posted by Amy on Aug 20
Attachment disordered people often have eating disorders. Some of them are sugar addicts. Some are overweight. Some work out obsessively. Some become fixated on the “purity” of what they ingest. Some hoard food. Many keep trying reducing diets and regaining all the weight they lost after the diets inevitably fail. Some either overeat or forget to eat when they are under additional stress. Many, including me, cycle through some combination of those and other food addictions.
I am attachment disordered. I have been healing from it, slowly, for about thirty years. But I periodically seek counseling to help me overcome plateaus or roadblocks. In my most recent counseling relationship, I figured out that I simply can’t tolerate feeling hungry, and I connected that to my insecure attachment. Once I had that insight, I began to play, gently, with not doing anything right away when I notice hunger pangs. It’s not an emergency. There is no tiger. I also started experimenting with whether my hunger can be satisfied with less food: one slice of toast and one egg instead of two of each; half as much cereal; smaller portions (in smaller dishes.) And, when I remember to do it, I try to be more mindful when I eat–saying grace, deliberately slowing down my chewing and noticing how the food looks, tastes, and smells.
There’s no “discipline” in this. I didn’t tell myself I “have” to eat smaller portions, or wait awhile to eat after I notice I’m hungry, or eat mindfully. I have no “forbidden” foods. The key was noticing that for me, hunger triggers a gut-level and largely unconscious sense of impending disaster. Once I became aware of that, I could deliberately choose to tell myself new stories about what’s going on. It was never a “weight loss plan.” It was an effort to shore up a weak spot in my development. It’s the only change I made, yet over a period of four or five months I began to shed some excess body fat.
People heal from attachment disorder through “corrective emotional experiences.” I believe that Twelve Step recovery programs heal attachment disorder (which I believe is the cause of addictive behaviors) by helping people become attached to a Higher Power and to their sponsors. Over time, this builds Basic Trust and helps one come to have compassion and empathy, for oneself and for others. My food issues come from insecurity and distrust. I don’t know specifically what caused that, but I don’t need to know.
Part of the inspiration for this post was a question raised by a clergy colleague. He said a women’s group in his church wants to do a book study on a “Christian weight loss” book that he thought was problematic. I did a quick search on Google and again on a religious book website. I found many health, fitness, and weight control books, but they all seemed to be in the “What Would Jesus Eat” or “Pray Away All Your Problems” categories, which I find theologically and psychologically suspect.
But I do think small groups and spirituality can help people become healthier. Humans are inescapably social. Our self-concept and our behavior are formed in relation to others. Further, the human mind is not separate from the body. What we eat, how we eat, and when or why we eat is part of complex feedback loops influenced by our hormones, our body chemistry, and our personal (social) history. Whatever the current state of your mind and body, it is a system in homeostasis. The way you are right now “functions” in some sense. For example, the vast majority of morbidly obese people have a history of childhood incest. What better way to protect one’s body from unwanted attention and touch than to encase it in a protective layer of fat? Simply eliminating the excess weight, such as through bariatric surgery, doesn’t do anything to heal that, so it will fail.
It could be argued that the way to motivate people to heal is for them to have an easily quantifiable objective: Get married within a year; lose four pounds a month for a year; run a marathon. I have gotten a lot done with setting goals and planning ways to meet them. But since that approach didn’t get at the reasons I was judging myself and punishing myself, there was no happiness or satisfaction in attaining a goal. Obsessive, compulsive, and/or addictive behaviors took over in all the areas of my life that I wanted to improve.
Christianity teaches that the highest law is to love God and neighbor. If I were evaluating a small group curriculum, I think that would be my main criterion. If I could find a “Christian” weight loss book that helped people love God, themselves, and other people more or better, I’d probably approve it. But I might focus more on how the group itself functions. Do the members get to know one another intimately? Do the things they do together in their group help them feel more connected with God and with one another? Does the group help its members experience a more abundant life?