(originally posted 7/12/2013. libbysfitnutrition.com)
Eating In The Light Of The Moon, by Anita Johnston, PhD.
This book uses storytelling as a metaphor; It explains concepts and help the reader dig deep into their emotions while discovering commonalities in people with eating disorders (ED). For many women, food offers and “escape from reality,” a cover-up for much deeper issues that are suppressed. This book presses you to ask yourself, “why?” “What?” “How did/do I feel?” about a wide array of topics, that can help with the recovery process.
1) Woman Spirit: The Root of Hunger
This chapter covers the history and suppression of “the feminine,” as culture and society move away from traditional “feminine/connected to nature” and “rounded, curved feminine body,” to a much more “masculine/powerful/angular” ideal. From the beginning females were regarded as intuitive, wise, and connected with nature, but time passed and there was a loss of the connection to nature as “man-made” became better. Masculine traits became desirable and women’s connection with the feminine was shamed. Today’s woman is trying to be a man, by shaping her body to be flat, angular, lacking body fat and curves, lacking menstruation. She is denying her emotions and intuition, creating a “spiritual hunger.”
2) The Buried Moon: Rediscovering the Feminine
Our society has come to value masculine traits of,“direct action, single-minded focus, clear, logical thinking, goal-oriented, competitive...” and become “uncomfortable with the feminine [stillness, ambiguity, emotion].” This chapter goes on to explain the importance of “yin and yang” the feminine/masculine energies that make up everything, and must be kept in balance.
Women in our civilization are at an imbalance of yin/yang, and are expected to suppress their emotions, for they must be “irrational” and need to be controlled. “We disregard our gut reactions” by using diet plans, and exercise regimes. We start to believe that our emotions are irrational, and thus we criticise ourselves for them.
“We participate in an endless cycle of diets where we try to control rather than honor our inner desires and appetites... Recovery from disordered eating calls for a deliberate, conscious attempt to reclaim our feminine side.” Reclaiming the feminine is the main focus of this book.
3) The Beginning: Revisioning the Struggle
Women with eating disorders usually start as very smart, intuitive, perceptive people. When this perceptiveness is not well received by others, she learns to hide it as a means of fitting in, “disowning the wise woman inside of her,” and accepts other’s perceptions as reality. This girl denied herself her own desires, and made rules of “shoulds and shouldn’ts.” Her hunger for spiritual and emotional needs, now misunderstood, is taken as physical hunger. This creates a disconnect with her true hunger signals, and she eats compulsively to “stuff-down the emotions” or starves herself to feel physical hunger instead of emotional, as a coping mechanism.
This chapter goes on to tell us that eating disorders are typically not healed by stopping “cold turkey,” but by slowly practicing the skills needed to overcome the ED while still having the safety net of her method of coping until she is strong and confident enough to let go of the ED.
4) The Red Herring: Food is not the issue
Food is a distraction, a coping mechanism, to people have eating disorders. Food is not the reason they started being preoccupied with food, but a mask to a larger problem within. The obsession allows them to “feel” [fat, hungry, sick] instead of feeling their emotions.
The author brings up having “fat attacks” which is where you all the sudden you feel you have put on many pounds overnight, when logically you know you haven’t, it just “feels that way.” These “fat attacks” are often a signal that something else is bothering you that you are not dealing with.
When you eat compulsively you focus only on food. No other problems exist, when consumed with food obsession. This is a relief, because “coping with real problems requires skills you may not have.” The longer you allow your ED to cope for the bigger issue, the more the situation worsens, and the issue cannot be resolved.
5) Addiction: Spiritual and Emotional Hunger
Addictions (food, alcohol, drugs, or other) are only a “symbol” of what the addicted person truly desires. It is not a physical hunger, but an emotional one. “Women who are addicted to eating or dieting are terrified of their bodies. They withhold love and try to abandon their bodies because it is in their bodies that their emotions reside. To be in contact with other bodies means to be in contact with their feelings, and this can be messy and painful...addictions keep us from being fully present.”
Eating disorders are “process addictions,” the person is addicted to the behavior, not the food.
“Her longing for food is a longing for [emotional] nourishment...this is the “something” she searches for as she stands in front of the fridge.” Look back and see where you are emotionally undernourished. What is this hunger for? Then you can start to heal.
6) Symbolism: Hunger as a Metaphor
Hunger can mean an emptiness / longing for “comfort and nurturance,” “self expression,” or “spiritual fulfillment.” By listening to our bodies cues (hunger, pain, emotion, intuition) we can learn what it is we need or desire. Our inner demons (loneliness, fear of rejection, financial problems, self-loathing, not good enough, etc.) show our true hunger (attention, love, money, self-acceptance, etc.). We need to realize that these are not literal hunger, but a “non-physical hunger” that we need to nourish in an appropriate way.
