When no one can understand

Here’s part of a talk I gave on the Big Island of Hawaii for the opening of our new Ai Pono treatment program in Kamuela. I hope you enjoy it.
“Invisible Forces” When no one can understand your eating disorder.
There was once this man, who had black and white cattle. And he loved his cattle so much that he treated them like his own children. Every morning he would go out and he would milk his black and white cattle, and they would give him white frothy milk.

Well, one day, he went out to milk his black and white cattle, and there was no milk. He thought, well that’s weird. The next morning, he went out to milk his black and white cattle again.

Still no milk. So he moved the cattle to a place where the grass is greener, thinking this will solve the problem. Third morning, he goes out to milk his black and white cattle. No milk.

So he says to himself, you know, something is wrong here. I’m going to stay up all night until I can see what it is. And that’s what he did. In the wee hours of the morning, he saw the most amazing site: The heavens opened! And down from the heavens came this huge rope. And climbing down the rope were the most amazing women he’d ever seen. They were carrying calabashes and they took the calabashes and went over to his black and white cattle where they milked the white frothy milk.

Well, the man didn’t care about the milk. These women were the most amazing women he’d ever seen. So he ran towards them and he grabbed one. She shrieked. Calabashes and milk went flying all over […]

Finding Meaning within the Eating Disorder

Here’s part of a talk I gave on the Big Island of Hawaii for the opening of our new Ai Pono treatment program in Kamuela. I hope you enjoy it.

“Finding Meaning within the Eating Disorder”

What I’ve come to really understand about eating disorders is that there’s such deep profound meaning in what a person struggles with and how it relates to their struggle of food.

Once you discover that disordered eating behaviors, whatever they may be, whether its restricting your food, or binging and purging or even exercise addiction or exercise resistance. Or whatever form it takes for somebody, the behaviors are speaking, but they are speaking in a language that is coded.

Once you can see these behaviors as a code, it really gets to be a lot of fun as you decipher the code. Through the language of metaphor, you can crack the code.

Metaphor is the language of our stories, the language of our art, songs and poetry. It is the language of our dreams. And I believe it’s the language of disordered eating.

So for example, if I’m working with somebody and they are telling me about a dream.

They say, oh, well, “I was driving down a freeway”.
I say, “wait, you were what?”
“ I was driving down the freeway.”
“ The freeway? “

If you’re driving down a freeway, it would be a good idea to look at where you were coming from and where you were headed.

Because you see, in dreams, freeway doesn’t just mean freeway.

It means the freeway.

To get from our unconscious mind into our little pea brain consciousness, it’s sort of like taking all this information from a vast ocean, and compacting it so tight that it can get in. The way it’s […]

Both the Masculine and Feminine Principles are Important for Healing


Aloha. This is Dr. Anita Johnston. And I am down at the beach in front of the ‘Ai Pono Maui eating disorder treatment facility. And right behind me is the Io Valley. And for the ancient Hawaiians this was a very, very, very sacred place. And when we did our blessing at our facility, the Kapuna came and I was in awe as she talked about how both the masculine and the feminine energies of the land could come through this valley. And anchor right where our facility was. On the grounds of ‘Ai Pono Maui

Now, for me, it’s necessary to understand how both the masculine and feminine principles are important for healing. Now, mind you I’m not talking about genders. And it’s unfortunate that these are the terms we have. But they are the terms we have.

And in Asian cultures, it might be called Yin and Yang. In the Jungian tradition, it’s called masculine and feminine. And the reason for that is because when you are working with dreams, those energies show up in the form of males and females. But all of us, all of us have masculine and feminine energies within us. Whether we’re male or female. Or trans. Those are principles. It’s a duality that exists in all of us. And in many, many cultures and many indigenous cultures, they exist in the land, and in the sea. And they’re principles in all that there is in life.

When I think about the masculine principle, that’s that logical, linear goal, achievement oriented aspect of ourselves that helps us maneuver through the world safely.

