Twenty years ago I wrote my first book, French Toast for Breakfast: Declaring Peace with Emotional Eating. Back in 1982, I had coined the term "emotional eating," and in French Toast I explore the conflicting, fluctuating and frustrating feelings that trigger people to binge, purge, starve, chronically diet, and battle with their weight and bodies.
Over these past two decades, some things haven't changed. Food is still the most commonly abused anxiety drug. It is, after all, the cheapest, most available, socially sanctioned mood altering drug on the market!
But the past twenty years has also seen some beneficial developments in the field of eating disorders. In 2013, binge eating disorder was included in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for the Classification of Psychiatric Disorders) as a valid and bona fide diagnosis. This designation by the DSM-5 finally gave legitimacy to a psychological disorder that has plagued so many people. People now realize that failing to heal their eating disorder is not simply a matter of insufficient willpower, and this has reduced the shame and stigma about getting help.
New medications for the depression and anxiety that often afflicts emotional eaters have become more effective, and this demonstrates how eating disorders are as much biological as emotional disorders. We explore the latest medication updates in Chapter 10.
Over the course of time, our society has also come to recognize that eating disorders are not just the domain of skinny white girls. In fact, more men, African Americans and Latinos are now seeking treatment. I myself have treated people with eating disorders from various cultures and countries - from Peru to Poland, from England to Egypt, from Canada to Costa Rica.
However our culture continues its disparaging commentary on women's and men's appearance. And it starts early: I overheard a grandmother in a restaurant instructing her granddaughter: "Don't order that pie or you won't fit into your bikini!" The granddaughter was about 7 years old.
Strange procedures such as saline implants for men's 6 pack abs or beard transplants for men are in the news. Women can now get makeup permanently tattooed on their faces or foot facelifts to remedy "toe obesity." These procedures underscore the perpetual dissatisfaction that so many people experience with their bodies.
The good news is that some advertisers are including plus-size women in their marketing campaigns, and there is a dawning realization that maybe we don't have to fix our looks because there was nothing ever wrong with them in the first place! Pop singer Megan Trainor belts it out that she ain't no size two but that's not going to stop her from living life to the fullest and shakin' her booty! More people are focusing on health - not dieting - and are practicing conscious eating in which they listen and respond to their stomach's hunger, not an external diet. This is a bold and courageous decision in a world where restriction and anxiety about calories have ruled the day.
From my perspective, the most heartening evolution over the past 20 years is that psychotherapists are less constricted by a posture of reserved detachment in which the therapist has been the all-knowing expert and the patient is the passive recipient of the therapist's wisdom. Psychotherapists have become more interactive and more "real" and not afraid to have a deeply, human connection with their patients. In my own psychotherapy practice, I love the collaborative partnership that my clients and I create. Tears and laughter often abound in sessions which enlivens the person with an eating disorder to become more vibrant and genuine with all their thoughts and feelings. They learn to sink their teeth into life, not into their obsession with food.
So, now is the time to dig in to a second, updated helping of French Toast for Breakfast with the latest findings on health, wholeness, and healing!
Declaring Peace is an Inside Job
"Now that my ladder is gone, I must lie down where all ladders start, In the foul rag and bones shop of the heart."
-- W.B. Yeats
A colleague of mine, a psychologist, was describing to me how he uses hypnotherapy to help patients resolve their bingeing problems. "This is what I do," he began. "I tell my patients to imagine their favorite binge food. Very often it is chocolate. Then I lead them into a hypnotic trance, and while they are in the trance I advise them as follows: ‘If you ever put a piece of chocolate in your mouth again, little eggs in that chocolate will crack open, and tiny worms will come out. These worms will crawl all over your mouth and into your stomach, ripping it apart. You will never be interested in eating chocolate again.’ "
As he sat back, pleased at his inventiveness, I realized we were worlds apart in our thinking about how to help people heal from eating problems. In that moment, this book was born.
This is not a book about worms in chocolate. It is about learning to embrace food with pleasure. This is not a book about deprivation but about satisfaction. It is about journeying together to the "foul rag and bones shop of the heart" in order to uncover those forces that have kept you chained to bingeing, purging, chronic dieting, or starving. It is about discovering your own unique path to finally declaring peace with emotional eating.
Many years of my own life were taken up with the agony and the ecstasy of my relationship with food. Half of the time I spent sneaking food and bingeing. The other half of the time I was filled with repentance and would diligently watch my calories, weighing everything I ate on a postage scale so small it fit in my pocketbook.
Only when I began my own inner journey to understand and unravel my relationship with food did my recovery begin. In this journey I discovered that I was recruiting food to help me solve the emotional problems of living. I also came to recognize during the course of this journey that no chocolate chip cookie is smart enough to know how to truly comfort me. Today I eat with pleasure. I regard food as my friend and nourisher. But most of all, I have arrived at an inner peace with myself, my food and my body.
It was not always like this for me. As a child I loved food with an intense passion and always felt that I could never get enough good things to eat. I developed a needy relationship with food and began to sneak it. When I was six years old, I wore a size 6X. The X meant I was too big for children’s sizes that ended at just plain 6. It meant I was Xtra large, Xtra greedy, Xtra different from the other girls, and, therefore, should be Xtra ashamed of myself. Now when I look at old pictures of myself, I see I really was not fat at all, although that was how I felt. I was plump, with dimples on my elbows, dark pigtails down my back, and I was cute.
Today, over twenty years since the beginning of my own journey, I am the director of The New York Center for Eating Disorders and have worked with hundreds of people to help them declare peace with their emotional eating. What I have learned is that each person’s journey is as unique as a fingerprint. The complexity of eating disorders is such that no single cure works for all people. What works for one may not work for another.
For this reason, many people fail to resolve their eating problems because they keep trying to mold themselves to an approach that is not congruent with their inner self, their own true inner core. In French Toast for Breakfast we will work together to tailor an individualized approach that can work for you.
French Toast for Breakfast is a book about emotional eating -- being hungry from the heart, not from the stomach.
French Toast for Breakfast is also a book about declaring peace with emotional eating and healing your eating problem.
- Healing an eating problem means learning that food is not your enemy, that food was put on this earth to give you pleasure and to satisfy your hunger.
- True healing has to do with your inner state of mind. It means learning other nourishing ways of comforting and soothing yourself.
- Healing an eating problem means feeling at home in your body, treating it as a friendly ally rather than an object to be yelled at or criticized. This healing has little to do with thinness or fatness and can be achieved by people of all shapes and sizes.
- Healing an eating problem is about reclaiming the vitality of your inner self that has been hidden by your consuming relationship with food.
- Most of all, healing is about hope. It is about cultivating a deeply rich relationship with your inner self, your hunger for food and your hunger for life.
A word about the title: I have been struck by the number of my patients who have expressed to me a yearning for French toast for breakfast! They seldom satisfied this yearning because it seemed too much of a forbidden treat. My hope is that through this book, you will learn to make peace with all foods and begin to nurture yourself in other satisfying ways as well.
French Toast for Breakfast will help you sink your teeth into life not into your obsession with food!