Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Deep Rooted Fears, Part II (Beware, it's lengthy...)

{Mayan Ruins, Part II By Craig:)}
Again,'s my longest post yet!

Click here to read Part I

Yesterday, I wrote about my deep rooted fear of gaining weight.  Recently, I have been struggling to keep a positive attitude toward food.  And after this past weekend, I am more tempted to go back to my old self-destructive habits.

It seems that my coping skills only get me so far.  They are good skills to get me through tough times, but they are, by no means, a cure.  At some point, if I am going to make progress, I realize that I am going to have to try and figure out the cause of some of my problems.

This is what I know: I have an irrational fear of the types of food that I think will make me gain weight.

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program to bring you an “aha moment”!

“Haha” or “Aha”, You ask?

My “aha” moment came when researching how to overcome any type of fear, like the fear of heights, as I mentioned in the last post.  I decided to split yesterday’s post into two parts because I found a great article that more than deserved a highlight.  The article is titled, “OCD and the Need for Reassurance”, by Janet Singer.  You can read the full article here:
You might be wondering what OCDs and EDs (Eating Disorders) have in common.  Before yesterday, I would have answered “not much”.  But, I’ve been enlightened and I can’t help but share it with you.

In her article, Singer writes:

One of the most common manifestations of obsessive-compulsive disorder is the need for reassurance. “Are you sure it’s okay if I do this or that?” “Are you sure nobody got (or will get) hurt?” “Are you sure something bad won’t happen?” “Are you sure, are you sure, are you sure?”

While the above questions are obvious appeals, they are not the only way that OCD sufferers seek reassurance. Indeed, the very nature of OCD centers around making certain that all is well. The disorder is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead the sufferer to engage in repetitive thoughts or behaviors (compulsions). Obsessions are always unwanted and cause varying degrees of stress and anxiety, and compulsions temporarily alleviate these feelings. Compulsions are always, in some way, shape, or form, a quest for reassurance; a way to make everything okay.

Compulsive actions in OCD behaviors are the result of deep rooted fears.  Seemingly, the only remedy for a fear is to ease the uncertainty with reassurance.  These words strike a similar cord with those suffering from an eating disorder.  For those with an ED, the unreasonable “thoughts and fears”, or obsessions, are related to food, weight, appearance, or control.  For me personally, I have an irrational fear of eating certain “weight gaining” or “unhealthy” foods, hence the irrational fear of gaining weight.

For example, the other day I made cinnamon bread and, after I poured the batter into the pans, I licked the spatula.  I would not have done that in the past, let alone, eaten the bread after it was baked.  You see, I was an Internet nutrition specialist and I “learned” that yeast was “dangerous”.

After I got on the long road to recovery, I tried to get all that poisonous, useless information out of my head.  That information does nothing for me except haunts me and causes me useless anxiety.  But it’s easier said than done.  Most of the time, my thoughts tend to habitually obsess about not eating sugar, or grain, or yeast, or whatever.

The other day, (back to the cinnamon bread story) I realized after I licked the batter that there was probably live yeast in it.  And live yeast must be worse than cooked yeast, right?

I literally felt like I had a worm growing inside of me, mutating, and destroying my insides.  “Great, now I am going to get fat and sick”, was all I could think.  “I messed up my whole body and bad things are going to happen if I don’t do anything to fix it.”

I could not ignore the giant worm inside me, even though I first sought help from my coping skills.  I wanted to kill the worm.  I wanted to make sure it was dead.  I needed the reassurance that everything was going to be OK.

I ate some yogurt…maybe the good bacteria in yogurt would kill the yeast worm.  I drank a big glass of water…maybe I could drown the worm.  I ate a bowl of cereal…maybe the fiber will help me digest the worm.

I was compulsively doing these things to kill this worm that didn’t even exist.