And deliberately.
This is how we set our goals.
And this is how we accomplish what we want to accomplish […]

How do you express your truth?

Hello, I’m Dr. Anita Johnston. And I am here in Hawaii listening to the bird song of the morning. It’s one of the most spectacular things — to listen to these birds singing and singing and singing. It reminds me about the story about the Nightingale.

There was once this nightingale, who was in the forest. And she was singing and singing and singing, really enjoying the sound of her song reverberating through the tree tops. Along came a crow. And the crow said, oh my gosh, would you cut that racket? That’s just the worst thing I’ve ever heard. You’re polluting the forest. And the nightingale said, no, no, no, we nightingales, we are known for our beautiful song.

And the crow said, I don’t think so. That’s just the worst thing I’ve ever heard. And they began to argue. Along came a pig. The pig said, listen, I’m a connoisseur of fine music. Why don’t we have a contest and I’ll be the judge?

So the nightingale sang her song. And the crow cawed. And then, the pig immediately declared the crow the winner. At which point the nightingale burst into tears. The crow said, I can’t believe you. Not only are you a horrible singer, but you’re a lousy loser.

And the nightingale said, oh, I’m not crying because I lost. I’m crying because a pig was my judge.

You see, what does a pig know about music? So, consider the source. You see, because a woman’s song is her truth. In order to be free from disordered eating, a woman must realize the beauty of her song. And refuse to sacrifice it.

Even in times of scarcity. Even when others insist that she be silent. Because […]

Thoughts Are Like Clouds

I am here at Kalua Beach in Hawaii. And I’ve been sitting here, listening to the waves and watching the people and the dogs strolling down the beach. And watching the clouds as they float on by.

I’ve also been watching my own inner landscape, noticing how much my thoughts are like the clouds in the sky and how they appear, taking many different shapes and many different forms. Sometimes the clouds give me the indication that oh, it’s going to rain. Or oh, look, it just stopped raining and there’s a rainbow. I notice, these thoughts come and go like clouds come and go. And I can have all kinds of thoughts. Sometimes they are scary thoughts. Sometimes they are funny thoughts. Sometimes they are peaceful thoughts. Sometimes they are curious thoughts. There are thoughts thoughts thoughts thoughts thoughts. Because I have a mind, like we all have. And the mind is designed to contain our thoughts. They come up, regardless of what’s going on. We can have all different kinds of thoughts.

But here’s where things get tricky.
We start to believe our thoughts.
We stop questioning them and start believing any thought that pops up into our head.

So, for example, you can wake up in the morning with a fat attack — that’s when you feel like you’ve gained 20 pounds overnight. Now, if you were to pause for a moment, you would notice that it’s not possible to gain 20 pounds overnight. But every fiber in your being feels like you gained 20 pounds overnight.

So what has to happen is — you have to get curious and ask the question, and is that true? Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not true. What’s more […]

Learn your hunger and satiety signals

Hello. Dr. Anita Johnston here. I am on Maui at the Black Sand Beach in front of ‘Ai Pono Maui, my residential treatment facility in Hawaii.

I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the reef. Here in Hawaii, the eel lives in a hole in the reef in the ocean. And the lobster makes its home at the mouth of this hole. This is a fantastic arrangement for the eel because it has a lobster on its doorstep keeping an eye out for predators.

But it’s a much more complicated relationship for the lobster, because eels eat lobsters. So, what the lobster has to do is have one antenna keeping an eye out for predators, but the other antenna has to go in and keep an eye out on the eel.

What I have found is that women who struggle with eating difficulties, are like lopsided lobsters.

They have this amazing, brilliant, extraordinary, outer antenna.

It’s so incredible that they can walk into a room, pick up on a vibe, know what anybody expects of them, and provide those expectations without that person even knowing that’s what they want in the first place.

But they have pretty lousy inner antennas.

So what that means is that they are way better at picking up on and responding to the needs and feelings of others than they are on picking up on and responding to their own needs and feelings.

So the problem is with this is, it creates a state of deprivation. It’s sort of like writing checks and not making deposits.

