It can feel shameful to have an eating disorder.
But you are not unworthy because you have an eating disorder.
You are worth loving!
You struggle with incredible energy to find your way in life.
But behind the eating disorder, you stand isolated with some challenges and emotions that are overwhelming and difficult to deal with.
You need help with that.
What is an eating disorder?
In the clinical sense, an eating disorder is a serious mental disorder. Since an eating disorder also affects the affected person’s body (e.g. organs, brain, hormone balance, and bone marrow), an eating disorder can lead to severe weakening and damage of the body’s functions. Anorexia is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate in the Western world.
Eating disorders are divided into various variants, which are different, but have in common the fact that for the affected person, food, body, exercise, and weight are the focus of attention. The most well-known eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder (BED). But also exercise addiction, megarexia (muscle dysformia), and orthorexia (an obsession with healthy, “pure,” or “clean” eating), all of which are not yet eating disorders in the diagnostic sense in Denmark, share many common features from eating disorders.
For you with an eating disorder
There can be many different circumstances that in a complex interplay cause you to develop an eating disorder. The research talks about predisposing factors (e.g. genetics, difficulty dealing with emotions, cultural pressure), triggering factors (e.g. changed living conditions, bullying, sports injuries), and maintenance factors (e.g. sense of willpower/purification, negative/positive reactions from relatives and friends).
An eating disorder is very often a sign or symptom that there are some emotions you have difficulty embracing, e.g. a feeling of restlessness, inadequacy, inferiority, failure, loneliness, rejection, and insecurity. The eating disorder can be an unconscious way of dealing with difficult emotions. By ignoring the body’s natural signals of hunger, satiety, and fatigue, you can at the same time detach your emotions, which are also always in the body. An eating disorder can also be a way to turn an overly complex world into a safer and more manageable ‘small world’, where what you have to decide on is what you eat. Here you have complete control, and you may get the sense of being capable and full of willpower. In other words, an eating disorder can be a ‘survival strategy’ where the preoccupation with food, body, and exercise removes focus from the underlying difficult emotions or circumstances.
The unfortunate thing is that even though you may immediately feel a sense of relief, the eating disorder only makes your situation worse. In some ways, you can compare it to an abuse of alcohol. Just as alcohol creates a physical and mental addiction, an eating disorder also does something physiological and psychological to your body and brain: the more you get the more you want. The thinner you get, the more pounds you want to lose; the more you throw up, the greater the urge; the more you work out today, the more you have to outdo yourself tomorrow. It may sound harsh, but the outcome is that on top of the problems or emotions you initially had a hard time dealing with, you get another problem to cope with, the eating disorder. Further, when the body is starving or fatigued, it is hard to find the strength to handle your difficulties.
Treatment of eating disorders
For several years, the current research in the treatment of eating disorders, represented among others by the Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, unequivocally points out that the treatment of eating disorders must work on both the physical and the mental parts at the same time. None of them can stand alone. You cannot talk yourself out of an eating disorder. Neither do you recover by ‘just’ normalizing your weight or your training, or stopping vomiting or overeating. In the end, what remains are the underlying factors, i.e. why the eating disorder developed and is maintained.
My treatment of eating disorders
“There is no shame in suffering from mental illness. While being pathologized may feel shameful, it is disgraceful if other people observe only the illness so as not to see the pain causing it.” Chief psychologist Lars J. Sørensen, my translation.
My basic attitude in the treatment of eating disorders is in accordance with Lars J. Sørensen’s in the above quote. I would like to help you with the underlying psychological reasons for your symptom, the actual pain, without pathologizing you. But I will insist that you also get help for the physical part. The physical treatment of an eating disorder can, for example, take place at your own doctor’s. You can also get qualified help in psychiatry where you can be an outpatient. In psychiatry, you also get psychological treatment. For some, that’s enough. Others experience a need to be met and understood in a different way and perhaps in another setting.
Relating to the mental part of your eating disorder, I will help you to:
- Have a space where you are met as the unique person you are and not as an ‘eating disordered person’.
- Sense your breath, your body, and your senses.
- Slowly and gently daring to feel different body sensations and emotions.
- Be able to embrace and accept the emotions that arise.
- Identify, nuance, and put into words your feelings.
- Open up to the pain behind your eating disorder.
- Examine in which ways the eating disorder rewards you in the short run.
- Challenge key thought patterns and beliefs.
- Work on your motivation to recover.