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Relationship Dependency: Retraining Your Brain

Relationship Dependency: Retraining Your Brain

When an emotional imperative becomes a physical compulsion, the desire to find relief can be overwhelming.  In relationship dependency, the brain in the present has been trained to respond to certain conditions by the past.  Because of ingrained dependency traits and past experiences, you have written your own list of what creates pleasure for you and what creates distress.  

At first, your mind was in charge, but over the years your body has become highly influential.  You find yourself in the backseat of your own life and responses. You have trained your body how to respond, and now it’s reacting in the way it’s been trained, even if you want to feel something different.  

Retrain your Brain. Change is Not Impossible

The silver lining in this scenario is that you can retrain your body to react in a different way.  Because we are conscious, thinking creatures and not merely reactive, instinctive creatures, we have the ability to change the way we think and feel.  

Change is not impossible.  People with phobias of spiders or airplanes or bridges have been taught how to experience and enjoy normal life without terror.  People with phobias can learn to grow out of them.

Relationship dependency is really of phobia of being alone.  We have seen many people over our decades of counseling learn to push through their fears.  We have been privileged to watch as they embraced the essential value of their own self-worth.  On this solid, personal foundation, they have restored and entered into relationships with something precious to give — not acts of subservience or demands of control, but the gift of a healthy self who understands, experiences, and gives love.

Understanding How To Change

If you have an idea that you cannot change because your brain has been altered, this is your dependency talking.  Refuse to listen. Understanding the factors – emotional and physical – that contribute to certain behaviors, either with a single relationship or within a relational revolving door, is important.  Because you may have trained your brain to react in a predetermined way, you can retrain your brain to respond differently. If retraining a brain was impossible, there would be no recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers, or shoppers.  

When working with someone who is fearful of heights, that person needs help understanding that climbing the stairs, or riding in an elevator, will not result in injury or death.  They must understand the flawed nature of their own internal dialogue. The outcomes they tell themselves are inevitable are not true. Once they recognize how much control they have over their feelings of pleasure and distress, their brain can be retrained.  

In the same way, you can understand that your internal dialogue, which predicts disaster if you are not in a relationship or if you are alone, is not true.  You can take control by climbing back into the driver’s seat of your life and redirecting your brain to respond differently, to create a new template for what is pleasurable and what is frightening, inside and outside of a relationship.  

 

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE. For over 30 years, The Center has treated thousands with eating disorders and other mental health issues. Recognized as a Top 10 Center for the Treatment of Depression, The Center utilizes the whole person approach to care. Dr. Jantz is a leading voice and innovator in mental health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 39 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.

Understanding Disordered Eating

Understanding Disordered Eating

You understand anorexia and bulimia. But what about “disordered eating”? Yes, it’s an unhealthy relationship with food, but do you recognize the signs in a friend or loved one? Disordered eating may never be diagnosed as a full fledged eating disorder.

But to the person who lives with it, they live with ongoing internal struggle and pain. When food ceases to be nutrition and fuel for the body, it warps into something else. Whether it is an eating disorder, or disordered eating, the individual suffers.

Do you recognize these common characteristics of someone who lives with disordered eating?

Engaging in Battle

This person engages in an unceasing battle over what she eats. She struggles every day, at every meal, with every mouthful. There can be constant guilt about what has actually been eaten. Every meal is entered into reluctantly, with no real expectation of victory. Because she so rarely wins, she worries about food, weight, and mealtimes all the time. While she thinks the battle is with food, the real conflict lies within herself, and not on the plate.

The Defense of Dieting

If a diet has existed, this person has tried it. In fact, this person seems to always be on a diet. The only problem is that this person never really loses any weight. If fact, they likely have gained a few pounds each year. How is that possible? Their diet actually consists of following only the enjoyable parts of the diet.POH while also incorporating a consistent reward system.

Adhere to the diet all week? Enjoy a reward of a favorite cookie – okay cookies – on Friday after work. Cheated a couple of times during the week? Encourage yourself to do better next week with a motivational bowl of ice cream on Sunday night. For this person, it’s about what they think, not what they do. And this person thinks they are on a diet, with the expectation that some day he or she will actually lose weight.

Balancing The Scales

Eating isn’t about food or nutrition for this person. For them, it’s a numbers game. Most meals are about counting calories, a means to an end. It is a constant balancing act. One day she will starve herself, so the next day she can eat what she wants. On Monday, she gets an invitation to go to a chick flick with her girlfriends on Friday. And she loves buttered popcorn and chocolate covered raisins.

Starting Monday night, it is lettuce with a squeeze of lime and a few carrot sticks. Same for Tuesday, and Wednesday. She doesn’t eat it because she believes it healthier. It is a means to save up the calories that she will need Friday night at the cinema. And this behavior goes on and on. Eating is a way of keeping score, of tallying up “good” and “bad” behavior. As long as she can tally up more points on the good side, she can continue with the bad behavior. And that’s really the whole point.

