Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder (Anorexia or Bulimia, for Fans of Intuitive Eating)

Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder (Anorexia or Bulimia, for Fans of Intuitive Eating)

by Joanna Poppink MFT

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10 million people in the U.S., including 1 in 5 women, suffer from eating disorders. While this issue has long been associated with teenage girls, doctors are now reporting that a growing number of women are also developing these disorders later in life or have hidden these problems for years. For women in their thirties, forties, fifties, and beyond, issues of loss from divorce, death, and empty nest syndrome as well as marriage and career pressures can trigger an eating disorder.

Psychotherapist Joanna Poppink offers a comprehensive and effective recovery program for women with eating disorders, based on her thirty-year professional practice treating adults with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. She shares her personal struggles with bulimia, along with stories from a wide-range of clients she has counseled. Poppink primarily addresses women who have been suffering with eating disorders for years while they manage their careers, marriages, and families.

Healing Your Hungry Heart offers a step-by-step program that identifies:
Early warning signsChallenges to early recoveryTriggers to emotional eatingImpact on sex life and family relationships

The program includes journaling, meditations, exercises, quizzes, and resources to support and speed the recovery process. For women struggling with emotional eating, this book offers hope, understanding, and real solutions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609253462
Publisher: Mango Media
Publication date: 08/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 737,914
File size: 674 KB

About the Author

Joanna Poppink, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in treating adults with eating disorders. She studied psychology at UCLA and the Saybrook Institute and received her masters degree from Antioch University. She lives in Los Angeles. Visit her at: EatingDisorderRecovery.com.

Joanna Poppink, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in treating adults with eating disorders. She studied psychology at UCLA and the Saybrook Institute and received her masters degree from Antioch University. She lives in Los Angeles. Visit her at: EatingDisorderRecovery.com.

Read an Excerpt

Healing Your Hungry Heart

Recovering from Your Eating Disorder

By Joanna Poppink

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2011 Joanna Poppink
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-346-2


Unreal to Real: Snapshots of My Story

"Self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening."

—George Gurdjieff

I started making myself throw up when I was thirteen years old and didn't stop for thirty years. I hope that the snapshots of my story and other women's stories in this book, coupled with my own healing and recovery work with women for over twenty-five years, can help you find your personal path to recovery. Within the pages of these shared experiences, please look for what touches your heart, your memories, and your fears. If one story or one exercise delivers sudden understanding or amazement (because you didn't know anyone else behaved like that), you have found your entry into your recovery path. I hope this book supports and sustains you on that path to freedom. It can be done. I was bulimic for over twenty-nine years. I've been in recovery for twenty-six years. I've seen and been part of the recovery of many women along the way.

My bulimia story began one summer in New York when I was thirteen years old. I was vacationing at a Catskill Mountains resort with my parents. Guests could order any amount of any food from the dining room menu. I remember men smiling at me and an older woman saying, "Isn't it wonderful how you can eat all those desserts and remain so slim?"

I ordered and ate a sample of all the desserts at every meal. I knew I couldn't get fat because my mother wanted me to win the hotel beauty contest. I didn't want to lose the attention I was getting for my miraculous ability to eat so much, and I knew I had to please my mother by making a good show in the contest.

One night I discovered a secret trick. I could eat heaps of chocolate rugula and tiny creamy pecan pies, and then make myself throw up. Presto! I kept the attention and got rid of the calories. I was elated. I had found the solution to my problem.

The day of the beauty contest arrived, and I felt like a robot going through the motions. When I was on the platform in front of the hotel guests, wearing my white bathing suit, fishnet stockings, and black high heels, I was terrified and felt fat and ugly. Yet against adult women, I won.

I didn't give up my miracle trick after the contest and vacation were over. I continued eating and vomiting all through high school. Except it wasn't a miracle trick anymore; it was something I had to do. It became a shameful secret. I became surreptitious to avoid discovery as I binged and purged.

At first I relied on food at home. I prowled through the refrigerator and ate from leftover containers. I disguised the remains of my secret foraging—leftover stews and pastas were best for this. The uneven and chunky contents didn't show marks of my spoon, the way a slice out of a cake might. Large containers of pudding were also good for the same reason. Individual serving cups of puddings didn't work unless there were many cups. I hoped no one would notice if one or two were missing.

