How do you decode the “clues” behind eating disordered behaviors? Are eating disorders external symptoms of internal struggles? What are some of the first steps to learning how to organize your feelings? In this podcast episode, Dr. Cristina Castagnini speaks about the inner workings of eating disorders with Rachelle Heinemann.


Rachelle Heinemann is a licensed mental health counselor based in New York. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, disordered eating, and body image struggles. She also works extensively with those challenged by depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, and career stress. In addition to her practice, Rachelle has taught courses on eating disorders and body image. She is the host of the podcast Understanding Disordered Eating. Rachelle is part of the leadership at IAEDP NY (International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals). Visit Rachelle Heinemann's Website. Connect with her on Instagram, and listen to her podcast, Understanding Disordered Eating.


  • “Why can’t I just stop?”
  • Eating disorders as coping mechanisms for emotional upheaval
  • Disordered eating behaviors as clues
  • The first steps of learning how to organize your feelings

“Why can’t I just stop?”

It’s a frustration because we know different, our logical mind is saying one thing and everything else is dragging us the other way. It’s extremely frustrating, but we need to add in so many more pieces of information to that part of the conversation because otherwise, we [will] continue to get stuck. (Rachelle Heinemann)
Even though behaviors in disordered eating seem irrational and pointless they do have a point, otherwise, they would not be there. Disordered eating and eating disorders are symptoms of bigger problems. They are the physical manifestation of internal stress and unbalance.

Eating disorders as coping mechanisms for emotional upheaval

Consider the symptoms of the eating disorder as the tip of the iceberg. That is the disorder presenting itself, but where it comes from lies underneath the water. Therefore, when you go past just treating the physical ailments and behaviors, you get to the deeper roots of the problem. That is where true healing happens.
We have an opportunity to uncover what that is … eating disorders are intertwined with our emotional experience and what we [often] find is that people with eating disorders … have a difficult time connecting with their emotional experience because the opportunity that an eating disorder creates is actually … disassociation. (Rachelle Heinemann)
Because eating disorders often occur in tandem with emotional upheaval, eating disordered behaviors offer clients a short-term “solution” to their painful emotions. Their incessant thoughts and behaviors around food enable clients to disassociate from their surroundings and painful emotions.

Disordered eating behaviors as clues

Many people try to control their external world and surroundings when they are feeling chaotic and anxious. Because they do not feel in control of their internal world – their emotions – they try to control the external world. This attempt for control can manifest as binging, purging, excessive exercise, restricting, and so forth. This is why people feel afraid to let go of that control because they think it is holding them together when in fact things often begin to feel less chaotic when people relinquish the control they (thought) they had over life.
The chaos comes from the complete disorganization … it doesn’t take one day or one session to do. It is to slowly organize what is going on internally, and that could be in the moment identifying what is going on for you … and slowly start to organize what is going on internally. (Rachelle Heinemann)

The first steps of learning how to organize your feelings

  • Practice feeling the sensations in your body without judging them
  • Build on your awareness of what is going on in your body
  • Work with a therapist to help you navigate your experience
The first step of learning how to be present with what you feel and to organize your feelings is to give them labels. If you do not know what to call what you feel, look at an emotions wheel to help you learn how to understand what you are experiencing. Practice compassion for yourself and mindfulness in your life.
[Mindfulness] is a scary concept … the point is that if we do it really slowly and bring the awareness to our skepticism that this could work … that’s noticing, that’s perfect [to start]. Notice that you feel cynical, that’s it. (Rachelle Heinemann)



I am a licensed Psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. While I may have over 20 years of clinical experience, what I also have is the experience of having been a patient who had an eating disorder as well. One thing that I never had during all of my treatment was someone who could look me in the eye and honestly say to me "hey, I've been there. I understand". Going through treatment for an eating disorder is one of the hardest and scariest things to do. I remember being asked to do things that scared me. Things I now know ultimately helped me to get better. But, at the time, I had serious doubts and fears about it. If even one of my providers had been able to tell me "I know it's scary, but I had to go through that part too. Here's what will probably happen...." then perhaps I would not have gone in and out of treatment so many times. My own experience ultimately led me to specialize in treating eating disorders. I wanted to be the therapist I never had; the one who "got it". I will be giving you my perspective and information as an expert and clinician who has been treating patients for over 2 decades. But don't just take my word for it...keep listening to hear the truly informative insights and knowledge guest experts have to share. I am so happy you are here!


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