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 we 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:
To see Kayla’s first session with Marc, click here!
Marc: Welcome, everybody. I’m Marc David, founder of The Institute for the Psychology of Eating. And we are in the Psychology of Eating podcast. I’m having a follow-up session many months later with Kayla. How are you doing, Kayla?
Kayla: I’m good. How are you?
Marc: Really good. I’m so glad you’re here. I’m so glad we’re doing this.
Kayla: Me too.
So I would love for you, if you like, to just share with people what are the core concerns that we worked on for you and how have you been doing since then, since our first meeting?
Kayla: For me, it was an ongoing struggle with binge eating. I was able to shake a lot of other eating disorder behaviors, but binge eating is something I still struggled with on a semi-regular basis. We kind of talked about how being sexually abused as a child contributed a lot to the binge eating and that it was an undigested life experience that I would have to continually digest in smaller pieces.
And another big thing we wanted to work on was me healing my relationship with men and not dropping into such judgment and discomfort around them.
Marc: So, how’s that been for you kind of just having those ideas, those keys, those strategies, that information? Just how are things been living for you since we last connected?
Kayla: The relationship with men has become a lot better. I, actually, after the podcast, ended up getting a lot more male clients to train. And before that, I would kind of dread having to train more men and I’d kind of wish that they’d just give me women and not give me so many men to train.
But I took this as a sign that the universe wants me to have these opportunities and I had these male clients that are actually really good people and really helped me kind of get past a lot of the discomfort I had and the generalizations I had about men as well, because they are all different there’s not just one category.
Marc: It’s so true. I can tell you that from personal experience hanging around a lot of men. We’re a general tribe of men, but we’re all very different cookies.
So where’s your binge eating been at since we last spoke?
Kayla: It’s been on and off. In the recent few weeks, it’s been a bit more of a struggle than usual, which is very frustrating to me because everything in my life is going well and I don’t feel like there is a reason for it to be here other than the things we talked about. And it’s still just me wanting to not have this problem and it’s affecting my work and my energy levels and the things I want to do. I think that’s been the biggest frustration with it.
Marc: So, let me just repeat that to make sure I get it right. So the biggest frustration is that you just think this thing should be gone already and it’s not. And here you are, things are relatively going well and the binge eating has been a little bit intense the last few weeks and that kind of doesn’t make sense if things are going well, is that a correct paraphrase of what you just said?
Marc: Okay. So I almost kind of like to jump in and see if we can find a couple of places to work with here because I actually think you’re in a good place. I know you don’t, but I think you’re in a good place and I would love to tell you why.
Marc: Okay? Here’s what I want to say. And this is just me talking from the place of just having done this for, really, three and a half decades now just working with people. Here’s the first thing. The first thing is it is pretty common to work hard on something, I don’t care what it is, whatever the issue, problem, challenge it is, and it doesn’t go away to the degree that we want and we go, “Why is this still here?”
So that’s the question that you asked. And I promise you, everybody else goes, “Why is this still here?” So what I want to say and it might be a little obvious, but I want to say it anyway, which is, in a weird way, we give a lot of power to that question, “Why is this still here?” And what I want to say is, it’s not a question that moves us forward.
Yeah. Ask it once. I think what’s more important is a statement. And the statement is, “Oh, this is still here. What do I have to keep doing? What’s the next step?” Because the ‘why is this still here’ kind of implies, “Oh my God, I’m still screwed up. What’s wrong with me? What’s my issue? I’m working so hard. Something’s not working, clearly.” ‘Why is it still here’ which is kind of what’s wrong with me? What do I have to do different?
But there’s a flavor of ‘there’s something wrong with me,’ I believe, when we ask that question. So it’s a more empowering move to say, “This is still here. This is my companion right now.” So instead of fighting it and instead of fighting yourself, I want to double down and get more curious at times like this because what I’ve noticed with people, as they’re going through the process of transformation, we have these weird inflection points, these weird places that we come to that are unexpected.
As an example you just shared with me, “Hey, things have been going great the last few weeks, but I’m binging more and it’s intensified.” That is not an uncommon statement for people to say, “I have been doing so well in my life, but all the sudden whatever challenge, issue, or concern I have has been getting worse.”
I believe what’s happening, when that happens, is a couple of things. One is sometimes when we start to feel good, we hit our toleration for feeling good because we’re so used to not feeling that. And it’s almost like we get uncomfortable. It’s almost like you’re having such a great time that you can’t take it. So people often have a ceiling on how much we can have or feel good. I mean it sounds silly but we do that.
So humans will self-sabotage, not all the time. But it’s a thing that we humans do, we self-sabotage if we reach a new feel-good point that almost feels too good.
