and that you're not "as freakish" as you thought you are, it is nice.

On the other hand, and this probably depends a lot on one's personality, (and I'm speaking from my own experiences, I don't know if others have experienced this), I tend to gravitate towards those with eating disorders and like spending time with them because we can talk about our issues and we totally "get" each other. However, I like to spend time with my friends who have eds for the "wrong reasons." We kind of feed off of each other and help each other, in what's probably not very healthy.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, sometimes talking to people with the same issues as you is a good thing, and sometimes it is counterproductive. But, I think it is good to atleast talk in someway, even if it's not very productive at first. Just getting your thoughts and feelings out is a good thing.

I'm shutting up now.

Anonymous said...

I know as a recovering anorexic, I was never permitted to go to group theraphy because of the inherent competitiveness in the disease, yet I do reap positive benefits from sites such as this one. Oftentimes I need to hear how stupid some of society's standards are in someone else's words. "You mean Kiera Knightly isn't what I should aspire to?"

I'm not saying that celebrities determine my self image, but it's nice to hear that most people don't worship the gods of thinness at any cost. In my opinion, we have only really begun to understand the complexities behind EDs and the people who suffer, I'd like to thank you for having a site that further explores the issues surrounding it!

Anonymous said...

Normalizing is an interesting topic - and I was actually discussing this with a friend the other day. About how hollywood stars are so out of touch with reality and are so surrounded by people on the brink of eds that they think its "normal" to eat well under 1,000 calories a day. I think Kiera Knightly sparked our discussion - her so earnestly, innocently, and honestly claiming she has no eating disorder. She could very well believe that - in her world that type of "diet" is perfectly NORMAL!

Haley-O said...

...eating disorders are the new "black." But, the fact that they are so trendy (and therefore so common...) makes them particularly problematic and dangerous....

wading through recovery said...

I too have really benefited from hearing from and sharing with others about struggles/thoughts related to both depression and eating disorders/disordered eating. So, the normalization intent really makes sense to me.

I realize that I'm a relative newcomer to reading this blog, but I was wondering if your thoughts/postings are coming from a clinical interest or your own personal struggles?


drstaceyny said...

Kristi--I'm glad that something like this is helpful to you.

PTC/1st anon--interesting points (using it for "counterproductive" or "competitive" purposes). Especially with anorexia (and, possibly, a little less so for bulimia), there does seem to be a competitive feel--treatment centers may worry about placing patients in group with those who are more severe, as this may lead to a "copycat" effect. With an anorexic population, the patients sometimes don't even have to say anything about their weight/restriction--it's quite apparent.

In most situations (particularly with sub-clinical presentations), however, one way to ensure that group treatment is not "counterproductive" is to encourage discussion of thoughts and feelings, refraining from specific behavioral talk (i.e., how to fight cravings, purge, etc.) Underlying all types of behaviors are similar thoughts and feelings (that most people can identify with) and that won't "trigger" people to up the ante. I'd also say, that as PTC notes, it's important to understand why you're sharing with/learning from someone else.

And, to address anon's 2nd point, I think it's difficult to NOT get caught up in the celebrity ideal, given the wealth of exposure we have to it.

2nd anon--as you're saying, in the Hollywood sub-group, "normal" takes on a different definition, and it's amazing how perspective can be so skewed.

Haley--they do seem to be very trendy right now. How unfortunate, because, as you say, what's trendy is powerful and reproducible.

WTR--glad it makes sense. To answer your question, all of the above--my writing is infused with personal experience (after all, note the title!), observations of culture/society, experiences with clients, and a lot of reading on the topic.