The Casual Restrictor

Twelve hours of no food is simply the price to pay for a frothy caramel double mocha. This person convinces themselves that in order to enjoy special foods or treats, an appropriate number of fasting is required. A chocolate sundae may require a full day of restricting. A handful of potato chips, maybe just lunch.

The Scale Balancer eats what they don’t want in order to eat what they do. The Casual Restrictor doesn’t even bother. She just goes without as pittance for what has been eater, or restricts in preparation for an anticipated treat.

Safety First

This person has no real awareness how small their list of acceptable foods is. It’s because it is hidden amidst all the other food they get for their family. For this person, food isn’t about nutrition, calories or weight. It is about fear.

Eating the unknown produces severe anxiety. Anything in the past that has proven unsafe–in actuality or perception–is unthinkable.She only eats what she believes is safe. This provides relief.

The Obsessive Organic

Not only does this person obsess about eating organic, they need to convert everyone around them. Only knowing something is organic can prevent unwanted pesticides. Grilling the waiter about the contents of each course is required to ensure purity of food. Watching online videos to learn more about organic food is a required ritual.

Only by focusing so much on food does it begin to bring relief. Food is not enjoyed or thought of as nutrition. It is a potential source of evil that must be strictly evaluated and screened to ensure its safety…and to provide relief.  

The Ritual Eater

Food can be a battle for many. To cope, some people create very rigid rules regarding their meals. Where can she eat, when and even how can food be consumed. A truce with food is never easy and must be tightly managed. This can manifest in taking an inordinate amount of time to prepare a simple meal. This person may require different foods be served on different plates and not touch each other. Portions may need to be cut is a precise way, or prepared to exact requirements. If not, the meal may need to be started over, or perhaps halted if a process or procedure was done incorrectly.

By following the rules, this person feels safe about their food. In reality, they need to control this aspect of their life so they can feel safe in general.

Feast or Famine

During the two weeks the in-laws visit, this eater is the epitome of health. Leafy greens, lean meats and no sugary drinks are the rule. When the in-laws leave, she reverts to eating her comfort food. She rallies for big occasions–family gatherings, opening day at the pool, the fundraising gala. But most other times, her eating is haphazard and undisciplined. Food is a battle that becomes harder and harder to win. If she is successful, her mood is bright. If she is not (as she more often is), she and those around her struggle. For her, it is feast or famine. And if she loses a battle, her relationship with food can become open warfare.

Sound Familiar?

Do any of these disordered eating scenarios sound familiar? These are not anorexics, bulimics, or binge eaters. But their struggle can last a lifetime, and eat away at their self-worth and honesty with food. Each of these scenarios are treatable with professional disordered eating care. If you or a loved one struggle with scenarios similar to these, speak with a licensed eating disorder specialist. They can help you return to balance, honesty with your food, and enjoyment with nutrition.

 

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE. For over 30 years, The Center has treated thousands with eating disorders and other mental health issues. Recognized as a Top 10 Center for the Treatment of Depression, The Center utilizes the whole person approach to care. Dr. Jantz is a leading voice and innovator in mental health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 39 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.

 

 

 

Forgiveness Isn’t An Act; It’s a Process

Forgiveness Isn’t An Act; It’s a Process

Once you have acknowledged the truth of your pain, you must decide to forgive.  What if you understand all the pluses but still don’t feel like forgiving? The first step is to state your truth aloud, even if it’s only to yourself.  Put into words how you are feeling and what has been done to you. Saying the words aloud is a way to let them go.

You might also try these written exercises to help in your journey of forgiveness.

  • Draw what forgiveness looks like with crayons or markers, or paste in representative pictures from magazines.  This may be hard. You have lived with anger for a long time. It is more familiar to you. You may need to remember how you felt when someone forgave you and what that forgiveness meant to you.  Express how that feels in your drawing.
  • After drawing a picture of forgiveness, write a letter to someone who may have hurt you.  This is not an actual letter to send, but a way for you to verbalize in a safe way the forgiveness you need to extend.  Instead of a “You hurt me because” letter, which emphasizes the action of the other person, write an “I forgive you because” letter, which will emphasize the control you are taking back for yourself.  You are no longer the object of the action but the initiator of it.

Forgiveness isn’t an act; it’s a process.  Someone bumps you in the elevator and says, “Oh, I’m sorry.”  “Oh, that’s all right,” you say. You’ve forgiven that person.  But on a subconscious level, you looked at that person and judged the reason why they bumped you and the manner in which they apologizes before you assured them, “Oh, that’s all right.”  Even though the time from their bump to your acceptance of their apology was very short, your forgiveness was still a process that took into account a variety of factors, not the least of which was how you were feeling that day.  If such a small event requires evaluation, think what the process must look like when applied to the incidents of abuse and pain in your past.