7) Feelings: Gifts from the Heart
The folk tale in this chapter teaches us, to heal, you must explore your emotions rather than try to control them. Even negative emotions can be good. Anger can bring clarity and strength. Fear can teach us what we need to feel safe. Loneliness can bring self-awareness. Sadness teaches us compassion for ourselves. Jealousy can make us aware of what we truly want.
Feel the way a child feels his/her emotions, “Children live from one emotional moment to the next.” Practice being specific about what your feelings are, notice how one emotion feels different than another. By learning to differentiate feelings you can appropriately act to express them.
8) Relationships: Singing the Truth
Interactions with others need not take our feelings out of the equation. Instead of thinking,”what will he/she think? How will they react?” ask yourself, “how do I feel about what she just said?” What is my reaction?” A woman must hear her own voice amongst and above others, and be able to express that voice to live full and free.
9) Power: Dominion versus Domination
Many women with EDs think they are powerless, when in fact it is a fear of their own power, not that they are powerless, that is the issue. A fear of being feminine. Women in all aspects of life are uncomfortable with power. They don’t want to lose, “but they are uncomfortable being the winner.”
This chapter illustrates two kinds of power: domination and dominion. Dominion is the “power from within” the belief in abundance or win-win. Women who are assertive can tap into a power within themselves that do not have to affect others adversely. Honoring instincts can help you let go of that you think you need to control (eating, food) to be “powerful.”
10) Nurturance: Mother as an Archetype
As covered in earlier chapters, a woman’s innate being is connected to nature/earth/a mother figure. By pulling away from these things and into a numbness with food, the woman essentially shuts-down her heart to being nurtured and cared for. She loses the “mother archetype...that nourishes her, that keeps her deeply connected to nature.” She feigns a “happy face” to others, hiding other feelings. “For one reason or another, she became disconnected from her internal mother, the aspect of herself that provides nourishment and compassionate guidance. By blocking and judging her feelings she is unable to access the guidance and support she longs for.”
Take care of yourself by listening to your intuition and treating yourself like you would a child. Instead of judging yourself, ask, “knowing what I know now, how would I do things differently next time?”
11) Intuition: The Inner Seeing, Hearing, Knowing
“We are taught to think, not feel.” To be rational instead of intuitive. However, both rational and intuitive sides of the mind must be honored. Intuition is a gift to women that keeps us from danger, rational thinking allows us focus and curiosity. Women who push-aside their intuitive faculties often respond to “gut feelings” with physical food, trying to “stuff-down” their feelings.
We must honor our emotions. Focusing on how you feel as opposed to what you “should” be feeling. Check in with yourself, keep a journal, and be patient with yourself. “Although your intuition can take many forms, it is never wrong.”
12) Dreamtime: The Journey Within
Dreams are believed in many cultures to hold the key to the deep desires and true feelings of the dreamer. Dreams provide symbols that when interpreted can be a useful means for self-exploration. “Dreams, like art, speak to us in symbol or metaphor, and do not follow the same direct, linear, logical thought process as we are accustomed to in most of our waking life...it is important to recognize that the objects, characters, events, locations, in the dream are multi-dimensional symbols, not concrete representations of things”.
A woman with an ED can use dreams to figure out what she is really hungry for, why she struggles (what is she trying to “stuff down”?), what she fears. The author suggests keeping a dream journal by the bed to write down immediately upon waking anything that is remembered from the dream. You can even “ask” for a dream that will give you guidance or insight to a question. The chapter closes with a statement from a woman who formerly struggled with an ED, “...my dreams have helped me to trust my body, because by seeing how all this information was coming from inside myself, I could see how to trust my inner self and my body signals.”
13) Moontime: Reclaiming the Body’s Wisdom
Menstruation in today’s society is not openly spoken of, it is devalued and hidden as much as possible. With all the stigma around it, it is no wonder that many eating disorders begin around the time of the woman’s first period. The onset of menstruation typically coincides with weight gain and fat accumulation needed for sustaining another life. This is when many girls start to become preoccupied about fat and weight, and those without much control in their lives “may start dieting in response to this weight gain to give them some sense of being in control,” and many diet their way to lack of menstruation as a means to fit in with the masculine society, and cover up their “womanliness.” Many women report cravings and compulsive eating when premenstrual, which they take to mean a “lack of willpower,” when in fact it is their emotions that come forward that they attempt to stuff down with food. A woman’s cycle is a reflection of cycles found in nature (the waxing and waning of the moon), and if we listen to our bodies we can learn about our needs, intuition, and individual “internal rhythms.”
“It is not unusual for a woman’s weight to fluctuate throughout the month, just as the moon grows into fullness and then wanes into darkness.
