Eating disorders are more about feelings than food. Unfortunately, today most people are focusing on the symptom and not the problem. In the U.S., 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder, according to NEDA.
No one wakes up one day and decides to have an eating disorder; it is something that develops as a coping mechanism to deal with what is going on in their environment. We are influenced by our family, peers, associates and media on a daily basis as to who we are supposed to be, act and look like. For many of us, we will never measure up to the expectations of others, non the less our own and it leaves us feeling like we are not enough. Due to inadequate coping skills to tolerate negative feedback, many will respond to emotional pain, conflict, low self-esteem, anxiety or stress by using food.
Food becomes a means for control when you feel you have none. Outside emotions get displaced by taking the focus off what is really bothering you and putting it on the food. Some people will seek refuge in compulsive overeating, binge eating or bulimia, and for others they may choose to restrict with anorexia. They are all an attempt to use food intake and weight control to manage emotional conflicts that actually have little or nothing to do with food or weight at all.
Many people with eating disorders appear to be functioning at a high level, such as enjoying success with work or home life. Eating disorders do not occur in an otherwise fulfilled, happy, and emotionally stable person. People with eating disorders are struggling with a number of emotional problems that have been swept under the rug for no one to see. This may be a hard concept to accept. Often, the only problem appears to be with eating or weight. However, healthier eating habits or stronger willpower are not the missing ingredients that will make the problem disappear.
Emotional factors that can contribute to eating disorders:
- Low self-esteem.
- Poor body image.
- Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control.
- Depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness.
- Stress, guilt, blame or shame.
Relational factors that can contribute to eating disorders:
- Problems with family and personal relationships.
- Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings.
- Belief they did it to themselves and don’t deserve care from others.
- History of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight.
- Past of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
Social factors that can contribute to eating disorders:
- Belief that people are judging based on their weight .
- Society pressures that magnify “being thin” or having the “perfect body” as seen in media.
- Belief if I’m not a certain weight I will not be loved.
- Making size of a woman or man the value they possess in the world (IE: If they are too big they have no value).
- Cultural norms learned and reinforced from parents, friends, teachers, and others in a society that values people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths.
Solutions to help stop eating disorders:
- There are a variety of potential causes to eating disorders. Once started they can create a self-perpetuating cycle of physical and emotional abuse. The only way to stop an eating disorder is a decision to do so by the individual that is hurting themselves.
- Family and friends may have the best intentions to help the individual and create some potential leverage, but the only one that can make the decision to stop is the person doing it.
- Understand that it may not have been a conscious decision to turn to food to feel better, and for that reason willpower will not help you stop it. You need help to work on the unconscious level to change the behavior and reinforce more empowering coping mechanisms to deal with negative situations so that you can live an authentic life, happy, healthy and free!
Eating disorders are insidious diseases and can be a real challenge to overcome. Once you change the meaning around what food is to you and learn to deal with negative situations in a non-reactive way, it gets easier to focus on what is really going on and deal with the problems not the symptoms.
Fortunately, today I can share that I have over 22 years of abstinence from compulsive overeating, binging and purging and it all started with taking the first step, making a decision to stop. If you are struggling with an eating disorder know that you are not alone and there is help out there when you are ready for it.