Kayla recovered from bulimia, but still struggles with binge eating. She’s a personal trainer who tends to do things to extremes: a period of perfect healthy eating, followed by a period of of self-destructive binging. A history of sexual abuse has left her feeling uncomfortable in the presence of men. In this illuminating session, Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, suggests that see that Kayla’s binge eating is not actually the real problem, but that it’s a symptom with an important message for her, and it’s time for Kayla to really listen to that message. And as Marc helps Kayla to see, a key part of that message is that in order to release binge eating, she will need to begin to heal her relationship with men.
Below is a transcript of this podcast episode:
Marc: Welcome, everybody. I am Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. We are in the Psychology of Eating Podcast. And I am with Kayla today. Welcome, Kayla.
Kayla: Thanks, Marc.
Marc: Glad you’re here. Glad we’re doing this.
Kayla: Me, too.
Marc: All right. So let me just say a few words for viewers and listeners if you are new to the podcast. Here’s the deal. So Kayla and I haven’t met yet, up until this moment. We’re going to do a client session. And in this session, we’re going to try to squeeze about a year’s worth of coaching, counselling into one conversation, which is of course wonderfully possible and impossible at the same time. But we’re going to see if we could help you get where you want to go a lot quicker by just really drilling in. And we’re all going to go for about an hour together today. And I have a good feeling about this conversation.
So let me ask you this:
If you can get whatever you wanted from this session, and come out with exactly what you need, what would be the outcome? What would you get?
Kayla: I would like to 100% stop binge eating. I am a recovered bulimic. I don’t purge anymore. I’ve stopped the over-exercise and crazy diets, I don’t weigh myself anymore. But I still struggle with the binge eating.
Marc: How long were you bulimic for, Kayla?
Kayla: About 3 years or so.
Marc: And when was that? At what age?
Kayla: I believe I started around 19. All the way up to between 22 and 23.
Marc: And how old are you now?
Marc: Got it. And how do you think you stopped the bulimia?
Kayla: I’m a very determined person. And I just decided I’m not going to purge anymore. I set a goal to not purge for 3 months. And I kept track of it. And once I was at that 3 month mark, it became far less of an issue. I was doing a lot of other emotional work that helped. But the bingeing is just the one disordered eating habit that I’ve really been unable to shake.
Marc: Well, before we go any further, I want to say, congratulations on what you’ve done so far. That’s huge.
Kayla: Thank you.
Marc: Yeah, I really mean it. It’s a success. I’m wondering have you had any moment or moments where you said to yourself, “Wow, I did this. I overcame this thing I was doing for 3 years”, that probably wasn’t so fun.
Kayla: I’ve tried but I’m a bit of a perfectionist. And the fact that I still binge eat, it’s, well you got rid of one part of the bad equation but not the other. So it’s not really a full success yet. If that makes sense.
Marc: Sure. I understand. Well, I still want to say congratulations. And I still want to say that it’s a really big success. And I’m pointing that out now because I just think it’s so important that we celebrate the little successes, especially for us perfectionists. And especially for people who always like, “Yeah, but. Yeah, but. What’s the next move? What’s the next move? What’s the next…” And it kind of stops us from really celebrating the moment. I think sometimes it is celebrating and acknowledging our victories, I believe in an interesting way paves the way for more victories. Yeah, I just wanted to say that.
So, what does bingeing mean to you? What does a binge look like for you? Give me an example.
Kayla: There’s been times where it’s just an entire pie. It will be an entire pizza with an order of breadsticks. It will be a big bag of candy plus a bunch of other stuff. There have been times where I kind of blackout binge, where I just go crazy, grab anything I can find, and then in the morning I go to throw something away and there’s an empty container that I don’t remember finishing off the night before. That doesn’t happen quite as often. I can actually more so remember what I binged on now, but it’s been a lot worse in the past.
Marc: Yeah. For people listening in right now, this is a real phenomenon. People will actually have blackout binges. It’s kind of like sleep walking. If you sleepwalk, you don’t know that you slept-walked. People can literally eat and have no idea that they ate all this food. Often happens at night. So are there times during the day that are most predictable for when a binge might happen or could it occur at any time?
Kayla: It’s primarily at night.
Marc: What time?
Kayla: When I get home from work usually. So that will be anywhere between 6:00 and 8:00, 8:30.
Marc: So that’s the window. Might you binge after 8:30?
Kayla: I go to bed pretty early. So chances are I’m in bed by 9:00, 9:30, 10:00 at the latest.
Marc: Got it. And how many times a week would you say you binge?
Kayla: For the last month or so it’s been far less. It’s been maybe once a week, twice a week tops. There’s been periods of even 2 weeks where it hasn’t happened at all. In the past it was more of, it would either [be a] period where I was doing it nightly, or 2 or 3 times a week.
Marc: So what do you consider is the reason that you’re doing it less frequently right now?
Kayla: I have been doing my eating psychology coaching certification course and that has made a world of difference. It’s just made me look at different areas where I still needed to do work. I’ve been doing the emotional work and I’ve started letting go of a lot of my perfectionism and putting my life on hold because my weight wasn’t exactly where I wanted it to be. And I think that takes the pressure off trying to lose weight.