When you have this ongoing perpetual state of deprivation, it starts to feel like hunger.

And it actually is a hunger.
But it’s not a hunger for food.

Here’s […]

Feeling, observing, and experiencing waves of emotion

I’m in Hawaii, and I’ve been here this morning just sitting with the ocean and watching the waves and really thinking about how much we are like the ocean.

How much our emotions are like the ocean and how we have these waves that come, peak, and pass. And they come in and they peak and they pass.

But for some reason, we get the idea that we’re supposed to do something about them. Rather than just allowing the emotions to come in and peak and pass, we try to stop them. We have rules about which are the good waves that are allowed and which are the bad waves that are allowed. And we bemoan when the ocean is stormy. And we relax when it’s calm.

But the ocean itself, and this is what we can learn from nature, the ocean itself accepts all waves. And allows them to peak and pass. And come in. And peak and pass. It doesn’t fight them. It doesn’t call some waves “good” waves and some waves “bad” waves. It accepts them all and allows them to flow.

So I’d like you to think about that. Think about how your life might be different if you could be more like the ocean. And just allow these feelings, these waves of emotion to flow through us, rather than thinking, oh my gosh, I got to do something to stop that feeling. Or I have to restrict it in some way. Or there must be something wrong with me because I’m feeling things so strongly.

Does the ocean say, oh there must be something wrong with me when it gets a little stormy? No, it just allows. And it knows that it will pass. […]

The road to recovery is full of twist and turns. . .

I am in Texas at a lovely place called the Sheltering Tree, which is a counselling center that is run and owned by my friend and colleague, Cathy Woodward.

In the back yard of the Sheltering Tree is a fantastic Labyrinth. The Labyrinth is something that is near and dear to my heart, because it’s the perfect metaphor of what recovery really is about. So many of us think that recovery is like entering a maze.

Where there are so many mistakes to be made.

And wrong turns.

And ways in which you get blocked.

But a Labyrinth is something that is very different. Because you see, there are no wrong turns here.

It’s a twisting, winding path.

It’s not the path into something and out of something.

It’s a path that you take to the center of your very being.

And then once you get there, that’s not the end, because you then find your way out.

A Labyrinth has been used since ancient times to symbolize the journeys we take though life, whatever they happen to be. And so, when you enter a Labyrinth, it can at times be very confusing. Very overwhelming. You go, wait a minute, I was just here, and now I…how did I get back here again?

Just like in recovery, you get to a point where you go, wait a minute. I thought I already resolved my issues with my mother. How come I’m back here again?

The truth is, you’re back in it, but you’re in it at a whole different level. You’re in it at a different place. You’re in it with a different kind of understanding. So, as you enter the Labyrinth of Recovery, you make your way towards the center of your very […]

What are you doing to stay afloat in strong emotional currents?

As I was spending time down at the river, it made me think of one of my favorite metaphors.

Imagine, imagine you’re on the banks of a raging river. It’s pouring down rain, and you slip and you fall in, and you’re drowning.

You are getting pulled down through the rapids. And eventually along comes a big log. And you grab on. And the log saves your life. It keeps your head above water, when surely you would have drowned. And eventually it carries you to a place where the river is calm. But, you can’t get to the river bank because you’re clinging so tightly to the log.

Make no mistake about it, the log is like your disordered eating. It has saved your life at a time when surely you would have drowned in some very strong emotional currants. And it serves a function, a very important function. And it would behoove you to know what that function is.

But to make it more complicated, there is always someone on the riverbank yelling let go of the log, let go of the log. And you feel like an absolute idiot, because you can’t let go of the log.

Well, the truth of the matter is, letting go of that log may not be the very best thing to do initially.

Because what happens if you let go of the log, start to swim to shore, get half way there and realize you don’t have the strength to make it?

That means you don’t have the strength to make it back to the log either.

And you’re really sunk.

So, what do you do instead?

Let go of the log.

Try floating.

When you start to sink, grab back on.

Let go of the log and […]