Body Image: What’s Really Eating at You?


man at sunset nice

You want to tackle your body image issues, but you fall off the wagon.  What causes this?  How can you fight the Body Image Bandit and win?

The first thing is to learn to identify what’s really eating at you.  Whether you’re battling an eating disorder or compulsive overeating (now called “Binge Eating Disorder”), if you can learn to figure out what’s bothering you at any given time, you will be much more successful. If you’re eating and you’re not hungry, something is going on in your heart, most likely.  You’re stuffing your feelings.

Stuffing is for teddy bears and turkeys.

When we stuff our feelings, it makes us much more prone to an addiction or eating disorder.

Many of us don’t even know what our feelings are if we grew up in a dysfunctional household in which the three rules are: 1) Don’t tell 2) Don’t trust, and 3) Don’t feel. 

So we lost touch with our feelings and are unable on most occasions to explain how we really feel.  And remember, “fine,” “Okay,” or “good” are not feelings.  Feelings are divided into six main categories: 

Mad   Sad   Glad   Fear   Lonely   Shame

Since my menopausal memory is slim, I’m thankful that three of the the four main feeling words rhyme!  Google “feeling lists” and you will find a lifetime supply of feelings.

I don’t mean to oversimplify when I say to figure out what’s really eating at you.  Addictions, eating disroders, and body image issues are much, much more complex than simply figuring out what’s eating at you.

However, most people don’t deal with what’s eating at them all day, every day.  Me included.  I’m get much better, still need to work on it.

How do you deal with your feelings?

After you identify your true feelings using real feeling words(like the ones on the lists), then share them in a safe place.  David in the Psalms frequently told God his feelings.  He expressed all four categories of mad, sad, glad and fear.  So of course prayer is a great way to express your feelings.

Another safe place is a journal in which you spill your soul. It shouldn’t be a log about what you did on a particular day.  Rather, it should contain your true feeling words about your life in that moment.

If you aren’t seeing the mad, sad, glad, fear, lonely and shame feelings expressed in your journal, it is less effective.  Safe people like friends, counselors, and spouses (only if you feel safe with them, which many people don’t) are often other safe places.

The purging of feelings is often what we’re trying to do when we attempt to fill the holes in our hearts with food, alcohol, drugs, bingeing, over-shopping, purging, and other addictions.  This is why many addictions begin to take root when we experience hardships in our lives.

Believe it or not, getting your true feelings out will help immensely as you battle the Body Image Bandit.  The release will help you not to stuff your feelings and as a result, you will be much less likely to act out against your body.  Once again, I’m not saying it’s a magic cure in any way.  But if you don’t learn to identify your true feelings and get them out in healthy ways, you will continue to overeat, binge, purge, or starve yourself.  Remember, you’re not a turkey (although you may feel like one sometimes!) or a teddy bear, so don’t try to fill yourself by stuffing your feelings.

Then you can begin to fight the Body Image Bandit and win.

Time Line: Next week, learn how to identify the point when you really started to act out against your own body and what to do about it.

To learn more about how to tackle the roots of food addiction, read my book, Tooshue: Defeating the Body Image Bandit


Body Image and Sexual Abuse


When did you first start substituting food for love?” I asked my client. (Note: names and
identifying information have been changed to protect confidentiality.)

“I don’t really know,” she answered as she reached for the Kleenex box. “I remember in high school when I’d lost a lot of weight, and this really popular guy gave me the eye, if you know what I mean.”

My nod encouraged her to continue. “What did you do right after he gave you the eye?” I asked, knowing what was probably coming.

“I went right home and raided the refrigerator.”

You’re terrified of your own beauty? “ I asked, although it was spoken softly and sounded more like a statement than a question.

“I guess so. His look made me realize at that second that if I didn’t put a layer of protection around myself—actually a layer of
fat—then I would probably be abused again, or turning back into my old promiscuous self, which is even worse. So yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m terrified of my own beauty.”

I encouraged her to continue therapy to get to the roots of the issues, which often display themselves through many secondary symptoms, including:

  • Depression
  • Eating
    disorders (including obesity, anorexia, and bulimia)
  • Other
  • Promiscuity
    or lack of sexual intimacy
  • Difficulties
    in relationships

When did you first start to gain a lot of weight?” is a
crucial question.
Something happened to the person at that time in her life. It may have been the divorce
of her parents, sexual abuse, or another extremely painful situation. Until the pain is dealt with, the food addiction will probably not improve. 

Body image issues like bingeing are much more about our hearts and our stories than food and fat. 

The great news is that help is available! Professional counseling and sexual abuse groups, where you work through the pain, is the
road to change.