My secret life that was to last almost thirty years had begun. I ate in secret and raided the cupboards and the refrigerator unseen. I took care to leave no trace. I had no money of my own to buy food, so I also had to find subtle ways to binge at the dinner table. I ate slowly and methodically with my family and excused myself in the middle of dinner. I went to the bathroom, drank as much water as I could, jumped up and down to mix it all up inside me, kept the tap running to block my retching sounds, and threw up dinner. Then I rejoined my family at the table and continued to eat.

I struck gold when I started babysitting. The mothers of the children I watched were gracious. After a mother told me what to expect from her child and gave me emergency contact information she would almost always follow with, "If you get hungry, help yourself to a snack." Then she would show me cupboards packed with snack foods and a refrigerator stocked with treats. I believed whole packages of potato chips, crackers, cookies, and ice cream were set out just for the babysitter.

After I put the children to sleep, I'd go to the cupboards and eat everything. Then I'd look for opened packages of food, especially crackers or cereal or cookies. Candy was good too, as long as I could throw it up easily. A limit for me was never opening an unopened package. I remember once seeing a mother who was obviously startled when she noticed how much food was gone. But no one ever said anything. And I was a popular babysitter. I loved the children, played well with them, and was caring and attentive. They always asked for me. It was when the children were asleep that I'd go into my binge/purge dramas.

My attempts to stop my binge purge episodes through willpower failed within minutes. It never occurred to me to confide in someone or ask for help.

I binged on fruit in an attempt to control my massive eating. I'd take six or more oranges downstairs to the recreation room, turn on the TV, and settle in. First I would peel an orange with a sharp knife. Then, to postpone eating for as long as possible, I would cut the peels into many tiny pieces. I'd cut the white from the orange skin. I tried to get satisfaction from the cutting, but I always moved on to the binge. Looking back, it's curious to me that I never cut myself, as many children and adults suffering from anorexia and bulimia do. That wasn't part of my pattern.

I started college at Northwestern University, where I majored in journalism. At my sorority house, Zeta Tau Alpha, only one bathroom offered privacy. I planned my eating and vomiting so I could use that bathroom when the adjoining room was empty. I binged and threw up before dates in my attempt to appear as a normal eater in public.

I remember long and awkward times in public bathrooms. I risked discovery. If someone came in, they might see my feet turned the wrong way in the stall. In a small public bathroom I risked someone in the adjoining stall hearing me. I couldn't come out until they left. I wonder how much time I spent in bathroom stalls, waiting for people to leave?

My bingeing and purging remained a secret throughout my college years. My attempts to stop were secret, too. I had a sorority sister whose father was a doctor. He gave her a prescription for diet pills, and she often got more than enough to share with her friends. I used amphetamines for two years.

The diet pills did not stop my bingeing and purging. They stunted my hunger pangs, but I never binged or purged because I was hungry. The amphetamines helped me be more methodical in my planning. But the planning itself got out of hand.

The first pill I ever took knocked me out for an hour. When I woke, I felt my blood vibrating in my veins and a new kind of energy that helped me feel unreal and intent on whatever project I had in mind. I gathered my books, my notes, my pads and pens, and began mapping out a complex way to do my work. I became so intent on creating a system that by the time I was ready to actually study, I was too exhausted and confused to get far. I used the pills to stay up all night for several nights in a row studying for finals. No one seemed to think this was abnormal since many of the girls pulled "all-nighters." I wonder how many of us shared similar secrets.

When I realized I was dependent on amphetamines, I stopped taking them and went through withdrawal without knowing the existence of the word, all in secret.

I married when I was twenty. I was living with my parents, and in my mind I was planning an event that was like a play with me in the lead role. I binged and purged three or four times a day and went through the ceremony in a trance. Nothing seemed real—not the groom, not my parents, not me.

My new husband was in the Air Force. We had little money, yet I had to binge and purge. I bought two inexpensive packaged cake mixes at a time, usually lemon cake because I liked it the least and hoped that would slow me down. One night, I baked a cake and served it for dessert. We both had a serving. My husband had another later in the evening.

