Mind vs. Body wars; binging, purging and other disorderly nastiness

exposing body image issues's picture

by Colette Coughlin

Finally we are in an era when people are more openly admitting to having deep inner struggles with themselves. Eating disorders have slowly started being acknowledged by at least a few of those who suffer from them, albeit usually only in the past tense, and when there is a victorious outcome to report. No one wants to talk about it when they’re in the midst of it, probably because they don’t want to admit to having so little “self-control”.

Yet, in my experience, that’s exactly what it’s about… control. Or lack of it, the desire to maintain some, or the helplessness of not having any, or enough. Taking firm control of what we eat or don’t eat, when, where, with whom, and how much, is often a quite normal reaction to feelings of powerlessness in other areas of our lives. We may be feeling dependent or restrained by parents, a spouse or a colleague, by our financial situation, our life’s work or our self-esteem. Any of these issues, when unprocessed, can wreak enough havoc to cause the mind to declare war on its best friend, the body, because it’s not getting what it wants, when it wants, in the way it wants it. And it (the unconscious mind) simply doesn’t yet have the tools to deal with things differently.

Most of us carry wounds from our childhoods and beyond, and these are part of what make us who we are; in a sense, they are the negative mold for our greatest potential successes. So often what we have to bring to the world is directly connected to exactly those issues that make us suffer the most. Food and weight issues are just one manifestation of this suffering. A book that I found extremely helpful in my own quest to understand body image issues and obsessive food jumbles is called “Fat Girl” by Judith Moore. She makes it very clear from the start that it is simply a sharing; a narrative of her experience, and not a success story. In her introduction, she warns that “Rockettes will not arrive on the final page and kick up their high heels and show petticoats. This is a story about an unhappy fat girl who became a fat woman who was happy and unhappy.” It doesn’t need a happy ending. Just reading someone else’s truth is so refreshing it can help to set us free.


I know that I binge when my mind gains momentum over my heart and my body, sometimes out of discouragement, and other times when I get good news that I don’t quite know how to handle. I know I have a good heart, and a strong, even attractive, body, but when my mind is overactive it moves like a bulldozer that’s trying to take over, and flatten, the entire playing field. In periods that I binged constantly and consistently, I became a very irritated, nasty person, who felt perfectly justified in removing herself from most social situations in order to “protect” others from my emotional and physical yucky-ness. The more I binged, the worst I felt and looked, and the more I avoided others. It is a miracle that my friends and family saw me through this, that they let me hide and then took me back when I was ready to affront the world again. They were never my enemies, I was, but I know now that the war was led by my own thoughts, which caused my body to be kidnapped, held prisoner, and victimized. Now I am constantly trying to turn to love instead of escaping into mind-numbing food. To have lower expectations of myself and a lot more compassion for my own weaknesses. Most days, it works.


When it doesn’t, I try to accept that too. A little nastiness can push me to stand up for causes that I believe in, defend the weak, protect the underdog. When I went on a binge over overwhelming good news last night, I ate altogether too many chips and chocolate to celebrate, and then I felt like shit. But it also gave me the balls to respond in writing to something that really pissed me off. And instead of purging, I am learning to let these infrequent binges run their natural course. Our bodies are incredible organisms that heal themselves, even when the wounds or abuse are self-inflicted. Purging too often felt like adding insult to injury. A good cry, expressing my fears to a friend, and a walk in the woods and I will carry on with my weekend.


Whoops… this sounds like one of those “real-life stories that end on a triumphant note” that the author of “Fat Girl”, Judith Moore, mistrusted. But we’re never just unhappy or just content; we are shifting, multi-faceted creatures. She must have recognized that too. Her introduction ends with these few telling words: “But I haven’t always been fat. I had days when I was almost thin.”



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