I have been working with body dysmorphic disorders (BDD) and disordered eating for 8 years now, and there are some really interesting similarities I have found on the journey to recovery. One of the biggest ones is the relationship with an eating disorder is exactly like an emotional, physical, and psychological relationship.
Breaking the Cycle of an Eating Disorder
Here is what I mean. When I start to work with a new client that is starting on their eating disorder recovery journey I explain that recovery can look a lot like a breakup with an abusive, toxic, dysfunctional friend or partner. I relate to this because the reality is that most people with disordered eating think that the disorder gives them control over their fears, anxieties, and other uncomfortable feelings, but it is actually the other way around. The eating disorder has control over them.
Just like in an abusive relationship, there is a cycle of power and control. In an eating disorder cycle, it begins with the over-evolution of body shape and weight usually an automatic thought such as, “I am fat”, which leads to a pattern of eating disorder behaviors of restricting, skipping meals, and or over-exercising. That is considered the “false solution” to manage this unhelpful thought.
Eventually, the restriction leads to “Binging” because we can not starve ourselves forever because the body is made to survive and it will give in to eating. (Now how you give into that “binge” looks different for everyone; more on that in another post). Also, it leads to increased depression, shame, guilt, OCD behaviors, anxiety, or feelings of self-doubt or loathing, but the problem is this is only a temporary solution. That is why the cycle continues because when you feel terrible about yourself for the binge, purging, or restricting, it leads to actually validating the first thought that “I am fat….or worthless, etc.” And therefore the false solution is accessed again and on and on it goes.
The other part of the cycle is how different moods and events contribute to uncomfortable feelings and evaluation of self. Those inner critical thoughts that we have been living with and internalizing since the disorder began. So what happens again? You guessed it the cycle! They use the eating disorder to try and regulate, numb, or avoid altogether, and thus again the merry-go-round spins.
Breaking up is …..
This is why an eating disorder is so powerful and why people use it for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they have endured childhood trauma, abuse from a partner, anxiety that has manifested in perfectionism, and shame that comes from a past with detached parents that only showed them attention when they did something well. The list of reasons can go on, but the one thing is the eating disorder works until it doesn’t any longer. For some this cycle has lasted years, decades, or a lifetime. Some may be caught early in its budding phase or before it completely gets out of hand but no matter where in the cycle you are there is freedom and it starts with you deciding to choose yourself first! 🙂