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How to know if you've got a problem

Posted Aug 26 2010 6:51pm
I love the blog F*ck Feelings. It always provides a great perspective and very useful advice for dealing with what the authors call "the shit sandwiches of life" (their advice: ask for ketchup). They've never really addressed eating disorders, and I was always curious to see how they handled the subject. One of the most recent blog posts gave me my answer.

A woman had written in about being very dissatisfied with her weight, and asking why she was having these problems if she was already on the thin side.

Dr. Lastname ("because doctors always go by their last names") had this to say
Most people aren’t happy with the way they look or how much they weigh, and all people spend at least a little time each day being unhappy, but many still manage to live normal, albeit slight chubby/grumpy lives.

As to the source of your insecurities, your guess is as good as mine and the many other scientists, clinicians, and desperate-for-a-topic writers who explain this phenomenon. It could be your ex, or it could reading too much Cosmo.

These experts assume, for the most part, that you wouldn’t be so self-critical if you didn’t listen to magazines, celebrities, or your critical-yet-well-meaning grandmother, and just believed in your self. They tell you that self-esteem will conquer all. Of course, they’re wrong.
There’s lots of evidence that self-hating body thoughts can happen to people with perfectly good self-esteem, nice families, and normal bodies. Instead of obsessing about why you feel this way the same way you obsess over calorie counts, stop and ask yourself, first, whether these thoughts are doing you much harm.

I know they’re causing you pain, but ask yourself whether they’re affecting your health or relationships. Right or wrong, you can think you need to lose a few without hiding major parts of your personalities and or being a bad friend or parent.

If you think your body-hate isn’t doing too much harm, try ignoring it. Certain kinds of psychotherapy may help, but watch out if you find yourself becoming more self-obsessed and blaming yourself for not getting better. The mark of good psychotherapy, like good coaching, is that it gives you ideas and motivation for managing a problem without increasing your expectations of control.

If body-hate is hurting your health or relationships—if you purge, have become anemic, or acquired any number of the dire symptoms that come with an eating disorder—assemble a treatment team, including a primary care physician, a psychiatrist and dietitian, and don’t hesitate to put yourself into an around-the-clock “eat-your-food” camp if it’s necessary. It can save your life.

In any case, don’t pin your hopes and self-esteem on self-control, or self-hating thoughts will just get worse. If you make it your job to keep trying and regard the illness as you would the weather, it can’t touch your sense of who you are.

You need never see yourself as a food nut or anorectic; you’re simply a person with eating issues, which puts you in the same camp as 90% of the population. You might feel like shit, but you are truly not alone.

Aside from their perspective on intensive treatment (an around-the-clock "eat your food camp" is an apropos enough descriptor), their benchmarks for determining the difference between disordered eating and eating disorder is pretty darn accurate. Because so many people are obsessed with food and weight, it's often hard to determine where this cultural obsession leaves off and where an eating disorder begins. If your obsessing about food, weight, exercise, etc, are causing any health problems (purging, anemia, marked/unhealthy weight loss) OR if these obsessions are hindering other areas of your life, then you've got a serious psychological problem. Not that you can't or shouldn't address disordered eating, but feeling like crap after reading Cosmo is not, in and of itself, an eating disorder.

It should, however, be a really big sign to stop reading magazines that make you feel like crap.

What do you think of "Dr. Lastname's" assessment of eating disorders in general and this woman in particular? Share away in the comments!
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