An Interview with Stacey Gorlicky, author of Food, Sex & You: Untangling Body Obsession in a Weight-Obsessed World

We receive a lot of product requests at Plenty, in particular we’re asked to read and review many books. Truthfully very few of the books look interesting enough to even accept, and then even fewer still are worth reading past the first chapter. Only a small selection of the books ever make it onto our Plenty of Books and Plenty of Books for Kids lists.

A few months ago, I was asked to read Food, Sex & You: Untangling Body Obsession in a Weight-Obsessed World by Stacey Gorlicky, registered psychotherapist. The sample chapters from the advanced proof sat on my bedside table for some time before I finally committed to reading them. One paragraph down, and I couldn’t stop until I had finished all of the pages. I was emailing the PR rep asking for more.

Stacey Gorlicky

Stacey Gorlicky penned this book (part memoir, part self-help), to expose the very real struggles that so many deal with surrounding a love/hate relationship with food, sex and self. Initially I was unsure how sex, food and self-image relate but after the first paragraph, my eyes opened to how intricately woven our self-worth is with our feelings about food and our desire (or lack thereof) for sex. Although from a loving family Gorlicky starts the book by revealing personal experiences she had as a child that shaped her self-worth proving that addiction and self-destructive obsessing isn’t necessarily born from a horrific childhood. Parents take heed, our language (overt and subtle) matters.

Plenty: Let me start off by saying that I couldn’t put down the parts of the book I could get my hands on. It was very brave of you to share personal experiences about your childhood. As a reader, I could feel the love you have your parents but as a parent I started questioning the messages I may inadvertently be sending my children. Do you think our childhood experiences lay the foundation for future addictions? If yes, how so?

Stacey Gorlicky: The simple answer is yes. Early childhood issues such as abandonment, detachment and attachment have long lasting consequences on a child’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. The most important thing to any child is to be able to make their parents proud. If a child receives more criticism than positive reinforcement, they may feel they have failed to live up to their parent’s expectations. The child may find it challenging to value themselves and may begin to believe that they are a failure.

Moreover, children lack knowledge and insight to understand how to deal emotionally in an abusive or traumatic situation, so they may end up blaming themselves. The feeling of being wrong, not good enough, not loveable and the many other things we tell ourselves in childhood stay with us into adulthood.

I think our childhood experiences lay the foundation for who we are and who we become. As for laying the foundation for future addictions, there are many factors such as biological, psychological and social that can play a part in developing addiction or maladaptive behaviors. It’s a complex process with a lot of variables.

P: As parents how can we ensure we don’t lay a faulty foundation?

S.G.: Give positive parenting messages such as,

  • I love you
  • I want you
  • You are special to me
  • I see and hear you
  • It’s not what you do but I see and hear you
  • I love you and give you permission to be different than me
  • I’ll take care of you
  • My love will make you well
  • You can trust me
  • I will be there for you, even when you die
  • You can trust your inner voice
  • Sometimes I will tell you “no” and that’s because I love you
  • You don’t have to be alone anymore
  • I feel your love and take it in

Plenty: Are there early signs that parents can look out for to intervene and get help for their children before they’re facing a full-blown addiction?

S.G.:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family/feeling suspicious of others
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Less concerned with appearance, clothes or hygiene
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts or speech
  • Loss of usual interest in activities or of motivation and energy
  • Development of unusual ideas or behaviors
  • Unusual perceptions, such as visions or hearing voices (or even seeing shadows)
  • Feeling like things are unreal
  • Changes in personality
  • Feelings of grandiosity (belief he has a superpower, etc)

These are some of the mild to severe signs that a parent can look out for to intervene and get help for their children before facing a full blown addiction.

P: I love how you call out media and celebrity for presenting an unattainable ideal (and I love how you give kudos to the celebs knocking this!). I too find it troubling how much people, in particular youth, feel their self-worth is related to their Instagram “likes”. Why do you think we value outward appearances so much?

