People with eating disorders get a bad rap. Behavioral addictions are somewhat of a mystery to society and are very often viewed only as character flaws. This results in a sort of collective ignorance and judgmentalism which further damages those who are the victims of it.
Like other addictions, eating disorders are rooted in shame. Unlike other addictions, people with eating disorders MUST continue use of the abused substance – food – in order to survive, thus adding a layer of complexity to the recovery process. Discovering and understanding some of the reasons behind emotionally-driven eating patterns can be a powerful first step.
If you are constantly fighting with food, consider this; you may be eating your words or somebody else’s. Addictive behaviors begin with an unmet need and are frequently paired with a sense of having been victimized. This victimization can be physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, neglect, marginalization, and discrimination — something which resulted in a sense of powerlessness. Abusive words, whether your own turned against yourself, or those of somebody else are often at the heart of comfort-eating. However, many with weight-loss issues and eating disorders can tell you: Comfort eating is rarely truly comforting.
Overcoming an eating disorder is so much more than simply developing healthy eating habits. It is conquering emotional pain in order to begin building a new, positive self-image. I once saw a talk show where a young lady had been told by her boyfriend he was going to leave her if she didn’t lose weight, citing health concerns. She literally worked her tail off, losing over 150 pounds. He then said he couldn’t bear to look at her because of the loose skin. In another case, a man lost weight after excessive criticism from his wife. As he become healthier and gained confidence, other women began to compliment the wife on her attractive husband. Was she proud of him? Unfortunately, no – she felt jealous and became even more critical. What really happened here?
For anybody who has struggled with weight issues, these stories are not surprising. Not only is your own identity closely linked to your body image, but others often build their self-worth through attachment to another person – perhaps even to you. The boyfriend and wife in these anecdotes had boosted their own self-image by being critical of the overweight girlfriend and husband. In essence, their threats were a bluff — they didn’t really want their partners to lose weight – there was far too much to be gained from feeling superior. If you’ve ever suffered a relapse of poor eating habits, you may have encountered the twisted glee of somebody who said, “I knew you’d give up. You’ll always be fat. Losing weight is too much work” or something similar. Learn to ignore them.
There are multiple, complicated facets to eating disorders and the psychology of weight loss, which is why we often start a weight-loss plan only to fail, start another, and on and on. If this is happening to you, it may be whatever course of action you’ve chosen is only addressing one piece of the puzzle. For instance, losing weight might help you feel and look better, but it won’t make an abusive relationship less so, or resolve memories of childhood neglect or abuse. Try using a holistic approach to recovery, one which includes addressing those triggers which push you towards food.
If you are setting out on a new weight-loss journey, it may be both surprising and painful to find there are people in your life who are less-than-supportive. Do it in spite of them. There may be echoes of critical voices past in your brain, and perhaps even your own self-criticism. Do it in spite of yourself. Get yourself a binder for your new adventure. Include articles and pictures which motivate you, healthy recipes you’ve tried and enjoyed, and write down any negative self-talk you catch yourself doing. You might also write down negative input you get from others. Write it down then write your counter-attack. Resolve firmly to make these changes for YOU— not to please others — and pledge to yourself to never, ever give up.
If you fall of the wagon, jot down the thoughts or events which precipitated the step back, then forgive yourself. Tomorrow is a new day. Expect resistance and find local or online groups where you can find and give support. You can do this. You can do it even if nobody cheers you on. Start by taking captive those thoughts which make you want to eat, and replace those eating words with fighting words – words which motivate you to stay in the fight not only for your health, but for your happiness.