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Beyond Chaotic Writing

July 10, 2012

I ordered a copy of ‘Beyond Chaotic Eating‘ in about 3 minutes flat upon hearing it recommended, this following my personal health trainer (hi Jenni!) and my CBT person (hi Megan!) both looking at my food diary and pointing out the crazy.  Helena Wilkinson is a writer and speaker who runs courses for people with a range of eating disorders, not that I think I have an eating disorder per se, but I’ve been close to it and my eating is still somewhat screwy so whyever not read the book and see what it has to say?

Helena suffered from anorexia herself and wrote about this and her recovery in another book ‘Puppet on a String’.  In the back cover photo of ‘Beyond Chaotic Eating’ she looks like a happy, healthy bunny so power to her for having recovered.  She’s also a trained counsellor.  All good so far.  The book’s subtitle/tagline thing is ‘A way out of anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating’ but she does go on inside to say that slotting into a specific category is not what’s important and that people should hold on to what is useful (in the book) for them as individuals.

Not sure what I expected, not having read a book specifically about eating disorders before but she talks a lot about the abuse of food being a way of handling overwhelming feelings or feelings one is not comfortable with.  Thus anorexics are attempting to have mastery over the self, to suppress their desires and to attain perfection; bulimics can face their feelings but can’t always hold onto them and are swinging back and forth in a conflicted and destructive cycle that can also include self-harm; compulsive eaters are turning to food for comfort that they have missed or are missing from elsewhere but also feel guilty and can be secretive about their eating.  I don’t recognise myself as fitting any of those 3 types clearly but I think a lot of people who struggle sometimes with food (including me) would recognise occasional elements from each type cropping up.

Helena goes a lot into talking about how one’s family background and relationships shape one’s coping mechanisms and future behaviours, saying that even very well-meaning parents can contribute to a child’s eating disorder due to their own unresolved issues and past struggles.  She talks about 2 polar family types: one type where independence is praised and privacy guarded but closeness is difficult and another where the family unit shares everything, including their feelings and it’s harder to express opinions that differ from those the family espouses.  I will allow a moment here for my entire family (most of whom can read this) to point unanimously at which type we are before adding that I think it takes a lot more than differences  in communication-style and upbringing to build a screwy relationship with food.  And Helena agrees with me, she goes on to talk about various abuses people have suffered that have led to problems with their thought and emotion-processing and subsequent screwy eating.  True dat!  Throughout my childhood I ate happily and healthily, if I wasn’t eating then it was (quite correctly) “Trish must be ill”.  My relationship with food started to get screwy after one or more crappy adult relationships, the feelings from which I am beginning to be in a position to unpack and address now.

People who are abused as children have a way harder time of it.  Guilt, shame and fear from an early age do not a well-adjusted person make.  Helena makes the distinction that female anorexics are more likely to turn their anger inwards and male anorexics are more likely to turn their anger outwards, but I think anyone could go in either direction.

Now, generally I look at stuff to do with looking at your past life and using that info to work out why you’re acting a certain way now with a certain skepticism.  I’m much more of the ‘let’s see where we are now and move on from there’ school of thought, because it’s quicker and because a psychologist’s interpretation of what has happened in my life and what that has meant might differ quite a lot from my own interpretation, especially where I think something I’m doing or feeling is fine and they think otherwise on the basis that Sigmund Freud thinks it’s not normal.  However, I can see how not feeling able to communicate, feeling shame or guilt, or turning to other comforts like food when regular comforts are missing from life could build an eating disorder.  Ms Wilkinson, your book is quite persuasive, I wish I’d read more to be able to have a basis for comparison and check up on whether what you say here is true.

So, to sort your eating out, what do you have to do?  There are sections on deciding to change, options for help, body and nutrition (I found this section really helpful – it even tells you how to handle PMT), facing tough feelings (which looks to be about learning how to express feelings and being ok doing so) and a few more chapters at the end on how to get the rest of your life in gear *start U2 music* WITH OR WITHOUT GOD *end U2 music*.  Yep, this is the bit I’ve missed out from this review, Helena is Christian and includes quotes from the Bible at the end of each chapter.  I say “with or without God” because I think the book doesn’t look specifically aimed at Christians, neither does it read that way and Helena’s careful not to assume belief.  In this she is correct – this reader, about as spiritual as a packet of jaffa cakes and for whom “relationship with God” has about as much meaning as “relationship with Ernie from Sesame Street”, found the book interesting and possibly a bit helpful, if a bit less-than-optimally-accessible due to the writing style (see title of this post for details).  I would expect Christians would find it even more helpful because of the extra God stuff.

I leave you with an excerpt from the penultimate chapter, ‘Playing New Messages’, which encourages “the sufferer” to look at things they regularly say to themselves and question those things in case those thoughts are causing problems (which is VERY CBT, what was I on about earlier?):

  • Am I thinking in all-or-nothing terms?
  • Am I condemning myself as a total person on the basis of a single event?
  • Am I concentrating on my weaknesses and forgetting my strengths?
  • Am I blaming myself for something that is not my fault?
  • Am I taking something personally which has little or nothing to do with me?
  • Am I expecting myself to be perfect?
  • Am I using a double standard – how would I view someone else in my situation?
  • Am I paying attention only to the black (sic) side of things?
  • Am I overestimating the chances of disaster?
  • Am I exaggerating the importance of events?
  • Am I fretting about the way things ought to be instead of accepting and dealing with them as they come?
  • Am I assuming I can do nothing to change my situation?
  • Am I predicting the future instead of experimenting with it?

That last one is my favourite.  I want to be someone who experiments with the future, who tries different things out every day and works towards… not perfection, but being a happy and healthy bunny.

This has been my first post for a while and I look forward to comments (either here or in the blogosphere); however I would prefer there not to be comments to this blog post about why I, or anyone else, either should or should not believe in God.   If Helena can behave herself then so can we 🙂

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