S.G.: How many likes someone gets on social media may mean to them that they are that much more popular, beautiful, famous, loved or special and in some way that validates their self-worth. There may be other deeper issues not yet dealt with if someone is basing their value and self-worth on social media rather than building real connection and real relationships.

I think we value outward appearance so much because as human beings we are predisposed to judge others by their physical appearance as well as our own. Judgment is a form of criticism towards ourselves and others. We can become as addicted to perfection as we can to a drug or any other destructive behavior. Perfection is the highest form of self-abuse. For those people striving perfection, altering their outward appearance is an attempt to heal something within. Sometimes having a procedure done can have a positive effect on your self-esteem. The issue is when someone believes that having a cosmetic procedure will heal them from the outside inward. Often people believe that cosmetically changing their appearance will emotionally alleviate the pain that they feel within. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The entertainment industry in Hollywood bombards us with airbrushed images of unrealistic, flawless, skinny supermodels and celebrities making most women feel bad about themselves or even worse.

Despite your appearance, whether skinny, fat, smooth, bumpy, wrinkled or flawless, external focus will never provide the deep satisfaction of emotional and psychological self-love you crave from within. That’s an inside job.

We hear less about psychological maturity and more about outer beauty. Awareness of ourselves, self-regulation, integrity, being responsible for our own actions and being honest in our dealings are all parts of psychological maturity. Psychological maturity requires us to be conscious and aware of our actions by shifting our perspective about who we are being and how we react to situations that arise. This can be created through our inner quest for self-knowledge, checking our ego, and adapting a healthy self-esteem.

Last year, Americans spent $9.4 billion on cosmetic surgery, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. More than 10 million cosmetic procedures were performed in 2005, including 3.8 million Botox Injections.

Considering those statistics, we are obsessed with the continuous pursuit of perfection and flawlessness and what we perceive as the negative effects of aging.

P: Do you think validation from strangers is going to continue to matter?

S.G.: I think validation from strangers will continue to matter if one does not have self-validation and self-judgement. Once you are able to self-validate your own thoughts, feelings, sensations and behaviours and understand them you will be able to accept yourself without getting permission from strangers or others.

P: On the heels of the latest celeb scandal, what are your thoughts about Kim Kardashian sharing nude selfies on Twitter?

S.G.: I think it’s unfortunate that people would go to that extent for attention and fame.

P: Do you think that actions like this are empowering or proliferate an ideal that for most people is simply unattainable?

S.G.: I think actions such as these are teaching young women that posting selfies and nudes is okay and acceptable on social media. Even further more actions like these from celebrities sets an example that using sexuality in a derogatory way will attract and create the life you desire. It also shows men that women can be portrayed as sex objects rather than respected.

P: You write about being “real”. What does it mean to really embrace being real?

S.G.: When I write about being real, I think of it as living in “authenticity”. Authenticity in life is summarized by two simple yet critical ingredients. Not in any particular order, one being self-knowledge and the other being self-awareness, defines who we are as humans. Understanding these two is just about all you need to be and act to live authentically.

P: We often hear about being authentic but what does that mean? Never wearing lipstick or using hair dye again?

S.G.: Authenticity begins when we commit our intentions to genuineness. A willingness to act genuine even when it feels most vulnerable. It comes with an ease of decision making in life; freedom to pick and choose on aspects that one relates very well with in as far as values and desires in life are concerned. This is in fact what it means to make unpopular decisions and choices in life. This is what it means to come to terms with some aspects that often people choose to hide away from, but which are an integral parts of us. Self-knowledge and self-awareness are the building blocks of an authentic life. They make us live more honest if not engaged lives. Accepting yourself for who you are, however you choose to be. So, if you choose to wear lipstick and dye your hair then that is authentically who you are as long as you feel comfortable within.

P: How are food, sex and body image are related?