And when the pressure is off trying to lose weight, the bingeing seems to be less. I hope that makes sense.
Marc: Sure. So in an ideal world, how much weight would you want to lose?
Kayla: Well, I have stopped weighing myself, and it’s less about a particular number. I just want to be able to run faster and lift heavier weights and be stronger. And I know this is not the best my body could look. And it’s not the best weight it performs at.
Marc: So “performs at” for you means running, means weightlifting, what else does performing mean?
Kayla: It means my running’s not as fast as I want it to be. And I would love to be able to do unassisted pull-ups which might be a little bit unrealistic. I want to be able to do push-ups on my toes, no problem. That sort of thing.
Marc: So is that more about how much you weigh or is that more about how fit one is?
Kayla: It’s a little bit of both. But being heavier in terms of body weight exercises and running, it does make a difference. And obviously the bingeing doesn’t help with running or anything else either.
Marc: Understood. So these days do you notice what might trigger binge eating? Is there any particular things, events, emotions, like why might it happen, or is there any rhyme or reason to it?
Kayla: Usually I’m a pretty introverted person so if I’ve had a super-busy week at work, or if I’m just stretched too thin with social commitments, that’s when I tend to end up bingeing again. Or when I’m just nervous about something. It’s primarily stress related, I think.
Marc: Okay, stress related. Do you live alone?
Marc: Are you in a relationship?
Marc: And how long have you been in a relationship?
Kayla: Almost two months. It’s my first one since 2010. I kind of didn’t date for a long time because I didn’t feel I was thin enough to pursue relationships. So this is a big change for me.
Marc: And how did your partner feel about your weight?
Kayla: They love it. They always compliment me on how my muscles feel in my arms and they have no problems whatsoever.
Marc: So how does it impact you when you hear that from the person you’re in a relationship with?
Kayla: I like it.
Marc: Does it make you feel more secure about your body? Does it still make you feel like, “Yeah, but I could be even better.” Like, what do you think?
Kayla: It makes me feel happy. And at the same time it’s like, well if they like it this way now, I know I could do better and be a little bit stronger. And I think, really liking someone and finding like a genuinely awesome person to date just makes me want to look a bit better. And be a bit stronger.
Marc: Understood. So how is your partner with their weight and their body?
Kayla: They’re pretty good. They run pretty regularly too. They’re like most women, sometimes they feel like they eat a bit more than they’d like to. And that they are not exercising as much as they’d like to. But overall, very healthy relationship.
Marc: So, why do you think the bulimia started for you?
Kayla: I still remember the first day I ever decided to throw up. I was trying to lose weight because I wanted the guy to like me, really stupid. I was still really young. And I had done really well on this diet I was doing. I hadn’t slipped up once. And then I ate, think it was cheesecake, and I decided it would just be easier to throw it up than count that as a loss and just continue working the next day. And I figured, “oh, it will just be this one time”. But once you start that, it’s really hard to stop.
Marc: Yeah. And did you ever lose weight doing that?
Kayla: My weight has pretty much stayed the same.
Marc: Got it. So why do you think it continued if the weight was staying the same?
Kayla: Because I was really bad for using food to deal with all my problems. So eating all that food made me feel better temporarily. And then I felt like I could cheat the system by throwing it up or over-exercising to negate the damage of what I have done, weight-wise.
Marc: Yeah. And thanks for saying that. It makes perfect sense, just so you know. It’s like, “Wow, okay, I was eating food to handle some of the emotions I was feeling”. The food does make you feel better. It really does. Eating makes us feel better. It creates pleasure chemistry. And then it’s easy to say, “Hey, but wait a second, this is going to make me fat and that’s not good. I could just throw it up.” And we’re kind of cheating the system or so it seems. So, you wanted a guy to like you. You’re in a relationship with a woman now, is what it sounds like. So can you talk about that for me? Why women, why not a guy? Why guys, not women?
Kayla: I have had difficult relationships with men my entire life. I was sexually abused as a child. Since then, I’ve always tried really hard to get attention even from boys in elementary school. And I started gaining weight right after that incident. And I still remember boys I had crushes on, making me feel like crap about my weight. Like I remember one of them telling me, I look like a hippo on a jumbo jet riding my bike, stupid things little boys say.
But then growing up I used my body kind of as a weapon. I tried to make guys like me by sleeping with them, by having very self-debasing encounters. And I’ve never been able to connect emotionally with the men in my life because obviously in that mindset, you’re going to attract pretty terrible guys, personality-wise. And that just continued to solidify my inability to relate to them properly.
And I had a very life-changing experience last year with one girl and she made me realize that I had been batting for the wrong team this whole time. It was a really special experience. It didn’t work out but it changed my life.
Marc: Wow. Well, congratulations and I’m also, just want to let you know, very impressed really; you’re 26, at your ability to kind of look at your life and start to kind of break it down and see, oh wow, here what I was coming from. It makes perfect sense. I can remember when I was 5 years old, wanting little girls to like me. And what do I have to do.
