Her handshake was flaccid, and she struck me as being sweet, shy and anxious. She was an emaciated 27 year-old mother of an eight- month-old baby. Five months into her pregnancy, Ava started to feel disgusted with her body, saying she was “too fat”. Despite continuous reassurance from her husband about how beautiful she looked, Ava became consumed with her body image and started watching everything she ate. On days when she couldn’t control her food intake, she used laxatives to purge herself. By the time she was six months pregnant, she was exercising several hours every day. Ava had gained a total of eight pounds during her entire pregnancy.
After giving birth to a healthy baby boy, she became depressed and continued her obsessive exercise routine, coupled with starving herself and using laxatives. She had trouble falling asleep and considered herself “lucky” to get four consecutive hours of sleep. She found it stressful looking after the baby in her exhausted state and often felt like “giving up and running away”. The impetus to change her behaviour emerged when Ava’s husband threatened to divorce her and seek custody of their son. On the recommendation of family members, Ava started to see a psychologist who subsequently recommended that she try homeopathy.
What Are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are a group of mental illnesses that involve extreme anguish concerning body image, weight, and fear of becoming fat. This anguish is accompanied by disturbances in eating behaviour, such as extreme and unhealthy reduction of food intake or severe overeating. It affects more women than men, with the typical onset occurring between adolescence and young adulthood.
A common misconception is that eating disorders are simply about wanting to be thin. In reality, sufferers use food and unhealthy behaviours such as dieting, binge-eating, purging, and excessive exercise in an effort to cope with unpleasant and overwhelming emotions and stress. This gives them a sense of being in charge. Over time, this destructive behaviour only increases stress and anxiety, thereby creating other serious health complications.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “When someone has an eating disorder, their weight is the prime focus of their life. Their all-consuming preoccupation with calories, grams of fat, exercise, and weight allows them to displace the painful emotions or situations that are at the heart of the problem and gives them a false sense of being in control.”
The three most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder.
Anorexia Nervosa – involves extreme food restriction and excessive weight loss, accompanied by the fear of gaining weight and being fat. In reality, people affected by this condition are often of normal weight, or even underweight, when the condition starts.
Bulimia Nervosa – is characterized by extreme binge-eating, followed by induced vomiting, use of laxatives and/or excessive exercise, and it also involves evaluation of one’s self-worth in terms of body weight, shape, and body image.
Binge Eating Disorder – is characterized by compulsive overeating of huge amounts of food, while feeling out of control and powerless to stop. The binges are often followed by feelings of depression, guilt, and powerlessness. Unlike bulimia, there are no attempts to make up for the binges through fasting, vomiting, or over-exercising.
Eating disorders evolve through a complex interaction of genetic, biological, psychological, and social factors. One social factor is society’s emphasis and preoccupation with being thin.
The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (www.nedic.ca) estimates that up to 40% of nine year-old girls have dieted to lose weight, even when they were at a normal weight. Many young people develop feelings of inadequacy about their appearance and not being thin enough. In some cases, the dieting is extreme and can lead to an eating disorder.
Ava’s Case Study
Ava conversed with me while staring out the window, avoiding eye contact. Growing up in a dysfunctional home, she had survived psychological abuse from an alcoholic father and the neglect of a severely depressed mother. She helped raise herself and felt like her parents’ caretaker. Despite these adversities, she graduated from high school and went to college to pursue her love of fashion design. In college, she met her husband and they quickly became a couple.
It was shortly after getting married that her problems began. Ava developed social anxiety. Gradually, she stopped going out and socializing with friends. She experienced episodes of depression and withdrawal, alternating with anger and lashing out at her husband. In an attempt to gain control over her situation, she started dieting and going to the gym for a few hours every day. Then came the unplanned pregnancy, which propelled her eating disorder and obsessive exercise routines to new heights.
After an indepth case-taking, it became apparent that the homeopathic remedy Mercurius solubilis was suited to Ava’s emotional nature, compulsive tendencies, physical ailments, sleep complaints, feelings of isolation, and many other characteristics. Within two months of taking this remedy, Ava happily reported she was feeling calmer, sleeping better, and was less obsessed with dieting and exercising.
“I feel like a new person,” Ava said after six months of treatment. She was happier and felt more self-confident. For the first time in her life, she admitted to feeling compassion towards her parents, rather than the familiar anger, resentment, and blame.
Twelve-Year-Old with Bulimia
In many cases of eating disorders, people have trauma or neglect somewhere in their past as the triggering cause. Other cases of eating disorders are not so clear-cut.
Olivia’s parents received a call from school, informing them their daughter had fainted and had been rushed to hospital. She was discharged after some routine tests, with the recommendation that she see an eating disorders specialist. Her parents took her to the family doctor who referred her to a treatment centre, where she was diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa and prescribed anti-anxiety medication.
Olivia’s parents were disheartened. Their biggest question was, “Why”? Olivia came from a stable, loving home. She was raised by a stay-at-home mom, was popular at school, got relatively good grades, and had no weight problems. While they noticed that she was losing weight, they attributed it to hormonal changes and growth. They were oblivious to the fact that Olivia was vomiting and using laxatives to purge herself several times each day.
During the homeopathic interview, I learned about Olivia’s perfectionistic tendencies. She had a restless nature and was driven to do everything perfectly. Her room was always tidy and organized, and her homework was done ahead of time. This need for perfection also included having a perfect physical appearance, like the supermodels in magazines. Olivia’s insecurity, and her need for order and perfection (among other characteristics), pointed to the remedy Arsenicum album.
Within three months of taking this remedy, Olivia felt calmer and happier with herself. She was no longer obsessed with becoming thin and she had stopped the binge-eating and purging behaviour.
Eating disorders reflect a dysfunctional relationship with the self. Homeopathy can help strengthen this relationship by restoring balance within the mind, body, and emotions.
A homeopath’s task is to discover the key issues and themes that lie behind a patient’s feelings and behaviours. Each individual’s feelings will have evolved in a unique way (according to their life circumstances), have characteristic trigger factors, and center around a core theme. It is the homeopath’s challenge to uncover and understand the patient’s core issue and how it is instrumental in setting up a vicious cycle of physical illnesses and destructive behaviours. Once the core issue underlying the symptoms is understood, the homeopath selects a suitable remedy to help kick-start the healing process.
People are unique in their genetic makeup, appearance, personality, circumstances, upbringing, culture, and socialization. As a result, people acquire different ailments with various manifestations of symptoms and behaviours. Homeopathy’s success is based on recognizing and honouring the uniqueness of each patient, and the results are remarkable.
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