in the mirror
Do I have an eating disorder?
If your relationship with food (the way you think about food, and your eating or avoidance of eating) is a concern for you or those close to you, then it’s possible you have an eating disorder and it would be worth finding out. This is true whatever your age, gender, weight, and whether you regularly overeat (eat more than your body needs) or undereat (eat less than your body needs). If you have an eating disorder it’s important to find healing, and getting help as early as possible will make this easier.

You could ask a health professional about whether you fit the latest criteria for having an eating disorder; if you do, you may be eligible for funded help. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that the criteria are designed to guide professionals in treatment and research decisions, rather than provide some objective ‘truth’. They are subject to change from time to time; and at any one time there are many people whose experience doesn’t match the criteria but who are even so experiencing a distressing or disordered relationship with food. If you are one of these people, a useful question to ask themselves is: is the way I think about food and behave around food affecting me or my life negatively? If the answer is yes, it’s worth seeking out support in making some positive changes.

What kind of help is available?
This will depend on where you live. In some areas, there is DHB funded help for recovery from eating disorders, although due to funding limitations this may not cover all eating disorders. DHB help may include residential, day or outpatient treatment, including one-to-one psychotherapy.

If you aren’t eligible for this or would prefer other sources of help, you can look for a private practitioner such as a counsellor, psychotherapist, clinical psychologist, or dietician. Some offer more affordable rates for those on lower incomes. It’s a good idea to find one with specialist knowledge of (or considerable experience of) working with people experiencing difficulties with food.

There may also be a 12 step programme group in your area. Some people find the group experience and structure of these helpful and that the philosophy is right for them and provides a supportive framework; some find the approach to food too rigid; some find that the philosophy of the 12 step approach doesn’t fit with who they are or with how they want to be with food in the future.

What is the Freedom with Food approach?

Overall, the approach involves first identifying what isn't working for you in your life, what needs to change or heal, and how you would like things to be. The focus is then on coming to a more complete understanding of what is going on for you so that the next steps can meet your needs as fully and precisely as possible. Understanding how things came to be as they are may also be important; this may include considering the part played by your life history, your genes, how the human brain and nervous system operate, and the ways you have responded to this unique mix of ingredients.

Sometimes coming to this more complete understanding is enough for change to follow; more usually, further steps are needed for this understanding to be translated into changes in how you think about, feel about, and deal with food and your body; also your lifestyle, your environment, your health, your relationships. The hard work of making changes may take place by both
  • with the support of the therapist, learning new ways to deal with feelings, and re-evaluating long-held ideas within the sessions
  • with the support of the therapist, finding practical ways to put the understanding you have gained into action in your everyday life, in a way that works for you.

Your aims are kept in mind throughout so that what is done in the appointments can be targeted and your progress towards your aims can be acknowledged.

Sessions may draw on understandings and techniques from a wide variety of sources, including: contemporary psychotherapy theory, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), neuroscience, and mindfulness (awareness of mental, emotional and physical experiences).

With regard to how, what and when to eat, it is recognised that there are many conflicting theories about nourishing the human body. So you will not be told what to do, but supported in finding out for yourself what is right for you at this point on your journey.

The overall aim is that the appointments offer a supportive environment where your unique needs can be recognised and responded to. As Lena believes that difficulties always arise as an understandable response to life history and current circumstances, there is no judgement.

If this approach might be right for you, you are welcome to arrange an initial meeting.

Can I use the appointments to deal with other issues?
Yes. While Lena specialises in the treatment of eating issues (difficulties with food) and body image issues (appearance concerns), she also has experience in working with a range of other issues. These include low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, difficulty managing emotions (emotional dysregulation), self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder and other unhealed memories, obsessive thinking, and compulsive behaviour. Sometimes these difficulties are closely related to the difficulties with food and body image, and resolving one will involve resolving the others too.

Appointments take place in central Wellington, just off Lambton Quay. (Skype and phone appointments are not available.)

Appointments are usually during the afternoon or early evening. Research and experience shows that for maximum effectiveness, these need to take place on a weekly basis (with occasional exceptions, such as when you are on holiday).

How much does it cost?
An initial half hour meeting is available, to help you decide whether this kind of help would be right for you; there is a charge of $25 for this meeting ($10 for those on low incomes). Any appointments after this are charged on an income-related scale (or at a fixed rate if you prefer). If you are on a low income, you may be eligible for WINZ to meet most of the cost of sessions.

How long does it take?
Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this question as it depends on your individual situation. Occasionally people find that their history and situation means it possible for the difficulties to be resolved in two to three months. But more often these difficulties are related to the fundamental ways people experience and deal with themselves, their bodies, their feelings, other people and life. As a result, longstanding patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour may also need to be addressed as part of the process of creating lasting change to eating and body image issues. Some people find it helpful to think of the time, energy and cost involved as an investment in their future.