Start with prayer.  Forgiveness is a tall order, and the power and strength needed to forgive are formidable.  But remember that nothing is impossible with God. He is able to give you the ability to extend forgiveness.  He is, in fact, an expert at forgiveness: he extends it to us all the time.

While I firmly believe that forgiveness is vital to a successful journey toward healing, don’t pile additional burdens onto yourself if you are unable to give instant forgiveness to yourself or to those who are responsible for your pain.  This isn’t a bump on the elevator. The process of your forgiveness requires time, perspective, and patience.

No matter how hard you’ve tried to suppress your anger, it’s very near the surface.  Any chink in your armor, and it comes exploding outward. Forgiveness is deeper down, harder to get to.  You’ll have to dig for it, like any real treasure.

And while you are working toward this gem of forgiveness, place your wounded heart in God’s hands for safekeeping.  Allow him to provide you comfort and safety. At the start of each day, deliberately turn to God and not to your behavior with food.  

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety or disordered eating, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help.  Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and begin the healing process.

 

Look for Ways God Can Speak to You

Look for Ways God Can Speak to You

Turning over your life to God as the navigator is not an easy task.  It requires you to give up control over your life, to listen to God, and pay attention to His answer.  It requires you to commit to being obedient and trust even when you may not like it or understand it.

If you are looking for ways God can speak to you, here is a list of ideas:

  • Pray
  • Meditate
  • Read
  • Journal
  • Study
  • Seek counsel
  • Listen

If you’re already doing some of these things, congratulations!  Rededicate yourself to the task.  If one or more of them have become stale or rote, switch it up:

  • Choose a different place or time to pray or meditate.
  • Try using a journal to record your prayers or meditations.
  • Read a different translation of the Bible.  Try one that you’ve never considered before.
  • Be more structured with your study if you haven’t been studying the Bible much, or, if you’ve been very diligent, change your study topics for the next six months; be more spontaneous.  Start opening up the Bible at random, and study from there.
  • Find a wise, godly person who you can be open and transparent with, seeking accountability and a sounding board for spiritual matters.
  • Spend some time, each day, just calming your mind, opening it up, and listening to what God might want to say that day.  Whenever possible, go outside and walk in order to get out of your environment and into His.
  • Pay attention to what God is saying to you.  Write it down as soon as you hear it.  Use your journal or keep a small spiral notebook or pocketbook with you or available so you can make sure not to lose what you hear.  Make sure to put it by your bedside, as God often has used the time of either going to sleep or upon waking to capture my undivided attention.

Look over this list and make note of the things you are currently doing.  Then, consider one or two you have not been doing, but are convicted that you need to start.  Think about any additional ways you understand God and can speak to you that are not listed.  The list above is by no means the definitive one, so if you wish, include any that are a part of your faith tradition.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE, and author of 38 books. The Center creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others. If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.

Self-control Requires Practice

Self-control Requires Practice

So many people hit their young-adult years believing control is all about saying yes to those things they were previously denied.  I think it takes us a bit longer to figure out that often the best way to exhibit our control is by choosing to say no to those same things.  I guess you could call this the difference between control and self-control.  So often we think control is about finally making sure we get what we want.  Self-control, however, is more about making sure we get what we need.

Self-control is not easy to come by, requiring the long view over instant gratification and initially appearing harsh, unpleasant, and virtually impossible to employ.  It requires practice, patience, and perseverance.  Self-control presupposes an intimate knowledge of self, knowing what is and is not good and appropriate for you.  It’s the anomaly of the person who is able to put down work and go home at the end of the day, saying no to the urge to stay another hour (when you consistently find yourself – once again – being the last one in the office to lock up).

Self-control in Scripture is interesting and sometimes amusing.  Here are some examples from the Old Testament that talk about what happens when you have self-control and what happens when you don’t:

Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city. (Prov: 16:32)

The warrior says yes to the battle while the patient man says wait.  Being able to control your temper can be more of a triumph than engaging in the battle.

Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.  (Prov. 25:28)

Self-control is a valuable defense against all kinds of problems.  If you lack it, you leave yourself wide open and vulnerable.

A food gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.  (Prov. 29:11)

Giving full vent to anger or any excessity rarely produces the fruit you expect or projects you in a positive light.  Anger may get you what you want, but it robs you of what you need, especially in relationships.

The New Testament is certainly not silent where self-control is involved.  It is listed as one of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.  Its value is recognized and affirmed in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 and 8.  Leaders in the church are to be self-controlled (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; 2:5).  Self-control is valued across the age spectrum (Titus 2:2, 6).  Each person is instructed to exercise self-control (1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 5:8).

it is obvious that self-control is a virtue and a value.  It can also, sadly, be in short supply in life.  You know it is good.  You want to be able to exercise control over self.  None of us want to admit we aren’t able to control ourselves.  So how do you develop a better grasp of saying no?  The answer, of course, lies within each person.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE, and author of 38 books. The Center creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others. If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.