So what you are learning to do, I think, is to progressively feel good and hang in that place. Because things were going well and it was hard for you to hang there, through no fault of your own. You haven’t been able to sustain yourself and not binging and you’re just feeling great about yourself.
So this is, I think, challenging your feel-good quotient. And the question I would ask myself is, “Can I breathe into life when I’m feeling good and just feel good?” and really focus on, “Oh my goodness, I’m feeling good today,” oh my goodness I’m feeling good today as opposed to kind of miss the experience in your body because when we’re feeling good, it’s a bodily experience. And it’s easy to go back up into your head, which is probably where the binge eating comes from.
You’ll think about something you don’t even realize you’re thinking about, you’ll have a thought, and it’ll trigger you. So all I’m saying is, I would love for you to re-context your experience. And it’s not like you haven’t made enough progress. It’s not like you are slipping back. You’re moving forward and you’re at the part of the journey where things are great and you’re learning how to increase your having level.
So how does that land for you when I say that, all of that?
Kayla: That makes a lot of sense and I was actually recommended a book called The Big Leap, which talks about that a lot, how people have an upper limit problem. Actually, one of the people in the eating psychology course recommended it and it made a lot of sense.
I think a big part of my inability to accept a lot of feeling good is that, like you said, A, I spent a lot of my life not feeling good, there’s always been things wrong. And B, I still blame myself for my mother’s health. And I know that, that’s another thing that comes up a lot in eating psychology, is that we’re afraid to surpass our mothers.
And my mom has a host of health problems. She was in chronic pain. She was very unhappy and it’s very hard for me to see her like that because a lot of her problems did start to come up after the sexual abuse I experienced when I was younger.
Marc: So, we’re on to something here, it sounds like, because what I’m saying and what you’re experiencing and the information that’s coming to you from your environment, life does that. Oftentimes, we’re getting the same messages from different places. I know, for me, when that happens in my life, I pay attention. It means, okay, the universe is giving me messages. I’m probably on the right track here.
So this is a time in life for you to really notice you’re having level, notice your feel good level, and notice the places where you have to bring yourself down in order to think that you can now be okay as a person because, okay, “Well, now I’m judging myself, blaming myself for my mother’s health. That should make up for how good I feel.” The mind does this kind of silly nonsense. It’s really what it is. Just because you surpassed your mother doesn’t mean you don’t love her. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about her. It simply means you are doing what you’re supposed to be doing and she’s doing what she’s supposed to be doing.
That’s going to be a hard one for you, I think, to really take the reins of your life and soar as high as you could. Again, it doesn’t mean you don’t love her. You can look at it as visible evidence that you love her so much that you want to be the best offspring possible for your mother. You know what I’m saying?
Marc: So tell me about the men piece. So here you are. There’s more men clients coming into your life.
How else is your relationship with men speaking to you right now?
Kayla: Outside of men at work, there hasn’t been a lot going on. I don’t have much of a social life at this point in time. I work split shifts four out of five days and every second Saturday, and I have a lot of other things on the go as well. So outside of work, I haven’t really spent a lot of time with men.
My best male friend is in New Zealand right now. So that’s kind of far away. My brothers, I try to talk to them more regularly, but they’re super busy as well. So it’s just been really trying to empathize and connect with the men that I train for the most part.
Marc: I think that’s great. I think that’s really good. And I believe, for you, you’re on your path. You’re on your journey. And the binge eating will be there as long as it needs to be to help teach you what you need to know about your life. Because binge eating, on the one hand, it’s just a behavior that you don’t want that has nothing to do with eating.
It’s not about food. It’s not about tying your hands behind your back so you don’t eat. It’s not about exerting willpower, “Don’t eat the food, Kayla. Don’t do it.” It’s not what it’s about. It’s about there’s parts of you that are wanting to grow and evolve and change and heal and the binge eating is pointing to that. So it’s pointing to your relationship with men. It’s pointing to your relationship with your mother, and these are still in play.
But even pointing to your relationship with men, that’s pointing to who you are as a woman. Because in a lot of ways, if you’re heterosexual, then who you are as a woman is defined in part in relation to the men in your life. If you’re lesbian or you’re in a same-sex relationship, then who you are is defined by the women in your life.
So what I’m saying is, whatever the case, half of the known universe is male. We can’t write them off. Half of the known universe is women. We can’t write them off. We have to embrace them and give a big hug and really see, who are these creatures? How do I relate with them? And how do I make peace with them within myself? I mean that’s a big undertaking for you based on your history and based on your experiences, so it’s not a small task.
But for whatever reason in life, this is your task that you have to do to get where you need to go. And where you need to go means, “I’m in charge of my body. I eat what I want to eat. I don’t eat what I don’t want to eat. I take care of myself with food. I take care of my body. And I’m not doing behaviors that are countered to what I say I want to do.” The only reason those behaviors happen is because there’s work to do in these other places, that’s all.
