The Truth Behind Eating Disorders

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“Choosing to engage in binging, extreme dieting, purging and other obsessive behaviors relating to body image and weight loss are attempts to “self-treat” their lack of control in other aspects of their life where they have no control.”

Psychology Today, Kristen Fuller M.D.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Eating Disorders are that they are about food/body image. While they may start out that way, they often spiral into a totally different monster.

When I was thirteen, I started to gain weight due to antidepressants. It hit me heavily as it was just another insecurity that was added to my plate.

Over the next three years, I began to slowly lose weight due to smaller portions and a lovely VHS tape that had a pilates routine I could do everyday. I worked really hard that last summer when I was sixteen and I was finally back to where I was before the antidepressants.

When I got back to school that fall, I began getting compliments from peers and teachers. “Did you lose weight? You look good.” You want to know what that translated to me: “You looked horrible before. You weren’t good enough. Clearly they notice you if you lose weight…maybe I need to keep going?”

While those comments from others were well intended, my brain was now connecting my value as a human being to what I looked like. Dangerous combination.

In addition, my life was starting to feel out of control so my weight/food intake felt like one thing I could manage. At the time, my dad was beginning to develop dementia due to his older age. This was something I knew that was going to happen, but definitely not something a sixteen-year-old is ready to handle. I felt like I couldn’t relate to anyone, which made school particularly challenging socially. I was not as outgoing as my brother, and instead focused on a few close friendships and on my schoolwork. The school I went to was super competitive and would always focus on those top students. Looking back all of us were smart for even being in that school – but at the time, I felt dumb as shit (excuse my language!). So again, this just led me back to focusing on something I could control – my weight.

As I let my eating disorder mind grow and my self-worth diminish, I went downhill fast and continued to struggle for years after that. It wasn’t until I met a DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapist) specialist at my college that I started to realize my ED was deeper rooted than just food and looks. Inside I was struggling. I wanted control, I wanted “perfection”, and I wanted to feel like I was worth something. It is never about “just eating” or stopping whatever ED behaviors are occurring, because the bottom line is: food is not the problem. As Dr. Kristen Fuller states, “choosing to engage in binging, extreme dieting, purging and other obsessive behaviors relating to body image and weight loss are attempts to ‘self-treat’ their lack of control in other aspects of their life where they have no control.” DBT helped me see the facts, instead of letting my thoughts become my reality.

Before this switch takes place, it is almost like you are fighting against this unknown entity inside of you – telling you how worthless you are. Jenni Schaefer, an eating disorder survivor and author, uses her book “Life Without Ed” as a way to show others how much an eating disorder can distort your mind and become almost like an abusive boyfriend rather than a condition. Your mind becomes super focused on these negative thoughts that you lose sight of reality.

This is why eating disorder patients often seek in-patient treatment more than once. If you are not ready to challenge your thoughts (which – let’s be honest – we all run from everyday), you will not recover. You might go through the motions, but true recovery happens when you find something more important than your eating disorder – which takes more than “just eating” to do.

When you realize your eating disorder is serving a deeper meaning in your life, you now have the power to challenge it and to heal those untrue “truths” you set for yourself. No one is a lost cause.

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