I didn’t want to do these things.  I wasn’t hungry.  I was just trying to ease my anxiety.  I was trying to alleviate my fear.  This need for reassurance is the similar characteristic that I discovered in reading the article about OCD.  Singer goes on to write:

A good example is the case of someone with OCD who is obsessed with a fire starting because he or she left the stove on. The compulsion of continually checking the stove is a recurring attempt to reassure oneself that the stove is indeed off and nobody will get hurt. Another OCD sufferer may fear germs (obsession) and wash his or her hands until they are raw (compulsion). The compulsion of hand-washing is an effort to make sure that his or her hands are clean enough so that there will be no germs.

Similar to the patient with OCD and his need to continually “check the stove”, I was compulsively trying to “kill the worm”.   I was giving into my irrational fears by compulsively trying to make things right.

I have compulsive behaviors toward food on a daily basis.  Giving in to these compulsions, for the time being, will calm my anxieties.  However, in the long run, I am doing more harm.  By allowing myself to do these behaviors, I am enabling my fear.  If I didn’t have help, I would probably compulsively react to my fears and end up slipping back into a severe ED again.

This information is powerful for me.  Knowing this information and the danger attached to giving into my irrational fear can help me to further overcome my obsessions.

Singer talks about her experience with her own son who had severe OCD.  She writes:

…Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing and I now know that how I reacted to [my son] at these times was actually classic enabling. I did him more harm than good. My reassuring [him] that all was well reinforced his misconception that he had to be certain, to have no doubt at all in his mind. While I helped reduce his anxiety at the moment, I was actually fueling the vicious cycle of OCD, because reassurance is addictive. Psychotherapist Jon Hershfield says, “If reassurance were a substance, it would be considered right up there with crack cocaine. One is never enough, a few makes you want more, tolerance is constantly on the rise, and withdrawal hurts. In other words, people with OCD and related conditions who compulsively seek reassurance get a quick fix, but actually worsen their discomfort in the long term.”

This practice can be helpful in dealing with any type of fear that results in obsession or compulsion.  Whether it is OCD or an ED, it is treatable.  I was filled with incredible hope after reading her words.  In her article, Singer goes on to say:

So how can those with OCD “kick the habit?” It’s not easy, as sufferers continually wrestle with the feeling of incompleteness, never truly convinced that their task has been completed. There is always doubt.

But there is also always hope. Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy involves facing one’s fears and then avoiding engaging in compulsions. Using the stove example again, the sufferer would actually cook something on the stove and then shut the burner(s) off. He or she would then refrain from checking the stove to make sure it was off. No reassurance allowed. This is incredibly anxiety-provoking initially, but with time it gets easier. And while it is difficult to watch a loved one go through “withdrawal” it is imperative that family members and friends learn how not to accommodate or enable the sufferer.

Ms. Singer’s experience and her words of wisdom will greatly help me on my road to recovery.  I am not sure if I can do it on my own, but I will keep you updated with my progress.  If it helps me recovery from my ED, than I will most definitely be writing more on this topic in the future.

Like OCD treatment, in a similar way, you can treat irrational fear of food and EDs.  I will leave you with the closing words of Janet Singer:

Without reassurance, how will those with OCD achieve that need for certainty that they so desperately desire? Indeed, how can all of us make sure that nothing will ever go wrong? How can we control our lives, and the lives of those we love, so that nothing bad will ever happen?

The answer, of course, is that we can’t. Because as much as we’d all like to believe otherwise, much of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. Through ERP therapy, OCD sufferers will focus on the question “How can I live with uncertainty?” as opposed to “How can I be certain?” And instead of dwelling on the uncertainties of the past and the future, those with OCD can begin to live life to the fullest by concentrating on what matters most – the present.

Thank you for reading this lengthy article.  I know it is a lot longer than my normal posts.  I won’t always write this much.  I don’t have the focus and I am sure you don’t have the time to read a novel each day.

Also, I am not sure if I have said “Thank You” yet.  So…Thank you!  Thank you for reading my blog.  And thank you for coming with me on this journey to find mental health.  I look forward to further discussions with you on this topic.  Your encouragement and support helps me more than you will ever know.

Until next time, take care!


  1. So glad you found that article with such good information!

    1. I am really glad I found it too. It's amazing how things work out sometimes, eh?