14) Sexuality: Embracing the Feminine
Why are we frightened of or repulsed by our sexual nature? Our culture has women portrayed as sexual objects, calls girls who have sex “sluts” and boys “studs” in double-standard, equates lust with sex, and puts little attention on the role of love. A woman who can trust her instinctive sexuality, be comfortable with herself, and remain true to herself is the archetype of the mermaid (representing a woman who is at ease with emotion and sexuality). Society sends messages to females that “provoke fear, shame, and loathing of her new womanly shape.” Women attempt to change their body in effort to fix relationships with men, whether that is hiding her feminine shape (by starving and creating a boyish body) to men who reject her changing body, or to focus on their desirability (society’s perfect shape “barbie/model”), rather than their desires. “In order to reclaim her sexuality she must learn to focus on her needs, her desires, and not feel guilty or selfish for wanting to be fulfilled... It is not uncommon for a woman who has felt unfulfilled sexually to try to satisfy herself with certain foods, like chocolate...it is sinfully delicious, it is not necessary, she doesn't deserve it, it is bad for her.”
15) The Descent: Meeting the Shadow
The story in this chapter is helpful in understanding the wisdom in self-exploration and digging up undesirable past issues and emotions. The woman with an ED is described as doing anything but confront the aspects of herself that she has “denied, rejected, or repressed...at some point she recognizes that the only solution left is to go within, to explore the dark, hidden places of her being and find out why she does what she does with food...she encounters all her self judgements,” She must be able to treat herself with empathy and allow herself to feel all the feelings she has tried to suppress, to really “be with her pain.”
It is only by understanding her “shadow sister” (the emotions behind the repressed feelings and memories) that a woman can find true nourishment for herself, and no longer need to hide behind food.
16) Assertiveness: Speaking the Truth
What a woman desires most in life is the ability to choose. That is the theme of this chapter, in which assertiveness techniques are taught to the reader. “I have not seen anyone recover without first learning to be assertive. It is probably the most important skill needed because it is the means by which we embrace and express the essence of who we really are without being destructive to others.”
the three assertiveness techniques explained are:
1) A basic formula for expressing yourself: “When you______ I feel _____ because____.”
2) When someone tells you you shouldn’t feel a certain way, use deflection:
Start with (pick one) “that may be so....” “I realize that is your perspective...” “I can appreciate your point of view...” and follow up with (pick one) “...but that is how I feel” “...but I see things differently” “...But I want you to know how your behavior affects me.”
3) Repeat yourself over and over (with variations of the above) when communicating feelings and the other person responds with an attack. You are not telling the other person what to do, you are just letting them know how you feel about it.
“Happiness is a state of mind (not body).”
17) Nourishment: Physical versus Emotional
This chapter focuses on two kinds of hunger- from the stomach, and from the heart. Being aware of your body’s signals for physical hunger and emotional hunger is very important. By being aware of what sensations are happening in your body when you are physically hungry and full, you can learn to recognize these, and differentiate from “emotional hunger” when you are trying to fill a void. The person that is fully in tune with their body can maintain a healthy weight without thinking about it, without dieting, without worrying if she is getting the “right” nutrients. Her body will tell her what she is hungry for, and when she is full. She can understand cravings for emotional needs as well, which can manifest in specific food cravings (examples: warm foods like soups can mean a need for emotional warmth, sweet cravings may desire sweetness in their lives, spicy may need intellectual or emotional stimulation, crunchy/salty may be frustrated or angry, chocolate may mean sexual or forbidden desires).
18)The Journal: Recording the Truth
Consciousness is a crucial step in the recovery process. Consciousness about what we are feeling, how hungry we are, our desires and emotions. The author recommends journaling these specific things to find out more about why you you eat the way you do:
19) Recovery: Out of the Labyrinth
“Recovery from disordered eating requires that a woman come to terms with the uniqueness of her being.” Discovering one's self can be frustrating, as she feels all of her feelings full force. However, as she learns to interact with her feelings, her issues with food/dieting can begin to subside. This is a time of trials, and great need for self-compassion and kindness. Once she can identify feelings that trigger disordered eating habits, she can learn to respond in different ways to nourish the cravings of her heart before she can react with her coping mechanism with food.
20) Storytime: The Tales of Three Women
The last chapter tells the stories of three women who have recovered from eating disorders, and their journeys and wisdom. It recounts the stories told in previous chapters, and their metaphors and symbols.
Book summary by Elizabeth Parker, RD.
Written for the Central Coast Eating Disorder Treatment Center.
Thank you Francie for the opportunity!
Libby is a Registered Dietitian focusing on eating disorder treatment and prevention. She is working on the central coast to create wellness in individuals and the community.
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