The next day, after I had devoured the rest of the first cake in secret, I baked the second cake, frosted it, and cut out and ate the equivalent of the three pieces we had eaten the night before so the cake looked the same to my husband. It was the cheapest way to maintain my bulimia. I tried doing this with homemade bread too, but it was too difficult to throw up.

By my early thirties, I was a wife with a teenage daughter, and my life was still unreal. One day, it dawned on me that when my daughter turned eighteen, I'd be forty. These numbers were culturally defined for me. Eighteen meant independence as a girl moved into womanhood. Forty (for women at the time) meant being cast aside as irrelevant. The vision of my life alone with my husband was bleak. I wanted my daughter to become independent, but the thought of my life going on as it was without her to give it meaning was intolerable. I knew I had to prepare myself for the day when she would be on her own, but I didn't know how.

I read classic literature. I volunteered in the community. I binged and purged daily, sometimes up to twelve times a day. My binge/purge episodes kept me busy but provided no relief. I often fell asleep on the couch in front of the TV to stop feeling. When I awoke my despair greeted me. Sometimes I would binge and purge for days, unable to leave the house.

I spent hours on the beach with my German shepherds, Rain and Charlie, because I didn't binge on the beach. I walked and often wrote, but I could not sustain any activity for long.

When I realized I could live this way forever, I knew I had to aim for something more. My marriage was lonely, my child was growing up, and I felt I was heading for forty and a drop into oblivion.

I was thirty-two. I decided I would do something to make the day of my fortieth birthday not be just good, but great. My goal was to wake up that morning happy about my life and looking forward to the day. I had no idea how to make that happen. It never occurred to me that I could stop bingeing and throwing up. As I think back, I believe that day was the first time I had a sense of my own future. I could never imagine living more than six months ahead. I believed I would choke to death during a purge. That day it occurred to me that I could take responsibility for my life.

One day, while checking my reflection in the bathroom mirror for any tell-tale spatter from my purge, I thought "What if I used all the energy I put into my eating disorder for something else? What might I accomplish in life?" It occurred to me, for the first time, that maybe I had a choice about bingeing and purging.

From where I was I reached out to the thing that had been consistently reliable in my life— reading. It had always been my solace, my haven, my escape, and my source of guidance. I enrolled in UCLA, majoring in psychology. I binged and threw up every afternoon. I remember driving home from campus, gripping the steering wheel and saying out loud, "I won't do it." But I always stopped at the market and picked up my chips, ice cream, and Oreo cookies. At home, I ate it all and threw it up.

During my studies at UCLA, I was forced to create boundaries because I needed time and space to learn. I tacked a yellow 8 ½ x 11-inch sheet of paper above my desk listing all the courses I needed to take in order to graduate with a degree in psychology. It represented two and a half years of work. I looked at that list every day and knew that somehow I had to check off every class if I were going to get to my new life.

Fear or courage, determination or feelings on the edge of despair, drove me on. I had many gaps in my education. I used grammar school, junior high, and high school math textbooks to get me through calculus. A required computer programming course completely baffled me, but a friend helped me through with nightly phone calls and many homework emergency responses.

My life felt grim even as I met the requirements for my schooling, did internships, and studied for licensing exams, while simultaneously experiencing financial loss, raising a teenage daughter, and carrying on a glamorous romance where I lived and breathed the fantasy life of a princess. By the time I was thirty-six and in graduate school, I knew my marriage was over. I binged and purged, drank, and had affairs all throughout the divorce proceedings. This is bulimia in action. I was bingeing, not only on food, but on frantic activity and romance as well.

Between college and graduate school, my husband, daughter, and I went on a family vacation to Cornwall, England. On the trip that was meant to be a bonding experience, I realized I could not pretend there was any life left in my marriage. My husband left England for Los Angeles as we had originally planned. I stayed with my daughter for another week. That's when I met John.

I was still actively bulimic when John made his elegant advances. He fulfilled a bulimic dream I often see in many of my patients as they struggle to open themselves to the first stage of eating disorder recovery. Bulimic fantasies are not compatible with a life in recovery.

John and I had a long distance relationship. I didn't realize he was an alcoholic, even though I noticed his destructive patterns. He didn't know I was bulimic. We saw each other when we were both at our best, and we believed the lies we told each other.