So we’re walking around, wanting people to like us. And usually the way it’s framed is, yeah, if I’m a guy I want the girls to like me. If I’m a girl I want the guys to like me. What do I have to do?
It’s interesting because for a girl what you’re taught is, what you have to do is, look a certain way.
Don’t eat food, be skinny, and look like those people that the boys seem to like. So, was the person who sexually abused you, I’m assuming it was a male?
Marc: Was it someone that you knew?
Marc: Someone that you trusted?
Kayla: I was young. He was the husband of one of my aunts.
Marc: So it was technically someone in your family, even though it might not have been blood family.
Marc: Yeah. So that was a pretty major violation. That’s a hard violation. So do you feel the connection between binge eating, bulimia, and that early experience? Like, do you notice it? Does it seem like a connection for you?
Kayla: It seems like it does. I can’t truly figure out how the bulimia ties in but the binge eating especially. I’ve been very close to my goal weights. Three out of the 4 times when I started gaining weight back, it was because a guy who’d started to pay attention, like serious attention, wanted to date me sort of attention, and that’s when I started eating and gaining the weight back. And I felt stressed all the time. So, yeah, I know that there is a connection between the binge eating and that experience.
Marc: Yeah. I think they’re very much tied in, all of it. Well, we’ll get into that soon. When you don’t binge eat these days, like when you go for a longer period of time without binge eating, what do you notice that might be different? That, wow, I haven’t done this in 2 weeks.
Kayla: I’m a lot happier. I’m a lot more present at my job. I’m more excited about my job. I’m more productive. Everything is just way better. There’s not like this dark shadow over my days, and I’m actually more excited for everything.
Marc: Good for you. That makes perfect sense, by the way. Because when life feels good, we have less of a need to create drama around food. Let me just pause for a moment. How are you doing right now? How are you?
Marc: I really appreciate you kind of hanging in there.
These are very super-personal questions but I think important ones for you and honestly, important ones for people who are here listening because trust me, there’s a lot of people who can identify with your story in many different ways here.
I want to tell you, I find it fascinating that here you were at some point and, “Wow, I’m getting attention from a guy, a man.” And that immediately brings up a response, a reaction, and a sense of not being safe. Part of the name of the game is feeling safe. I’m going to get into that in a little bit too. There’s a couple of more questions I want to ask you. What do you think is going to help you graduate from binge eating? When you imagine that in your mind, what do you think is going to help you?
Kayla: Learning to relax more. Not being such a high stress person. Honestly, just having an easier time relating to men and not dropping into either like judgment or contempt or at the very least, usually a low level discomfort.
Marc: Got it. Remind me again, how old you were when the first incident happened?
Kayla: I was right before first grade, so 5, 6 somewhere around there.
Marc: Yeah, got it. Kayla, I want to say a few words now. I want to just kind of launch into some thoughts around all this because there’s so much happening. So many good things happening. And so many great connections to be made.
Again, I want to remind you that you have come a hugely long way in your journey with food, and body, and bulimia. It’s really tremendous. And I know it’s not enough for you because you haven’t hit your goal yet. And that’s totally understandable. But I really want you to be able to get that you’ve had success here. And it will be hard to be successful if we don’t notice our success. So when you want to have continued success, “I’m like yeah, I want continued success”, you want continued success. But if, “I’m not noticing success then I don’t notice it.”
So all I’m saying, I’m just speaking to you as your older mentor here. I’m just being older brother right now. It’s like, man, if you just made $50,000, celebrate it. If you made $50,000 and you said, “Yeah but I really want to make $100,000. Then you make $100,000 and you go, Yeah, but I really wanted to make $150,000.” And there’s never this moment of, “Ah, congratulations I did it!”
So, I just wanted to acknowledge you again for that. Because it’s very impressive and people can go for many, many years with the challenge of bulimia. So you’ve helped yourself overcome it. You’ve started to make connections. So, what I want to say to you and you likely know this.
We know this from the research. We know this from clinical observation, from anecdotal evidence, from all of it. And the research is very clear that a past history of sexual abuse will commonly lead to behaviors that are self-abusive, particularly disordered eating behaviors. So disordered eating is often times predictable when boys and/or girls, women and/or men have experienced sexual abuse. It’s a trauma for the system.
It’s a trauma. The system cannot handle it. A 5-year-old mind cannot take that information and make sense of it.
So instead what happens is it goes deeper into the body, it goes deep into the psyche and oftentimes challenging type of behavior start to come out of us. We might end up having insecurities. We might end up having symptoms like digestion or headache symptoms or fatigue. We might end up doing self-harming behaviors. Some people start cutting themselves or some people do harming behaviors with food.
Here’s what happens. The psyche, the mind will reproduce the wounding in weird way. It’s just how the mind works. It reproduces in its own symbolic way. The mind is very symbolic. In a symbolic way it reproduces the original hurt, so at some point we can start to integrate it.
