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I Wanna Dig Up Grandma

If I could ever write another book it would be all about my patients who attend support group. They are by far one of the most interesting groups I have had the privilege to work with in a long time. They are inquisitive, very knowledgeable about the surgery they had, friendly and welcoming to new patients and most of all they are fun to be with. They love to party and we do that a lot.

We have a wide variety of meetings, most of which the patients have requested me to do. At the last meeting they welcomed our eating disorder specialist. Steve who is a psychologist, began his presentation by appreciating the large group in front of him. Without hesitation the support group members also welcomed him.

Speaking from his 15 years of experience of working with patients who have eating disorders Dr. Boom discussed the various types and then turned the meeting over to the group for them to ask him questions. Considering this group is anything but shy there were a number of questions about eating disorders and most importantly they wanted to know the predominant underlying causes.

As Steve discussed many reasons why eating disorders could occur the group began giving the reasons they each felt this well known problem among the obese population started with them personally and was perpetuated throughout their lives. Jane felt she was always feeling like she had to take care of other people’s problems and had little time to donate her energy to her own well being. She reported going to her food pantry, that was large enough to set up camp in, was an escape. There she could have control over what she would eat even though she frequently found herself out of control. Jane said she would tolerate and try to help others with their problems as she didn’t want to consider herself selfish. Anna quickly chimed in to say she wouldn’t be considered selfish she would just be self-preserving. Many support group members could relate to having family or friends who could ‘suck the life out of you’. Ultimately as a response to being unresponsive to negative relationships and not addressing the problem of life-draining family/friends directly, food became the friend that wouldn’t cause pain. At least so it seemed at the time.

Then Sara spoke up, “If I could dig up grandma I would like to bitch slap her.” Everyone laughed and took the statement in stride as though they could relate to what Sara was about to say. Sara’s grandmother was somewhat of a tyrant when it came to her overweight grandchild. Every time Sara visited, grandma would take her into the bathroom and have her get on the scale. It was a source of humiliation that would live with Sara to this day. She was constantly humiliated by the one person she wanted to respect and now all she wanted to do was dig her up and tell her a thing or two and then maybe it would make everything right. But would it?

From the discussion about digging up grandma various members expressed how difficult it is to let those close to you know how you feel. Jane asked, “When someone you love is constantly picking on you and draining your energy how do you tell them to quit?” Everyone agreed they had been in similar situations on many occasions with family members or close friends. How can this be corrected and the source of one problem that could create an eating disordered eliminated? The psychologist suggested role playing at a future meeting to help everyone understand that confronting another person is not an easy thing to do and it would require a variety of techniques and a lot of practice to be feel comfortable and in control.

Everyone agreed that eating disorders are caused by multifaceted problems, many stemming from the early years of their lives. I saved a statement from an article I read many years ago regarding eating disorders that read: “Temperament seems to be, at least in part, genetically determined. Some personality types (obsessive-compulsive and sensitive-avoidant, for example) are more vulnerable to eating disorders than others. New research suggests that genetic factors predispose some people to anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors. These people seem to have more than their share of eating disorders.”

I recognized the obsessive-compulsive behaviors by reports from those in the room who believed food to be their immediate source of comfort to a variety of emotional triggers. Food became a part of a ritual. The sensitive-avoidant personality was apparent in the room as a large number related to Sara’s experience of not being able to confront a person who, for most of Sara’s life was persistently emotionally draining. What I could see was that as a group we had a lot of work ahead of us to do. We would be working more closely with the psychologist and we would work closely together on so many sensitive issues. Somehow we will become more understanding of this problem that is greatly the cause of what we know as the biggest epidemic in this country: the disease of obesity.

So what about grandma? I really believe that if Sara had the opportunity to dig grandma up it would not make a difference in Sara’s life today. Grandma still wouldn’t get it. She would never believe that she was doing anything less for Sara then trying to help her be ‘normal’. Sara on the other hand believes from that time in her early childhood she was given a label of not being a normal child and she obviously would never amount to anything in her adult life. What Sara did do to prove grandma wrong was to have a wonderful career, husband and children. Probably that was Sara’s way of ‘digging up grandma’ without really knowing what she was doing. What Sara does know is that she still has a lot of work to do. She is in therapy and she comes to support group faithfully to help her improve her lifestyle and learn to live with her eating disorder. Is it easy? Of course it is not. Maybe it will get easier for Sara and all of the other members if we continue to work on this together. We all need to know that “grandma” really doesn’t count anymore.

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