An eating disorder often begins as a coping mechanism or a tool for survival, a way to feel a sense of control. This frequently occurs in response to trauma, insecure and unstable relationships, unrealistic expectations and external pressure, or the weight and heaviness of anxiety and depression. It is the internalization of overwhelming emotions and seemingly provides a way of managing and controlling them.
There are many types of eating disorders, like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, but at its core, an eating disorder is a survival mechanism in a similar manner as many addictions, a maladaptive coping strategy that served a purpose for us at one point. By helping us cope with or feel control amid difficult emotions, it works for us, until eventually it doesn’t anymore, and it begins to cause more harm and wounding than security and healing. Many end up losing their grip over their health, their emotions and their own actions, and the disorder begins to control them rather than the other way around.
Here are a few ways to regain control of these behaviors and thought-patterns.
- First and foremost, try to accept and acknowledge what’s happening and be honest with yourself. If, rather than rationalizing or justifying, we can admit that our behaviors have become unhealthy, we can face and address the problem.
- Second, now that you have recognized it, don’t judge yourself harshly or beat yourself up. You are not alone in this. If you’re seeking ways to treat the problem, be proud. Honor yourself. This takes courage and strength.
- Next, take an assessment of where things have gotten off balance. Which specific behaviors have become extreme, and how can you return those behaviors back to what was serving you during a healthier lifestyle? How can you get back in balance?
- If you’re triggered by images of food, exercise or dieting, don’t look at them. Block or unfollow certain accounts from your social media. Do the same with certain websites on your browser, and put down the fitness magazines; they aren’t healthy for anyone.
- A big part of recovery is having a support system. Many compare eating disorders to addiction simply because they are both very secretive and focused on control. We don’t want anyone to take this coping mechanism away from us, and we may also be ashamed. Don’t let this hold you back. Reach out to the people who you know will understand and support you. Support groups are wonderful tools, and reaching out to a mental health professional is a great way to get the help you need. It’s okay if you need some help to get through this. Again, you’re not alone, and you don’t have to do this by yourself. Actually, you should not do this by yourself.
- Finally, just be gentle with yourself. It’s okay that you’re struggling right now, and you’re capable of getting through it. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself.
If you or a loved one could use help dealing with an eating disorder, please tap here to contact us confidentially. Our clinicians are here to help with in-person and virtual therapy sessions including individual, family and group appointments.
Kimberly DiBiase is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at The Lovett Center serving individuals, couples, and families. Kimberly’s mission is to create a safe environment in which her clients can experience non-judgment, care, compassion and connection, and it is her greatest hope and privilege to watch her clients embrace their most authentic selves. Formerly from Colorado, Kim still works with and cares for many patients from her practice there, several of whom are women and girls struggling with eating disorders. It’s a subject she is very passionate about.