Right now, I would like to say that in my experience, you’re in a time of your life, in your 20s, where you are integrating this past experience. It’s like you got a bad meal and it’s been sitting in your stomach for a while. It ain’t your fault that you got a bad meal. Somebody fed you a bad meal. Not your fault. You have done your best to manage that bad meal. But as children, we don’t have the tools. As adults we don’t even have the tools until we learn them or until we get the right kind of help.
So, there’s a lot of different reasons a person could have bulimia. So I’m not going to say that every time this happens bulimia happens, or bulimia only happens in this case. But there are all different kinds of connections that can be made. On one level, as you know, first of all bulimia is a way to have control. I eat this food, “Hey, I don’t want it to do anything to my body, I don’t want to metabolize it, I don’t want to have it as body fat on me, I don’t want it to interfere with my ability to attract a mate, to attract boy, to attract a girl, whatever, I don’t want this weight to interfere with my fitness, I could just vomit it up. I’m in charge here.” Yes, so the mind has a new strategy for kind of being powerful. Bulimia is, you take something in, you discern for yourself that this is bad, I don’t want it, and then you vomit it out.
That’s a symbolic way of taking an event that you didn’t like, nor should you like, an assault, a wounding, it’s sitting in your system. It doesn’t metabolize well because you don’t know how to metabolize, so we vomit it out.
Every time you vomit, your body, your being is trying to vomit out something in the past. It’s trying to vomit out something it couldn’t say. It’s trying to vomit out a voice, a scream, a protest.
You get used to throwing up but there’s something very distasteful about vomiting. It’s a horrific act. Nobody wants to truly do it. Unless it purges your system in the moment and it’s cleansing. But even in the moment, it’s violent, it’s harsh, and it’s not the way we are designed to work. Food comes in. you break it down, you metabolize it, you calorie burn, you extract the nutrients, you excrete what you don’t need. That’s our natural list.
In life, things happen to us, “Ooh, yeah, I had a really bad day that sucks, somebody insulted me”, you talk to your boyfriend, you talk to your girlfriend, you talk to your friend, you kind of help yourself figure it out. And then you metabolize it. You go, you know something, I don’t want to be friends with that person anymore. You excrete them out. Done. You extract the nutrition. You know something, I’m never going to hang around with people like that again. So you’ve metabolized that experience.
But I’m saying there are certain experiences we cannot metabolize and disordered eating is a symbolic way for the psyche, the soul, the mind, the emotions to try to metabolize that experience.
Every time you eat, you’re taking in that old experience. And when you vomit it out, you’re going aargh. So, I think part of you realized, okay the bulimia doesn’t work. And it’s not serving you and you were able to transform that. But now the bingeing is continuing.
Marc: So, the bingeing helps us manage the emotion. The first emotion is discomfort. We turn to food when we’ve been abused or hurt, or we feel bad, or we feel depressed, or sad, because food makes us feel better, puts us in pleasure. It makes sense that you’re going for food. Your body right now has a memory of a past experience it hasn’t fully digested. So in a way, you being in a healthy relationship right now, is a fabulous way to help you digest the past experience called abuse, harm, attack, disrespect, violate.
From that experience, some part of you is going to think there’s something wrong with you. Some part of you is going to think me, man, what do I do? What’s going on? What’s my problem? How do I make this better? And there’s nothing wrong with you. Nothing wrong with you. It wasn’t your fault. And we think it is. Because as children, children think it’s their fault. If a little child sees mommy and daddy fighting, we think it’s my fault, oftentimes. We take on as children, we are brilliant observers but we’re very poor interpreters as children. Makes sense?
Marc: So you wisely observed that this is no good, it hurts. But your interpretation is, “Who do I have to be, to make this better, what do I have to do different, how do I submit myself so guys like me?” And you mention, “Wow, I did these things, I’d probably rather not do it again.” You made yourself smaller and disrespected yourself, not knowing, in order to try to get love.
So, I think the place where you are at is learning now to start to face, in a different way, that you were violated.
The binge eating to me is here to kind of remind you of that. Binge eating, there’s many different reasons for it. For you it’s a place holder I believe. Meaning it’s letting you know, “Hey Kayla, you’re not binge eating because you’re some poor willpower weakling; it has nothing to do with that.”
The binge eating is pointing to someplace else. It’s an unconscious act. And we’re trying to make ourselves more conscious. And the more you get present to yourself and your life, and your feelings, and your emotions, and the past, the less you’ll need to binge eat and you’re doing that, is what I want to say.
So to me the good news is, my guess is, if I didn’t give you a single suggestion right now, you will still get where you need to go. Because I feel like you’re right on target. And we’ll do a couple of little educational pieces here or maybe some course corrections. But I want to say that, in my belief, if I didn’t say another word, you’re going to get where you want to go because I think you’re really plugged in. And I think you’re locked in and I get your determination, and I get your strength. And it’s really a beautiful thing.
And in a weird way, I would bet that 20 years from now, or even less, you’re going to look back on the early childhood experiences you’ve had, where you were abused, and you would say, “Yes, that sucked, yes, that was a violation, and here’s how it helped me become a better person – here’s how I took that experience and really made myself grow in a whole different way.”