This client has now lost over 40 pounds, and is becoming increasingly comfortable with her beauty.

Does this mean that every woman who is significantly overweight was sexually abused? Of course not. However, many who have struggled with weight issues did experience major trauma in their lives. Usually they will continue to struggle with the weight until they work on the roots of their issues. Obviously our culture’s shift from an active to sedentary, computer-centered lifestyle plays a role.  So does the fact that we have more fatty, sugary foods available than ever before.  But if the major traumas of life aren’t dealt with, the person trying to lose weight will continually go up and down on the scale and probably have a poor body image.  Research shows that mostdieters lose weight, then eventually gain more than they lost in the firstplace.  (I’ve written many posts on this
throughout this blog.)

Being overweight is usually a symptom of underlying issues, and more than likely the weight loss won’t stick
until these issues are dealt with. To work on the weight alone is somewhat like chopping off the top of a weed in your garden. The root will be hidden for a while, but sooner or later the weed will reappear.  Thankfully, the Lord has provided us with many different resources – including counselors –  to work on the heart of our issues so we can be set free from food addiction.  It’s
not easy, but with his help we can become the people we were meant to be.


Body Image and Diets: Rethinking Resolutions and Dieting


perfect blog picture 3-19-12 calling

Many Americans will begin another year with a resolution to lose weight.  Most will start out with a bang, but then fizzle out like New Year’s Eve fireworks.

The majority will lose weight, but only a small percentage will keep it off.  Most will gain it all back, plus more.  They will then jump again onto the merry-go-round of dieting, which always leads to the feeling of deprivation.  This usually leads to a binge, which causes shame and despair.  Then the cycle continues and the person hops back on the dieting bandwagon.

The cycle continues until they understand the truth:  Food and body image issues are much more about our hearts and stories than about calories and exercise.  Granted, a calorie is a calorie, and exercise is pivotal (unless it becomes an addiction, which happens to many people).

But food/body image issues (including eating disorders, although they are much more complex than this) are issues of the heart.

This trap of dieting, bingeing, dieting, and bingeing is a vicious cycle.  Sometimes it includes purging and/or over-exercising (which is a relatively common addiction in which people look great on the outside but feel like a 90-year-olds due to all the wear and tear on their bodies).

More recently, research has poured in showing a strong correlation between binge eating, purging, and binge drinking.  The cycle of dieting, bingeing, dieting, bingeing repeatedly is hard on the body, mind, and soul.  And considering that less than 1% of the people who lose weight will keep it off, why not deal with the roots of the problem?

If you are a professional dieter, you probably know so much about dieting you could write a book on it.  But the problem is you have missed the major piece of the puzzle.  I know I’ve already said it, but I want to shout it from the Space Needle:F

Food, weight, and body image issues are much more about our hearts and our stories than about calories, carbs, and exercise.  If you continue to concentrate on the symptoms instead of the causes, it is like putting gas in a car that has a hole in the gas tank.  You will be successful, but only for a while.  This blog (and book, which is almost complete) addresses the underlying issues so that you will have a greater chance of beating the Body Image Bandit. 

Make this the year to address the underlying issues so that you can become the person you were meant to be.

My hope and prayer is that you continue on the journey of changing your heart, working on the causes of your food issues instead

Body Image and Addiction: Is Food Addiction Real?



“Hey Cherrie, I just want you to know that you can’t use a picture of my tooshie for your book cover!”  my new friend, Sheila, said.  Waiting for our speaker at our writer’s group meeting to begin his message, we chatted about our writing goals.  The name of the book I am writing is, “Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit.”  Sheila’s comment gave me the giggles because it reflected the title so well.

She knows that I am a licensed mental health counselor and am writing a body image book which is a collage of humor, story, narration, research, and faith.  I asked her about her writing goals, and she said she discussed a few ideas, including a contemporary novel centered around an alcoholic woman and her daughter, and their journey of healing .

This led us our conversation through the dark doorway of alcoholism and other addictions.  I grabbed an unused napkin and drew a diagram representing the heart of an addiction – any addiction.  (Don’t tell me you thought I was going to say I wrote on the napkin I used to wipe the dark chocolate mini bar crumbs off my mouth!)  I drew a large circle in the middle, with the capital letter “T” inside.  Then I drew another circle surrounding the large circle so that it looked like a donut with an extra-large center.

I asked Sheila if she knew what the heart of an addiction was, and said she knew a little but wanted to know more.   The capital “T”, I said, is for trauma, and trauma is the center of addiction.  Usually it is a major event such as abuse, a significant loss, death, or divorce.  The abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual.  Moving and/or other difficult circumstances can be considered trauma as well.  But that is not an exhaustive list.  Many very difficult experiences can be considered trauma.  We use a capital “T” because this represents a major trauma.  However, a significant number of smaller traumas (or small “t”s) can certainly add up to create the same effect.

