Let’s Talk About Your Relationship Status…With Food
Food: It’s one of those things that gives us ‘all the feels.’ We deal with it every single day, we love it, we hate it, we want more of it, we want less of it, the ups and downs are never-ending. Yet there’s one topic that continues to be grossly overlooked: the relationship between food and our mental well-being.
Emmy Brunner, psychotherapist and CEO of The Recover Clinic sat down with Mindful Feminism to discuss this precise subject. With over fifteen years of experience, Emmy has successfully built a place that is now the United Kingdom’s leading clinic for people with eating disorders. Read on for this important conversation.
What does the ideal relationship with food look like? Or is there no such thing?
Food isn’t something that we only use to fuel our bodies or to ensure that we get enough nutritional fodder, it’s also there for pleasure. The ideal relationship with food is one where you are able to love and nurture your mind and body intuitively without restriction or destructive behaviors.
How does someone realize that’s it’s time to put the label of “eating disorder" on their behaviors? In other words, what signs say they should seek help?
Sometimes the way that eating disorders are defined and categorized can be confusing for sufferers, and people can avoid seeking help if they don’t think that they ‘qualify’ for support. What I would say is this, if you find that your relationship with your body and or food is making you unhappy some or all of the time, then it’s time to reach out for help.
You’ve spoken a lot about the relationship between trauma, fear, and eating disorders, can you expand on that? How are those things related?
When we have experienced trauma, we draw on our own coping strategies to help us process these experiences. If we don’t have the appropriate tools to support this, then we can turn to more destructive strategies to help us deal with our trauma. This is especially true for those of us who have not only experienced trauma but who have simultaneously blamed ourselves for the difficult situations that we’ve been through. We then get caught in a cycle of self-blame, fear, and destructive behaviors. All of the eating disorder sufferers that I’ve worked with have also struggled to process and cope with the traumas that they’ve been through. They are, without exception, full of self-hatred and have a fear of intimacy with others. The eating disorder symptoms often distract and mask these core wounds which, if left untreated, continue to fester.
In your experience, do women disproportionally deal with these issues more than men? If that’s the case, why so?
It is challenging to track the exact figures for how men and women experience eating disorders and trauma because fewer men seek help, however, we live in a culture where women are constantly undermined according to their looks, underpaid at work and discriminated against in almost every area of their lives. Men are also under pressure to look a certain way, but I don’t feel that they are discriminated against in the same ways. There are far more women seeking help for sexual trauma, and the #metoo movement has served to highlight these issues further.
What’s one thing that you’ve seen consistently give patients hope or strength during recovery?
Human kindness. During my training as a psychotherapist, I was never told that showing a client basic human kindness is often the thing that makes the difference. So many of the clients that I work with have been passed from one professional to another, and so many are just treated as ‘another client.’ Mine and my colleagues’ investment in our clients beyond their diagnosis, we are women treating women. We seek to care and nurture our clients using not only the skills that we have learned in clinical training but also by drawing on our own life experiences. I think it’s this human connection that makes all the difference.
What’s been your most -or one of your most- gratifying moments with this clinic?
I was once walking to the clinic, and as I passed outside, I could hear a group of clients laughing and singing together from inside. I realized that I’d created a safe place where our clients could feel confident that not only we could help them, but it was somewhere they were free to be themselves. That was a good day.
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