Because in order to metabolize that experience, which is awful, and it’s a violation, and it’s not good, you have to have a very strong metabolism. You have to have very strong emotional metabolism, you have to have a very strong, I believe, spiritual metabolism. You have to really take that experience and go, “Okay how do I make sense of this, how do I transform myself from this.” As opposed to, “I’m not going to let this ruin my life.” See the difference?
Marc: I’ve been yakking a lot here. Thoughts so far? What’s going on in your mind? Any questions, thoughts you’re thinking, places you’re going?
Kayla: It all makes a lot of sense. Yeah, and I think there is other, more recent, things with the men in my life that I haven’t metabolized either. Like I thought [of] just certain ones in my past that have been pretty awful to me. I thought I had forgiven them. But then thinking about them again and now actually realizing that I want to be with women, I think it’s made me like even pull back and say, “Well fine, I don’t have to deal with men whatsoever, I don’t want to have kids, I don’t want to be in relationship with them; I’m more attracted to women.” And it’s kind of like reignited a bit of my bitterness that kind of went away for a while. And I know that you can’t live a happy life being in conflict or avoiding half of the human population.
Marc: Yeah. So that’s the challenge. And I’m really glad you’re able to see that. That’s really a great distinction that you’re holding, which is you can choose women, you could choose men, you could choose both, you could choose all three. On some level, it doesn’t matter whatever you choose. You could choose chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or a hundred other flavors. That’s up to you.
Really what it’s about is, if I’m choosing chocolate because I’m living my life hating all vanilla every day, then okay, let’s work with that one. So, what I want to say to you is, it’s not an either or.
And in my opinion it’s not an either or, because when we make it an either or, then it kind of becomes a false setup.
Okay, well, I’m with women, so I don’t have to deal with men. Okay but now, I can’t really hate half the population of humans, so I have to deal with men somehow.
Yeah, in a way, life comes at us in opposites. And there’s night and day, and there’s up and down, and there’s men and women. And sometimes we have to work on our relationship with men, with women, with both. And I want to say, of you in my opinion, moving into the future, I want to see you in good relationship with men even if you’re not living with them, dating with them, sleeping with them, or making babies with them.
Because men are good, and men are bad. And women are good, and women are bad. People do stupid things. People do bad things. People do insane, bizarre things. People hurt us. And it’s easy to get bit by the dog and say, “Dogs are terrible!”
So it’s a particular challenge here because the depth of the harm goes pretty deep, [when] that was done. I just want to be clear about that. So, the fact that this is difficult for you, or it’s something that you don’t want to do, or [prefer to] avoid, makes perfect sense to me. It’s like, “Ouch, bad –like, leave me alone. It’s like, get away.”
And life has a way of kind of course correcting us. And I’m really wanting for you to make peace with the men of the world. And it’s not going to happen tomorrow. And it’s not going to happen next week. We don’t know when it’s going to happen. But when you’re able to make peace with the men of the world, what that means is, we’re able to embrace both the dark and the light. And to see it and to have some understanding of it.
It doesn’t mean you have to forgive them. [It] doesn’t mean that right now. In fact, I would put the forgiveness thing on hold for a while because you’re not going to be there for a while. It’s going to be less about you forgiving and more about you encountering your own feelings about what happened. And I think for you, it’s going to be a lot around dealing with anger as you move forward. It’s going to be dealing with the anger and the rage. And the anger and the rage. And the anger and the rage.
Because anger and rage is the appropriate response to what happened. There is no other appropriate response, in the moment, to that experience which you can’t do as a child. Most people who are being assaulted in that way, even if you’re an adult, it’s hard to step into anger and rage a lot of times.
Because you are being violated and you are in fear or you are in shut down. So, it isn’t often until later on that anger and rage can finally come out.
I want to say to you Kayla, just from my experience and the experience of other practitioners who I’ve studied, when we have experiences where the emotions are not able to be felt in that moment, what happens is that we tend to somaticize the event, somaticize meaning, we turn the event into the body.
So an event of abuse, or a traumatic experience that we might have suffered – it doesn’t have to be sexual abuse – it could be anything, a traumatic experience could end up as digestive issues for us. It can end up as joint pain. It can end up as migraine headache.
And you can go to the doctor all day long and they can [say], “Yeah okay, you’re having migraine headaches but we don’t know what causes them.” Here’s what’s going on in your brain but we don’t know what causes it. Well, we kind of do.
Sometimes you could have a migraine headache caused by drinking and eating too much junk food, and too much caffeine, and too much artificial sweeteners. Sometimes you could have migraines because of a traumatic event. So, all I’m saying is we somaticize the emotion, and again the binge eating, in a lot of ways, it’s you regulating your discomfort in the moment for sure.
