Mention eating disorders to a “normal” person and watch them sit back a bit, get a look of pity or try to change the conversation. This is a topic most people are way too uncomfortable discussing. It’s right up there with other mental illnesses. Part of the problem is people don’t really understand what it is, why people can’t stop and above all simply cannot relate to someone who finds control by not eating, eating way too much, or purging what they ate. It’s just not a natural thing.
Eating disorders are complex, it isn’t just a matter of telling your daughter, friend or someone you know to simply eat and get over it. Or to stop putting the fork to their lips. There is much more to an eating disorder than meets the normal eye and senses.
Similar to drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders are a way to numb out. A way to deal with things you can’t handle or things that don’t feel good (otherwise known as stress). And even for those that start the path to recovery, it many times involves steps through what I call “The Whack-A-Mole-Syndrome.” Trading one form of addictive behavior for another until the person is ready to get to the root of the issue and let it go. Someone that has been restricting food, may start eating and begin excessive exercise, or binge-purge cycles. Just like someone who quits smoking puts on 50 pounds. They haven’t deal with what makes them need to have a “fix” and numb out.
As a behavioral addiction, many individuals don’t realize in the beginning that these convenient ways to lose or control their weight is leading them into a trap that can be very difficult to break after a period of time. They just get sucked into the autopilot mode of the behavior and can’t stop. The brain chemistry quickly realizes the relief that is felt when the behavior is practiced to avoid stress and the next time they feel stress, the brain says “I got this, just give me my fix and you don’t have to worry about it.”
Recovery from an eating disorder is a different process than getting sober from drugs or alcohol which one can live without using. Since food is fuel for our bodies it is important that the individuals learn how to see and use food for fuel in order to fully recovery. This is a process that take a combination of:
Shifting mindset to eliminate the negative and obsessive thinking
Balancing brain and body chemistry from all the abuse of restricting, overeating, purging, over exercise, etc.
Healing deeply—at the cell level. Letting go of the energy of the past and this behavior. This isn’t just a mental issue, memories are stored in every cell of our bodies
So next time you hear about someone with an eating disorder, or see someone who looks anorexic realize that this isn’t simply a matter of eating again and getting over it. Have some compassion, just like the one person picked up a cigarette to look cool and got hooked…most people with eating disorders didn’t make a conscious choice to go down this brutal and difficult path.