Healthy eating for anybody in America these days is not easy. Tons of cheap junk food. Sodas and juices laced with high fructose corn syrup. Cheeseburgers with lots of fat. And fruits and vegetables? They are available only in supermarkets and ethnic markets, not in every corner store and gas station. And they are expensive!!!! Especially organic produce.
Plus which, Americans have been trained to think of donuts, candy, potato chips as treats. Who thinks of a banana as a reward for a job well done? Or a grapefruit? Not too many people, I bet. In the first days of television, an ad showed Chiquita Banana dancing and singing about developing flavor by never putting bananas in the refrigerator. You’d never see that in prime time today.
So our whole culture encourages eating poorly, simply because it makes big money for the big corporations. Junk food is easy to package, easy to ship, and doesn’t rot like fresh veggies.
It’s hard for the average American but it’s thousands of time harder for survivors of ritual abuse. We have been starved, deprived of water, and made to eat and drink things that never were intended to be put in a human mouth, both in rituals and as punishment. And sometimes, rarely, we have been rewarded with edible food, usually junk food.
I remember being unable to eat tomatoes as a child. I finally figured out why: they are red. Their color triggered the feelings I had about blood. There are a huge number of potential triggers that make it very difficult for survivors to eat a whole range of things. Triggers are different for everybody, but I bet everybody responds to at least some food triggers.
And to make it more complicated, alters respond differently. One alter will try really hard to avoid a certain food, while another alter wants to gorge on it. Imagine the internal battle!
Avoiding lots of triggers can lead to anorexia. There’s another more general cause of anorexia; the absurd amount of attention put on being model-thin in our society. When Chiquita was happily dancing, models were of normal weight — now they look like stick figures. At the same time, the percentage of overweight and obese adults and children is increasing. The gap between actuality and so-called ideal is increasing every year.
Then there is the issue of control. Our perpetrators made all the decisions for us and then taught us that whatever happened was our fault. No matter what we did, no matter how hard we tried, we could never get it right. We had zero control as kids, although we didn’t necessarily know it.
Fighting our perpetrators with food can go either way, anorexia or over-eating. One thing we can control as adults is our eating. We can refuse food — “You can’t make me eat.” Or we can gain tremendous amounts of weight in an attempt to become unattractive to our perpetrators and thus gain some control over their behavior. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Many people, not only survivors, use food as a source of comfort. Sugar and carbohydrates work because they increase the feel-good chemicals in our brains, just like hard drugs. Comfort eating often is accompanied with purging so that the spike of pleasure is offset by getting rid of the food before it can be digested. Many people who are of average weight have this double problem.
So that is what we are up against.
What can we do?
1. Recognize that we have a problem.
2. Recognize, deep down, that it isn’t our fault. It’s a legacy of ritual abuse and having been abused was NOT our fault in any way.
3. Make a commitment to working on handling the problem. Not solving it, especially overnight, but handling it differently.
4. Learn the basics of nutrition.
5. Start slowly. Seriously, slow is better, much better than fast.
Here is what I did. I didn’t give up all comfort foods at once. I didn’t give up any of them! I experiment with eating less of them, eating them less often, or even eating them at a different time of day. I played around and saw what happened when I did something different. I didn’t journal, but by keeping an eating journal you can find out what different parts of you think about this strange new way of being in control.
Along with working with the foods that were bad for me, I experimented with foods that were good for me. I simply added them to my meals. First once a week, then a couple of times a week, then I switched to another healthy food to see if I liked it or not. I was not making a life-time commitment, I was just seeing what happened when I tried different things.
Over time, I saw big positive changes. It was very gratifying and remains so today.
If you have a 12-Step background, Overeaters Anonymous can be very helpful. It’s for people with all kinds of eating disorders, not just over-eating. You will get lots of support, and companionship, to boot. It also helps with self-acceptance, as nobody is going to consider you a freak.
Some people are comfortable with commercial weight loss programs. They provide a structure if you are having trouble doing it yourself. I personally don’t want to give over that much control, but I have seen people have great success with them.
You might want to try each of these approaches and see what feels most useful and comfortable. Remember — you are in control now, and there is nothing wrong with changing your mind!
I thought of including some recipes in this article, but decided the comments section would be a better home for them. Share your favorite new dishes and give some tips on making this process a little easier!