So, yeah, you might think in the moment…You said to me, “Well it’s not just the past it’s also, thinking about men now or encountering men now”, and I’m going to say, “Yes but right now for you, I think men are all going to fall into one category – which is men.” My guess is women don’t fall into one category for you. There’s all different kinds of women. There’s the women you are in relationship with. There’s these cool women. There are these women, there’s that women. I’m friends with these. I’m not friends with those. But when we’ve been harmed by the opposite sex, we often name them as if they are one person. Oh, men! Oh, God, all women are just…so it makes perfect sense to me that you’re doing that because you need to protect yourself now.
So if you do find yourself protecting yourself, what I want to say is, “Good for you!” That’s what you need to do. It makes perfect sense. You don’t have to apologize for doing that. You’re going to heal this on your own time. So you don’t owe anyone an apology. This is your time. This is your journey. And you don’t have to forgive anybody today, tomorrow, next year, or in the next 10 years.
What I do want to see you do is, I want to see you be the best Kayla that you can be. That’s what I’m interested in. I want to see you be the happiest, most empowered Kayla that you can be. That’s what I’m most interested in. I want to see you be the most fulfilled Kayla that you can be. That’s really what I’m interested in.
And I believe that, in part, what’s going to help you be the greatest, most powerful, most self-expressed you, is when you’re able to metabolize events in your life that were pretty challenging. And this is the one. So this is going to be kind of like your opus for a while.
This is going to be your big work. This is kind of like you writing a book almost. This is sort of an epic thing. And I feel like you’re up to the task.
Kayla: I think so.
Marc: Yeah? What makes you think so?
Kayla: I’ve written books, so I know all about epic tasks and every other goal that I’ve set for myself that have been challenging, I’ve made happen. It’s just this one that’s plagued me for a long time. And I feel like if I just got the right insight and kept working on it, it would happen eventually too.
Marc: Yeah. So, are there men in your life right now? Any men friends or men relatives that you would be able to say to me, “Yeah Marc, this is somebody who I trust, I feel good around, like I’m really comfortable.” Friend? Family?
Kayla: My dad is fantastic. I have two brothers who are also great. I’ve kind of lost contact with the male friends I did value, after moving. But yeah, I definitely have my dad and my brothers.
Marc: Do they know about the experiences that happened to you in the past?
Marc: How do they talk about it with you? What was their response, their reaction?
Kayla: My brothers are younger than me. So I know they know about it but it’s never been a conversation. My dad, it happened so long ago and my mom actually had quite the breakdown after that happened. And I always felt that her breakdown was my fault, as well. And now she has a host of health problems that all sort of started after that. So he was just too busy raising 5 kids to really talk about it much. He had a lot on his shoulders.
Marc: Got it. Okay. And you said you’re close with your brothers now?
Kayla: They live about 4-5 hours away, but I don’t talk to them as much as I should. But we have good relationships.
Marc: So what do you think would help you heal your relationship with men?
Kayla: Making more space for them in my life, like the ones that I do trust and value. And just kind of nurturing those friendships as opposed to sidelining them.
Marc: Yeah. I think that’s a good idea. I really do. And even if it just means communicating more with your brothers. Especially if they are younger brothers. How old are they?
Marc: So, especially if they are younger, because you just get to observe young men being young men. Not that you don’t see that all the time. But they’re also your brothers. And if there is love there, it will help you begin to understand the mind of men. I want to say, ultimately, at the end of the day, one of the things that helps heals something like you’re facing, that helps transform something like you’re facing, meaning I’ve been hurt by men at a very young age, abused and violated (which then sets in the system a very intelligent response called back off, keep that away from me, no good, dangerous).
That’s no different if you’re living in a jungle and you discover a new creature that wants to eat you. You’re going to remember, stay away from that creature. So this makes perfect sense. That’s a survival mechanism. So what you’re doing is rooted in intelligent biology. You are going, whoa, stand back. So it’s an automatic response. You have no control over it. And it’s an intelligent automatic response. I need you to know that. It’s very intelligent.
So right now, when we heal something like this, we’re learning to look at our automatic intelligent defense response, fight or flight response that is here to protect you. But we’re also looking from a conscious place and going, “Oh, okay, got it.” But this creature over here, called a man who’s my brother, oh he’s safe. And oh, this one’s safe. And oh, my dad is safe. And oh, this guy over here, safe. Then the mind has to start to come in and beware and witness and start to overwrite that automatic system that’s here to defend you.
I think this is going to be a bit of a journey for you. I really do. And it’s going to be you slowly kind of titrating. Titrating means you take something in small amounts that’s doable. As opposed to, okay, let’s start dating men, and in fact let’s just go out and marry a guy now and live with them and work it out that way. No, too much. Way too much.
So you have the power to allow in men into your life at your pace. How you want to do it, who you want to do it with, and it’s totally fine for you to set boundaries when you need to set boundaries.
To be clear when you need to be clear. To say what you need to say. And to me, when you get to the place where you can understand why a man would do that, why a man would abuse, why a man would harm in that way, when you can begin to understand some of the factors that would drive a male to do that, then it starts to set you up for a deeper understanding.
