EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:
By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator and Filex 2016 Inspiration Award Winner:
Photo Credit: Kiran Foster, 2012 – Self-Esteem
If I could sum up what recovery from an eating disorder, or any other kind of addictive behaviour, looks like in just a few words, it would be “Freedom to love who you are.” I believe I am correct in saying that most of us want to be loved unconditionally, yet we place conditions on ourselves. As such, many of us can’t even love who we are unless we stick to these ‘conditions’, even though they are harmful.
From my early teens, I believed that love was based on pleasing my parents. There was a lot of emotional and physical control in my upbringing. I am not blaming anyone, but this is how I interpreted what it means to be loved. My self-worth was based on what other people thought of me – conditional love. So I extended this thinking to myself. In my late teens, this took the form of anorexia nervosa. The ‘conditions’ were less eating, excessive exercise, even when I was exhausted and sometimes injured, not eating anything that anyone else had prepared, avoiding social life, keeping the number on the scale decreasing and attempting to be the perfect daughter.
I created a cycle of behaviour driven by the fear of not being loved, guilt, and believing I was not ‘good enough’, and then shame if I broke the crippling regime of conditions I created. The control that I lived under became the means by which I thought I managed my downward spiral of low self-worth.
Photo Credit: DanaK, 2008 – Self-Worth
Dealing with the Symptoms
Education about the adverse effects of restricted eating, excessive dieting and binge/purge cycles were helpful for the start of my physical recovery. Taking small steps to eat more and realising that I was not going to ‘blow out’ was useful to gradually change some of the signs and symptoms of my behaviour. However, I do not believe that reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is full recovery. The thoughts that initiate negative behaviours are like the roots of weeds, and if these are not treated, then the cycle has the potential to recur or manifest in other ways.
My need for approval did not disappear. The ‘people pleasing’ behaviours still occurred well into my marriage. I feared expressing my opinion and just aimed to please as a wife and a mother. When my marriage fell apart, the low self-worth escalated to severe depression and promiscuity became a way of attempting to feel some value. This was another fear/ guilt/ shame cycle. In the era of selfies and social media, I wonder how many people base their worth and value on how many ‘likes’ they get?
Hitting Rock Bottom
My low self-worth led to making a poor decision which cost me time in prison. I hated myself more and was so ashamed. Eighty percent of incarcerated women have endured a life filled with some form mental health issue and the risk of developing an eating disorder while in custody increases. The intensive psychological help I received the year before being incarcerated, addressed the issues that should have been dealt with in my late teens and early 20’s. Recovery meant facing these core beliefs I had of myself. Facing the unseen issues that manifested into physical behaviours that firstly ‘imprisoned’ my life by my own restrictive conditions and then led to actual imprisonment.
Love is Not Fear Driven
Ironically, it was during this time that I found my freedom. You cannot love yourself or others freely when fear is the motivation. Physical recovery occurs only when the signs are treated. Full recovery happens when the negative core beliefs are treated. In a place where I was locked in a cell 18-hours a day with no access to fresh water or food that I prepared, I fought the lowly thoughts that I had of myself. There were many times where I had to use all the skills my psychologist taught me to challenge low self-worth in that place and fight those I did, as I knew where that thinking led.
Unconditional love drives out all fear. A love of the things about me that I had forgotten. A love of the things that our ‘image driven world’ often forgets such as compassion, creativity, and perseverance, as well as a love of learning, the encouragement of others, and a sense of humour – the list goes on. However, I began to love me again. I could’ve easily fallen into the eating disorder behaviours in prison, where all of your freedom, choices and identity is taken from you. The disordered thinking had taken my identity way before this, so I finally accepted myself warts and all.
What Does Recovery Look Like?
I believe true recovery looks like this:
- I am free from fear about who I am.
- I am free to love who I am.
- I am free to enjoy food that I once feared.
- I am free to enjoy eating food that others prepare.
- I am free to exercise for enjoyment rather than from a fear filled obsession.
- I enjoy resting.
- My mind is free to pursue goals I had abandoned due to the need to please others.
- My thoughts are not dominated by food, burning calories or compensatory behaviours.
- I do not have to live by strict regimes I construct to know my worth.
- I am free from believing I need to look or be like anyone else.
- Media images do not make me feel less of myself.
- I have found me again.
- My identity is not in an eating disorder
- My worth is not based on what other’s think of me. If this were still so, I would not be sharing this experience with you. For if I still feared, I would not be free.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, then do not hesitate to seek help. Some great resources are:
The Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders: http://cedd.org.au
Eating Disorders Victoria: http://www.eatingdisorders.org.au
The National Eating Disorder Collaboration: www.nedc.com.au
The Butterfly Foundation: http://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au
Shape Your Mind Psychologists: http://www.shapeyourmind.com.au
Alternatively, you can contact me, Eleni. I would love to chat with you. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis
Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.
Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she suffered clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling assisted with the unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.
Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that made the difference this time around.
In 2016, Eleni received the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the prestigious FILEX health and fitness convention, an event that recognises excellence within the industry. Eleni won the award due to her commitment in promoting awareness of eating disorders and dedication to educating others in how to overcome feelings of self-loathing.
“An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.
Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.
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