The ring around the heart represents different types of recovery work, including 12-step programs, which are usually amazingly helpful to addicts.  However, if the roots of the addiction are not dealt with, most likely the person will relapse. I other words, if the effects of the trauma are not significantly healed, the person will be at a great risk of relapsing.

(Of course there is no guarantee that the person will not relapse because recovery – and life – is a one day at a time journey.  But if the person works on his or her trauma which contributed to the addiction, the probability of relapsing will be considerably lower.) Also, genetics plays a starring role in addictions, and more recent research suggests that brains can be hardwired for addictions can involve any type of addiction.  Check out the book, “Under the Influence” to understand more about the stages of addiction (for alcoholism).

My grandma taught me the best way to deal with weeds is to go out after a rain (which is about 360 days of the year in the Seattle area!) and work diligently to gently pull the roots out.  She stressed that each root must be extracted, or the weeds would come back.  Grandma was right, and the same principle applies to addictions – including food addictions.

Clients often come in and say that they had happy lives, for the most part.  Yet as we dig deeper and deeper and carefully look at the year they started to gain weight, we can see that life was not exactly a trip to Disneyland.  Sometimes they moved that year and left all of their friends.  If you have gained a significant amount of weight, make a timeline and try to figure out what was going on in your life when you started to gain weight.  You may think nothing happened that caused you pain.  But continue to think and pray about what happened, and over time and with a trained counselor you can see what some of the roots of your food addiction are.  After all, the truth will set you free.  This is not about being a victim, but about getting all the pieces of the puzzle so that you can work on the pain in your heart that causes you to turn to food as your drug of choice.

Is it any wonder, after pondering the heart of an addiction, why diets almost never work?  You may lose weight for a period of time, but over several months or years you will gain it back until you deal with the heart of your addiction.

How long will you continue to treat the symptoms only and not the heart of your addiction?  Today is a new day, and it is probably time that you dealt with the roots of your food (or other) addiction instead of dancing around the symptoms.  After all, you’re worth it!

Male Body Image: The Man on the Chicken Diet, Part 2


“When did you first start to gain weight?”  I asked.  The all-important question that most naturopaths, physicians, and nutritionists never ask.  (Note:  The same question must be asked if someone has issues with purging, bingeing, or over-exercising.)

“Hmmm…I think it was my second year of med school.  Before that I was pretty buff and worked out a lot.  I kept working out, but started packing on the pounds.

“So what happened in your life the second year of med school?”

“Oh, nothing really.  I mean it was brutal and agonizing, but nothing really happened that year.  I did well in all my classes, and had some good friends I hung out with.”

“So nothing else really happened that was significant?”  I wondered if maybe the stress had caused him to turn to food as his drug of choice, but my work is like detective work in that sometimes I have to dig hard for clues.  I got the feeling that something else of significance had happened during that time.

“Nope.  Everything stayed the same.  I mean, a girl dumped me for someone else, but we hadn’t really been together that long.”  People often drop bombs like this in therapy, not realizing the tremendous impact the bomb made on their lives.  Denial is definitely alive and well in America.

I sensed that he had cared deeply for her, even though the relationship had not lasted long.  “What was her name?”  I asked.

“Brenda,” he said, in a quiet voice that spoke volumes.

“What was she like?”  People often think that if they talk about painful situations, they will feel worse.  But usually the opposite is true.  Yet it is a tightrope because if they get overwhelmed, they may get flooded sort of like a car.  Then they can’t function.  But if they continue to stuff it, it is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater.  It’s only a matter of time before the pressure causes it to pop out of the water with a burst of power.  Stuffing, I tell my clients, is only for turkeys and teddy bears.  If we stuff our feelings, it leads to self-medication with excessive food, drugs, computer time, shopping, working out, alcohol, or even reading excessively as a form of escape.  (Not that books are bad, but using them – or TV or the computer – to avoid dealing with our feelings leads to trouble.)  We are created for relationship – with God and with people – and when our relationships crumble, our hearts radically shift into despair.  So living in community means that we share our stories of struggle and pain with safe people who will validate us and offer us hoope.

“She was really smart – another med student, actually.  And so pretty, but not in a model sort of way.   More of the natural, girl-next-door type.  She had this auburn hair that was curly, and she hated it.  But it’s one of the things that made her special.  And she had a laugh that you could hear from here to Singapore.”  He smiled quickly, then it vanished like a light switch that was flicked on for a millisecond.