I’m not saying justify the behavior. I’m not doing that at all. But humans do crazy things, men and women. We do crazy stuff. It seems that men can especially do crazy stuff in relationship to women. And it behooves us to understand well, why? What’s driving that? Where the heck does that come from? How can I understand them better, just for my own benefit? Not necessarily for their benefit, just for your own benefit. Like, “What’s going on in that mind that would happen?” That’s a whole other conversation by the way. But I’m saying that that’s a piece of the puzzle that eventually you’ll probably want to fill in. So, did you want to have kids?
Kayla: Never. No, absolutely not.
Kayla: It’s like my biggest phobia. I think it’s disgusting. There’s a little creature growing inside you, sucking out your nutrients through a tube. And I know a big part of that probably is I feel like having 5 children ruined my mother’s health and her body, so I don’t even want to risk that.
Marc: So, you wouldn’t want to do one?
Kayla: No, not at all. I like my job. I like my career. I have a lot of goals with my writing. I want to travel. I like not having to spend thousands of dollars on diapers, and school, and everything else you have to pay for with children. And I know that sounds selfish.
Marc: No, it makes perfect sense. It truly makes perfect sense. So, some thoughts about binge eating. What happens after you binge eat? What goes on in your mind once the binge eating is over and you realize, “Oh my God, I just binge ate?” What do you do?
Kayla: Before it was a lot of just self-loathing and cruelty. Now it’s more curious. Trying to figure out why is it still happening. What’s still going on and trying to be more introspective about it, as oppose to just mean to myself about it. The following day, or 1 or 2 days, I’ll get back on track. Sometimes it turns into more like a snowballing effect of just making more unhealthy choices. It’s less of the snowball now and more of the just going back to what I usually eat, which is good.
Marc: Yeah, that’s great. So, I think that’s a great direction that you’re moving in. And what I want to say is, don’t wonder too hard about why this is still here. And I’m saying don’t wonder too hard, because I’m saying to you, “It’s still here because there’s important work for you to do and the binge eating is not an indication that you’re doing something wrong.” Very different than saying, binge eating, wow, something wrong. What am I doing wrong, that this is still here. And maybe that’s not your exact thinking but I’m just trying to point out you’re not doing anything wrong right now. You’re not.
The binge eating is here as an indication that there is work to do.
It’s no different than, “Gosh, I don’t know if I broke my arm.” And the arm is healing. And then the cast comes off. And then my arm is weak. Because I haven’t used it for months. And you go, “Well, what’s wrong with me? There’s nothing wrong with me, I broke my freaking arm. And I haven’t used it for months. And now the muscle is weak.”
So now I have to strengthen it. And then I start to do a little bit of weightlifting and then my joint hurts a little bit. And then you go, “Oh, what’s wrong with you[me]?” Well, nothing’s wrong. I haven’t put of lot of load on that joint for a while. That’s it.
So there is actually nothing wrong happening with the binge eating. The binge eating is there to tell you, “Kayla, you still have an amazing swirl of emotion going on inside your body. You still have these powerful forces that you’re trying to integrate. And your work isn’t done yet.” And your work isn’t done yet because it can’t possibly be done yet, because you’re in the middle of your workday, meaning when you’re in the middle of your workday, your work’s not done yet. And it’s like, okay, it will be done when you’re finished. You’re just not finished.
So, to me that’s important. It’s easy for me to say that only because I’m older than you. I’ve been doing this longer than you have. So when you’re on the planet as long as me, and you’re a really smart lady, you’re going to know the same things. You’re going to have these same distinctions. You’re going to go, “Oh right, there’s nothing wrong with me. I was just like finishing the work that I was doing, that was set out.”
And that doesn’t make it any easier than understanding, but it might make it a little easier to know that you’re in your 20s and up until you hit 30, the 20s right now is the time when the waters are going to be a little rough. Twenties ain’t an easy time. We often think like, “Oh my God, the 20s, what a great age!” And it is a great age. But I’m going to tell you it’s a hard period. The 20s are very hard because who we are, our self-identity, it’s not on firm ground.
And if we’re awake at the wheel, we’re often dealing with trying to manage experiences that we’re trying to integrate from our past, from our upbringing, from our parents, the stuff we’re talking about right now, we’re doing all we can to integrate that so we can start to find our groove. You’re finding your groove. And you’re not there. Because it’s not the right time for you to be in your groove. So whenever the binge eating comes up, it’s like okay great, you’re still Kayla, you’ve still got some emotion in you.
And yeah, you might get triggered because you had a stressful day and you binge eat a bunch.
But, you know what that’s like? It’s like, if I’m having a really rough time at work, and I’m hating my job, and I really hate it, and I had the greatest relationship with my partner, and I come home from work one day, and she just says, “Oh, honey, look at your shoes,” and I snap at her and I get all angry. And she didn’t do anything. But I’m carrying all this tension from work. But these silly little things set us off. Because there is this other powder keg underneath.