S.G.: Food, sex and body image are related because the shame of overeating or undereating causes damaging body perception, which can lead to a fear of sex and intimacy. The other side of it is that psychologically, people can use sex and intimacy as a way of overcompensating or filling a void. Many people who abuse food feel uncomfortable about their body, fear they aren’t perfect enough when compared to woman they see in TV ads and movies. I often hear stories about people who feel so shamed to undress in the light in front of their partners or will only have sex in the dark. I also hear stories of men and women who over eat to hide themselves behind layers of fat just not to allow others to get close to them.

Women who are afraid of allowing their sexuality to shine through and owning it can encounter challenges. They feel too vulnerable so they over or under eat to keep them safe from predatory men. Both women and men feel cheated out of intimacy and freedom of their own sexual expression due to their own psychological inhibitions and abuse with food and feeling fat or uncomfortable in their own skin.

P: I’ve often heard, “that person has an addictive personality”. What does that mean?

S.G.: What it means to have an addictive personality is a set of traits that can possibly make it more likely that you will have an addiction, but not necessarily. These traits include, being a sensation seeker, impulsive behavior, valuing nonconformity, social alienation and compulsive behavior.

The biopsychosocial approach is very valid as well.

Biological factors include having a family member with a history of an addiction. Relatives are likely to inherit a higher risk of having an addiction themselves.

Psychological Factors include a powerfully rewarding experience encouraging a person to repeat a behaviour. In other words, rituals, environmental factors and the thoughts and feelings in the urge to use the substance play a part psychologically.

Social factors are strongly shaped by our peers, our relationships, other people, and by interpersonal process. This includes peer pressure and experimenting with a behavior such as using marijuana, tobacco, alcohol or other compulsive substances. Cultural factors also shape what is and isn’t acceptable.

P: What is addiction?

S.G.: Addiction is a behaviour characterized by the compulsive consumption of a substance such as food, alcohol, cocaine, nicotine or an act that engages in an activity such as gambling, sex or shopping. The act can be pleasurable but the continued use interferes with ordinary life responsibilities such as work, relationships, or health. Users may not be aware that their behaviour is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

P: What are the signs of addiction?

S.G.: The signs of addiction are:

-Loss of control

-Neglecting other activities, spending less time on activities that use to be important (hanging out with family and friends, exercising, pursuing hobbies or other interests)

-Risk taking

-Relationship issues: People struggling with addiction are known to act out against those closest to them, particularly if someone is attempting to address their substance problems.

-Secrecy: Going out of one’s way to hide the substance or activity

-Changing appearance: Hygiene or physical appearance

-Family history: A family history of addiction can dramatically increase one’s predisposition to addiction.

-Tolerance: Over time, a person’s body adapts to a substance to the point that they need more and more in order to have the same reaction.

-Withdrawal: As the substance wears off the person may experience symptoms such as anxiety or jumpiness, shakiness or trembling; sweating, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue or loss of appetite and headaches.

-Continued use despite negative consequences: Even though it causes issues, a person continues to cycle the behavior.

P: How do sex addiction, food addiction and body image issues differ or are they more similar than we’d like to think?

S.G.: Sex addiction is characterized by obsessive compulsive behaviours that are rooted in trauma, emotional pain, or lack of intimacy. Individuals with sex addiction cannot control their behaviours, even if they are harming themselves or loved ones.

With the amount of electronic devices and technology people are finding it more difficult to connect in real time. I hear about teens growing up only communicating with their peers through text and social media. It is easier to find sex online then it has ever been before. It is easier to hide behind a device if you do not wish to be confronted and feel shamed if you binged last night. We are losing our ability to connect and be intimate with others because of technology.

Sex addiction, eating disorders and body image issues are all compulsive disorders making them all interconnected or somewhat similar. Not to say that if you have an eating disorder you have a sex addiction but you very well may have an intimacy issue because an eating disorder goes hand in hand with disliking your own body. Otherwise why would you abuse your body with food by starving it or compulsively overeating to the point of hurting it?