“She sounds like an amazing woman,” I said.

He sighed, which I learned years ago usually means that something monumental is about to be said.  “Then she became lab partners with my roommate – the lab partners were assigned to us – and they gradually went from lab partners to life partners.”  He looked at the floor as though his eyes could bore a hole clear to China.

“Oh man, I am so sorry,” I said.  I could feel the tears welling up in my own heart and saw one of his flowing down his cheek.  We continued to talk gently about Brenda, and I acknowledged that it was very hard to do, but told him that he couldn’t get through it unless he was willing to go through the dark valley to get to the other side.

After a while I tried to lighten it up so he would not leave flooded and decide not  to come back.  “Hey, I have a question,”  I said.

“Oh brother – you always have a question, don’t you?”  We both laughed.

“What’s that?”  he asked.

“Well, you said you were pretty buff during that time in your life.  But even so, it didn’t get you the perfect life.  What’s that about?”

He laughed, this time a funny laugh.  “Sheesh – you always nail me, don’t you?  Okay, okay, I’ll admit that even though I was in great shape, it wasn’t the magic cure-all.”  We talked a bit more about some things in his life he was looking forward to because I wanted him to feel grounded before leaving.  If people leave when they are flooded with sadness, they can spiral downward, which can lead to more depression and/or self-medication.

Then next week, to my surprise, Ben said, “Hey, I brought you something.”  He handed me a brown paper bag.  I opened it up, and inside was a rubber chicken, about six inches long.  “That’s to show your clients that if they have magical thinking – with diets or anything else – it’s like putting their faith in a rubber chicken.”  He shared that he decided not to go on a chicken diet after all, but that he wanted to continue working through his issueswhich caused him to gain extra weight, even though it was hard and at times felt like throwing in the towel.  He knew it would not be easy, but he also knew that the price of not getting better would be much more costly.

Body Image and Dieting: Why Diets Don’t Work


Note:  This article is for people who need to lose weight for health reasons – not those who want to “get skinny” so they will have perfect lives.  We will address that later. 

Face it.  You are more likely to get run over by a truck full of PMSing women going on a Dairy Queen binge than losing weight – and keeping it off – on a diet.  Statistics show that when you go on a diet, you will most likely gain all the weight back – plus more. It may take months or a few years, but that is what almost always happens.
The reason for this is that food issues are about our hearts and stories. So whenever you go on a diet, you are treating the symptoms only. This is somewhat like having an injury and treating only the pain without finding out what is causing it.

A few years ago I ran into a former client at a grocery store.  I did a double-take because I didn’t recognize her.  She told me she had lost eighty pounds, and I asked how she did it (nobody was around, or else I would not have done so).  She said it was mostly from the counseling we did.  “I’m no longer self-medicating with food because you really helped me work through my issues.  And now whenever something is bothering me, I let myself feel it and then work through it instead of running to the fridge.”  We had worked on some difficult events in her life, and I had asked her when she first started to gain weight.  The last time she walked out the door of my office, she had a whole bag of tricks to help her deal with the difficulties in life.  Plus, she had worked through many of the important events that had caused her to use food to feel better.  (Of course, this side of heaven, we will all have issues to some extent.  But I imagine you’ve already figured that one out.  And if you think you have no issues, then we really need to talk!)

“When did you first start to gain weight?” is the million-dollar question that most people never address.  Usually something of significance happened at that time, such as a parent’s divorce, moving, the loss of a relationship, sexual abuse (defined as anything a child experiences which is inappropriate, even if no touching or penetration is involved), a death, the rejection of a good friend, etc.  In other words, just about anything that made you sad or changed your world.   If you can’t figure out what that is, look harder and get professional help.

After we worked through this particular issue, we continued to work on her other issues of the heart.  Essentially, many of the other bumps in the road of her life, from early childhood on throughout her life.  I had noticed that it looked as though she was losing weight at the time, but did not focus on it.  Then she finished her therapy, and I hadn’t seen her in a few years.

If you continue to go on and off diets, you will continue to treat the symptom and not the actual problem.  If you truly have a problem, you are facing an addiction.  Yes – a food addiction.  You are self-medicating with food, just as many people self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, pornography, shopping, reading (if you use reading to escape and to avoid your problems), computer addiction, exercise addiction, etc.

And the cherry on top is that the more diets you go on, the more weight you will gain in the long run unless you are one of the tiny percentage of people who actually lose weight and keep it off.  Hmmmm…I wonder how many of those people actually dealt with the issues that brought them through the door of food addiction?  I’ll bet you a hot fudge sundae that most of them did.

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.