Kayla: Makes sense.
Marc: Easier said than done, I know.
Marc: What are you hopeful about?
Kayla: I am hopeful that I will eventually move through this. Another thing that really helps is writing. And I’ve realized that when I’m not binge eating, it’s usually because I have a writing project going on. And I actually just got my first book traditionally published.
So that was super exciting and just made me realize that I want to have more time for writing. I want that to be less of a hobby and more of a career, which obviously takes time and effort and producing. And I think that’s really just spending more time on my creative endeavors and doing this thing that I really love that I’ve loved since I was a kid is going to help as well.
Marc: Tell us what the book is.
Kayla: It is a dystopian novel. It’s something I started thinking about when I was an angry first year university student. It’s basically everything I don’t like about society. It’s set in 2042. It just goes into topics like substance abuse and the objectification of women. So it’s dark but it’s interesting, or so I’ve heard.
Marc: Well, congratulations.
Kayla: Thank you.
Marc: I hope the people that need to read it, read it.
Kayla: Me, too.
Marc: So, what do you think will help you move forward in setting a higher bar on your ability to kind of feel good about your life so you don’t have to go to binging when things are good. What do you think will help you move it forward?
Kayla: I think making more space to enjoy my life. Gratitude journals have always really helped me. Settings specific times aside to do things that are just fun and not for purpose also really help. Just having a good balance between work and productivity and then doing things that are just fun.
Marc: Sure. That’s great. It’s very simple. It’s very straightforward. And honestly, I think you’re spot on. I think you’re right on about that. Something also just occurred to me and that is that, in a weird way, a lot of times we’ll sabotage ourselves strangely because it makes us feel safer, because the known is safety. So my known place of suffering, challenge, misery, unhappiness, I don’t like the world, I can’t be safe, I can’t trust, that’s a known place for you. And you know that territory.
You might not like it, but you know the neighborhood. The neighborhood called the best possible Kayla in the world fulfilling all her dreams, doing all this cool stuff, not binge eating, you don’t know that neighborhood. So when you start to peek into it or when you get into that neighborhood, it gets a little uncomfortable.
So in a lot of ways, it’s you learning how to feel safe.
It’s you learning how to just feel safe when you’re with men. It’s you learning how to feel safe when you’re alone in the house with food. It’s just you learning to be safe in the world and acknowledging that, “Yeah, there’s dangers in the world. Creatures can eat you or men can harm you.” And there’s another level where it’s safe.
And I think when you can focus on that you’re okay, you’re not a little kid anymore who’s not safe. You’re not the girl from the past who got abused, you’re a whole different person. She was not safe. You have way more in place in terms of safety mechanisms, and protections. Does that ring true for you at all?
Kayla: It does, yes.
Marc: Anything else you want to share Miss Kayla about you, about this work, about your experience? Anything you want to share to the listeners just to kind of wrap things up a bit.
Kayla: It’s been fantastic and it’s definitely still a journey. And I think the biggest thing for me is that continual reminder that I’m not doing anything wrong by binge eating and that it’s here for a reason. And that it’s not the enemy even though sometimes it feels like an inconvenience and just continuing to reframe how I see the eating challenge.
Marc: So well put, I really want to say that. And it’s so, so, so important. Because the mind doesn’t want to go there, the mind just wants to see it as the enemy. Because who wants to binge eat? It’s not fun. It doesn’t have a good outcome. Nobody wants to do it, really, at the end of the day, especially after it’s done.
So as you continuously re-context it and re-remember that it is teaching you, it is here for a reason. And it’s the soil that you’re digging in to do your work and planting the garden called ‘You and your best self’ that’s what it is. And the more you could see it like that, the faster success will come. And success is going to come at its own pace.
Marc: A little bit of trust. A little bit of faith.
Marc: Kayla, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this.
Kayla: Thank you.
Marc: And I applaud you. And I applaud your efforts. And I applaud your willingness to just share so openly with so many people about your journey. And I wish you all the best. And please stay in touch. Really feel free and shoot us an e-mail and let me know how you’re doing.
Kayla: Definitely, for sure.
Marc: Okay. Thanks so much, Kayla.
Kayla: You’re welcome.
Marc: And thanks everybody for tuning in. Once again, I’m Marc David. On behalf of The Psychology of Eating podcast, more to come my friends. You take care.
I hope this was helpful. Thanks for listening to The Psychology of Eating podcast. To learn more about the breakthrough body of work we teach here at The Institute for the Psychology of Eating, please sign up for our free video series at IPE.tips. That’s I for institute, P for psychology, E for eating, dot tips, T-I-P-S. You’ll learn about the cutting-edge principles of dynamic eating psychology and mind-body nutrition that have helped millions of people forever transform their relationship with food, body, and health.
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