Therefore it wouldn’t be uncommon for someone who is struggling with sex addiction or sexual intimacy issues to also have body image issues, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder.

P: How do you recommend broaching the topics of sex and sexuality with our children?

S.G.: By being open and honest when they are curious. Not shaming them or making the topic of sex and sexuality shameful or taboo.

P: Getting help is hard. Recognizing when to get help is the first step but arguably the most challenging. How do people wrestling addiction get help?

S.G.: People wrestling with addiction can get help by speaking openly about it. If you have a close family member, friend, colleague, teacher, partner that you can trust to discuss the issue with that would be ideal. Ideally speaking to a professional who you can share openly and freely with such as a physician, psychotherapist or addiction counsellor. They can direct you to get the proper help and support you need. Other great resources are alcoholics anonymous, overeaters anonymous plus many programs if you look online for help and support.

P: Why do we wait so long to get the help we need?

S.G.: Often people wait so long to get the help they need because the individual does not believe that the substance they are using is the problem even if it is obvious to everyone else. One of the symptoms of addiction is denial. The person will have a handful of reasons and explanations as to why their life is such a mess but denial allows them to not take responsibility and to continue to numb out from dealing with the truth. So long as the person is living in denial they will not have the motivation to get help and support. If they do manage to get help and support it will only be at the request of others and their sobriety or abstinence won’t last because it was for someone else and not for themselves.

Other reasons:

-Nowhere to go for help

-Can’t afford treatment

-There may be a concern that others will have a negative opinion of the sober you

-Fear

-Stigma

-Shame

-Treatment won’t help attitude

-No insurance

-Nobody cares attitude

P: What does a life in recovery mean?

S.G.: For me, a life of recovery means having self-awareness, controlled emotions, self-knowledge, boundaries, trust and intuition.

P: Is that idea fearful for patients reaching out – that they will have to change how they live?

S.G.: It is definitely fearful for patients reaching out to change how they live. It is difficult to change any behaviour that you have become accustomed to, especially when there is an immediate reward. The person is getting something out of using the substance or they wouldn’t be using it. There are always obstacles as the person is torn between his/her addiction and the desire to change the behaviour even though they know the behaviour is damaging to themselves and those around them. The individual is smart enough to know that he/she must stop the behaviour but the addiction is making him/her powerless to do so. This is the result of an internal civil war of the individual. There is also a fear of who they will be if they no longer use the substance. What will they fill that void with, when they use to use? The friends they used with before may no longer be their friends. The people who are closest to them will have to readjust to who they become. It’s all very fearful in making a change through to recovery.

P: Your book has a readability that I find lacking in a lot of “self-help” books. It’s raw, honest and to be utterly fair, a page-turner. I felt you did that on purpose. Why was it important to you to write the book in this manner?

S.G.: Thank you so much for your heartfelt feedback and your beautiful and kind words. I am so honored that my book has touched you on such a level. I felt there was no other book on this topic and it was important to me as someone who has recovered an addiction to help those who suffer. I also felt the more real, authentic and vulnerable I could be the more relatable I could be for those who read the book. This book has been a gift for myself, to share my true self in full love and acceptance. My hope is that it will inspire those who feel there is no hope, to know, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Stacey Gorlicky, RIHR, RPC, is a certified psychotherapist, addictions counsellor and spiritual transformation coach. She is the former producer and host of “Mind Matters” on Rogers TV, a weekly program about mental health and addiction recovery. Stacey graduated from the Transformational Arts College, psychotherapy program and studied addictions counselling at McMaster University.  She practices at Helix Healthcare Group in Toronto.
Stacey Gorlicky, RIHR, RPC, is a certified psychotherapist, addictions
counsellor and spiritual transformation coach. She is the former producer
and host of “Mind Matters” on Rogers TV, a weekly program about mental
health and addiction recovery. Stacey graduated from the Transformational
Arts College, psychotherapy program and studied addictions counselling at
McMaster University. She practices at Helix Healthcare Group in Toronto.

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