So, yeah, you might have intense stress in your life right now, that set something off, that sets off a binge. But I still want to say that when your binge gets set of, it’s tapping into the deeper well. Which again I’m going to say is anger and anger is arguably one of the two hardest emotions. If you call anger and rage, like the same thing, even though rage is more industrial strength. Anger and rage, I’m going to call them one thing, and disappointment, those are probably the hardest emotions for humans to process and metabolize. Extremely hard. You will do that. You’re doing that. But in order to do that, we really have to feel the anger sometimes.
So what I would love for you to keep your eye on, is that when something gets you angered, when something sets you off, I don’t want you to suppress it. I want you to have an outlet where you can express that anger. It might be with your partner. Meaning if the anger was at somebody else, some other thing, I want you to have a place where you can go where somebody could just listen to you being pissed off about something. You follow me?
Marc: So, I want you to be able to say, “Honey, I got so angry at that guy who cut me off. Typical guys, they drive like assholes. I can’t believe it.” No matter how stupid it is. I would love for you to practice letting out your anger in a safe environment. To someone who is safe, who’s not going to judge you for it, who’s going to say, keep going, what else? Does that make sense?
Kayla: It does, yes.
Marc: Does that sound like something you can do?
Kayla: It does. And it’s funny you mention the road rage example because I’m the worst for that. And I don’t know what it is about driving, but it makes me so angry and stressed. And usually I do assume when people are cutting me off and being awful on the road, I assume it’s a guy, even if I can’t see.
Marc: I love it. It probably is. But not all the time. So here’s an interesting thing. All road rage is, is that when you’re in your car, it’s a wonderful opportunity. Often times in your car, you’re by yourself. There’s nobody else around, you can be angry. It’s a safer place to be angry because you’re in this small contained metal box. And there’s all these other people around and it’s technically easier to be angry. So it’s actually one of the safer places to express anger.
And road rage, 90% of the time, has nothing to do with what’s actually happening on the road. It’s our anger that finally we’re given an outlet. And okay, somebody cut me off and all of a sudden the problems in my marriage, the problems at work, the problems with money, I’m beaming at that guy who just cut me off. Because it’s all that anger in there.
So I would ask to give yourself permission to be angry in your car. And if you’re feeling road rage, I would rather you not suppress it, and I would rather you not meditate it away. And for you, I would rather you sit in the car and scream your head off. Just as a way for you to feel your rage.
Marc: Because when you feel your rage, you’re feeling your rage, you’re countering it, you’re doing it in a safe way. You’re giving some of the anger that’s found a home in your system, you’re giving it an outlet. You’re giving it an expression, in a safe way. And then you feel that anger and then you go, “Woof!” You feel a little tired afterwards. You might feel a little silly. Fine. Whatever you feel afterwards is all fair game.
And then you take your deep breaths. Then you start to relax yourself. And then you start to calm your system down. So, I would say use the road rage as a practice in expressing rage in a healthy way. Don’t like chase after somebody and blow their head off. But just yell and scream. But it’s important to give it a voice as opposed to get red in the face and not say anything. That’s what’s most important.
It’s important for you to give it a voice by sounding it out.
I’ll kind of finish up with this last point. Many times, bulimia is symbolic of our need to express. When you’re vomiting, there’s a rush of aargh! Bulimia is oftentimes unexpressed feelings, words, thoughts, emotions, anger, frustration, cry, it’s all of it. But it’s oftentimes lot of anger as well. And righteous anger, meaning anger that’s there for a good reason. So I would love to see you practice that. I would love to see you enroll your partner in helping you just talk about your anger and feel your anger, when it’s coming up for you.
Marc: Yeah? Any other things that we’ve covered today that kind of resonates for you or that you want to just highlight, like, “Wow, yeah, that landed for me?”
Kayla: There was a lot I think. The part about actually re-engaging with men a lot more. I never even thought about my younger brothers and how that would be a big help. I’ve reached out to one of my old male friends recently. But just realizing that I do have safe male people in my life that I can count on and just the fact that he binge eating doesn’t mean that I’m not still making progress, it does. It just means that there’s still more work to do. And that it’s okay that there’s more work to do.
Marc: Yeah. Because there’s always more work to do. And someday you won’t be bingeing. And the work will be more subtle. We’re always working. We’re always working. And right now you’re working on the binge eating but you’re not doing anything wrong. Really, I’m thrilled for you about this journey you’re on and the good things you’re doing for yourself and the good insights you’re having about your life. And I’m just super confident that you’re going to integrate this and have a good life. I really mean that.
Kayla: Thank you. I hope so.
Marc: Yeah. I’d bet 20 million bucks, easily. So, great job Kayla. Thank you so, so much.
Kayla: Thank you.
Marc: Yeah. I really appreciate you sharing your story and opening up. And I know this is going to be a great conversation for so many people out there, so many young women, men as well. Because you’re unique but this story is not unique, really. And I wish it was. So, thanks for sharing and thanks for helping lead the charge. And showing us what the journey of healing can look like.
Kayla: Thank you. You’re welcome.
Marc: Alright. Good for you. And thanks, everybody, for tuning in. Once again, I’m Marc David, on behalf of the Psychology of Eating Podcast. Lots more to come, my friends. Take care.
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