I adored him, and he needed adoration. He treated me royally, which alleviated my terrible feelings of anxiety and worthlessness. We were happy. No, happiness only comes through recovery. We were ecstatic and psychologically merged as only two addicts can be.

He took me on extravagant trips around the United Kingdom and through California. We stayed at beautiful hotels, dined on gourmet foods, and built a make-believe future for ourselves. He supported me emotionally through my divorce and the pressures of my graduate studies and professional licensing. I supported him through his medical crisis and a triple bypass heart surgery.

Our relationship fell apart when the fantasies collapsed. Seeing each other intermittently, with all the yearnings and dramas that culminated in sporadic fulfillment, allowed our fantasies to flourish. They faded as we had increasing brushes with the reality of who were on a full-time basis.

Feast and famine is an underlying theme of eating disorders, and it applies to relationships as well as food. With a healthy commitment to reality, there is no room for relationships based on fantasy and ecstasy. (But, I must admit, I do smile when I remember the ecstasy.)

I binged and purged through all of this. My hair was falling out, and my menses were disrupted. I had a burning discharge the doctors could not diagnose. I look back on this time as the days of peanut butter sandwiches purchased on a flimsy credit card and exquisite lobster dinners in fine restaurants. The contrasts in my life were severe.

Yet, I learned I could get through this (not yet understanding that "this" was my early reaches toward eating disorder recovery). I still didn't know I was bulimic or that eating disorders existed. I knew I had a terrible secret that proved I was a terrible person. But despite seeing myself as a terrible person, I still had managed to shed a bad marriage, get an education, travel, create a better home for my daughter, and keep my promises to her. My daughter stayed in the same high school throughout this time, keeping her routines and friends.

What if I used all the energy I put into my eating disorder for something else? What might I accomplish in life?

What's remarkable to me is that my compulsive behavior was still a secret. Years later, my husband was shocked when I told him that I was recovering from bulimia during grad school.

The only person who knew was my daughter. Bulimia didn't have a name when I was ill, but my daughter knew when I binged. She knew it was odd for her mother to eat bags of potato chips and sour cream for breakfast in bed. She heard me throwing up in the bathroom sometimes and would knock on the door, asking, "Mommy, Mommy, are you okay?" When I felt dazed and unreal, she felt abandoned.

I did abandon her when I was in those bulimic hazes. I abandoned everyone and everything during those times, including myself. Eating disorder recovery has a lot to do with being present in this life no matter what you have to see, know, and feel. Part of being present now is acknowledging how my oblivion hurt people I love.

Throughout my entire recovery saga runs the ever-present thread of my love for my daughter. Her existence has always been an inspiration to me. One afternoon, long before I was in recovery, I was hiking in the Santa Monica mountains with a young woman who was more wood sprite and mountain goat than human. She led the way through what were familiar trails to her. She was far ahead of me and out of sight when I came to a fearsome place. The trail turned into a tiny stone ledge running between the cliff wall and a drop that was not survivable. I had to put my back against the wall and inch my body along the ledge until I was back again on solid ground. I was sure I couldn't do it. I would have to go back.

Excerpted from Healing Your Hungry Heart by Joanna Poppink. Copyright © 2011 Joanna Poppink. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



CHAPTER 1 Unreal to Real: Snapshots of My Story          

CHAPTER 2 Beginning to Free Yourself          

CHAPTER 3 Early Warning Signs          

CHAPTER 4 How Do I Begin Recovery?          

CHAPTER 5 Boundaries: A Challenge in Early Recovery          

CHAPTER 6 Secrets          

CHAPTER 7 Challenges to Eating Well          

CHAPTER 8 Contemplations on Eating a Meal          

CHAPTER 9 Spiritual Depth          

CHAPTER 10 The Great Terror          

CHAPTER 11 Recovery Check-In          

CHAPTER 12 Sex, Stalking, and Exploitation          

CHAPTER 13 Family          

CHAPTER 14 Triggers as Teachers: Staying on Your Recovery Path          

APPENDIX A Affirmations          

APPENDIX B Additional Exercises and Activities for All Chapters          

APPENDIX C Facts About Eating Disorders and the Search for Solutions          

APPENDIX D Recovery Journal Prompts          

APPENDIX E How to Find More Help          

Recommended Readings and References          

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