More often than not, I wake up craving a pancake. Well, to be a little more precise, I wake up craving a high stack of fluffy, golden, cardamom pancakes – topped with tart berries and drizzled with pure maple syrup. On those mornings, I splash cold water on my face and make a beeline for the fridge. Eggs? Check. Flour? Check. Yogurt or buttermilk? Check. (I bet you thought I was about to give you my secret recipe!) My focus does not falter until that first mouthful.
These days I walk through the supermarket with disdain. Frozen chicken nuggets? Kraft products? How many calories in a soda? And no, thanks. I’m all about the greens: kale, spinach, and broccoli! Don’t be surprised if you see #eatcleanandgetlean #smoothies4life #paleobrownies or a variant of those hashtags on my social media accounts during those phases.
Then there are the late nights on the couch. You know, just me and a box of pizza. Sometimes feeling a little shame, although mostly feeling empowered and grateful for every piping-hot extra-cheesy bite. But all this fluctuation makes me wonder, is my relationship with food “normal”? Where have I picked up certain habits? When did I first hear about a diet?
I’m a second year graduate student in drama therapy, dragging my feet with my thesis. To date, I have worked with a number of different populations from children with autism to young professionals who seek creative means of self-expression. Drama therapy is an active approach of solving problems and achieving goals or catharsis through storytelling, movement, play, and improvisation.
In March of this year, I spent a week interning at Castlewood, an Eating Disorders treatment facility in Missouri. I was shadowing Laura Wood, a primary therapist who facilitates individual and group therapies. Her focus areas include the treatment of trauma and dissociation, attachment, grief and loss and the use of drama therapy and expressive action based methods to treat these areas.
It was my first time at any kind of treatment facility, and it was not an easy experience. I went in with nothing but textbook definitions for Eating Disorders. “Feeding and eating disorders are characterized by a persistent disturbance of eating or eating-related behavior that results in “the altered consumption or absorption of food that significantly impairs physical health or psychosocial functioning” (DSM-5). Like most people, I used to picture a pale anorexic female figure, a woman obsessed with trying to lose weight to look better. The mental image that I’ve created, no doubt through what I have been exposed to in the media, couldn’t be further from the truth. Individuals with eating disorders can be male or female, young or old, with any body shape and size. In some cases, they are well-aware of their disorder, their symptoms and the risks. In other cases, the disorder goes unnoticed by the individual or the family.
The one thing all the cases have in common, however, is a complexity beyond a lack of willpower or a simple need to shed a few pounds.
During my time at Castlewood, I learned about different levels of care that are provided to individuals with eating disorders. I shared what I was learning with my online community, listening to people’s reactions to this very taboo topic. Since my internship, I have been questioning social values and traditions that revolve around food. What kind of dishes are celebrated at family’s Friday gathering? How does the dessert on the table contradict the healthy messages we are taught and know to be true? I also began to look at food trends more closely. When is a paleo diet harmless and when is it pointing to an underlying issue? When should I be concerned about a friend’s excessive exercise habits and when should I be motivated to join her? I left my internship equipped with new therapeutic techniques and more knowledge about eating disorders. Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating) are often the result of a combination of factors, including genetic, psychological, cultural and environmental. At the beginning, the eating disorder is often a coping mechanism or a way to relieve stress, but in the long-term the eating disorder increases anxiety and harms the body. When I interned at Castlewood, I identified with Laura Wood’s approach, “Coming to understand the protective functions of an eating disorder is one of the first steps in formulating a treatment approach.”
I am now inspired to bring this conversation to my country, to raise questions and encourage a debate. What can we do to address eating disorders in Kuwait?