If eating disorders aren’t about food & weight, what are they about?

I think this is also such a common misconception – just like we’ve previously learnt that eating disorders aren’t a choice, eating disorders also are not just about the food. Or the number on the scales. Or the thigh gap that may or may not be more prominent than it was last week.

It’s one of the ED’s tricks actually. It tries to fool the struggling individual and all those witnessing the individual crumble that the ED is ONLY about the food, or the weight. So thus the solution seems obvious – feed the anoretic a hamburger, and quickly! Coax them into eating, tell them that they’re absolutely tiny, point out how much bigger you are than them, offer them food constantly out of sheer desperation – but let me tell you this: none of it will work.

Why? Because eating disorders are much, much more complicated than that. Yes, we need to get the anoretics and bulimics eating correctly again, but we also need to avoid giving the ED too much attention as it takes the focus off the real issues.

Individuals suffering with eating disorders often have low self-esteem, are perfectionists, have a need for control, have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse or have had an unstable upbringing or lived in a dysfunctional family. Mary Anne Cohen, the director of The New York Centre for Eating Disorders reports here that between 40-60% of her patients turned to eating disordered behaviour after experiencing physical or sexual abuse. Dare I be bold and suggest that I suspect this is the case not only in America, not only in the UK, not only in Australia, but a worldwide issue? Oh hey, I just did.

Let me be blunt: the longer we try to help an individual suffering with an eating disorder try to eat properly again, or the more we attempt to make them gain necessary kilograms without working on the real issues behind the eating disorder, the longer the eating disorder will go on. And the longer the eating disorder goes on, the worse it will get. The more ill the individual will become. The thinner, weaker and more frail they will become.

The eating disorder is only a symptom of a much deeper issue. Don’t be fooled.

Rebekah Xo.

7 thoughts on “If eating disorders aren’t about food & weight, what are they about?

  1. For me it was about finding something I could “control” in an uncontrolled and scary world. It was something I could “do” when I was helpless elsewhere. It was a way for me to “scream” when I could not use my voice. It was a way to “hide” when I felt like disappearing. It was a way to “punish” myself for perceived wrongs. It was to “prove” something. Usually the wrong thing. It was my only friend at times. It was the only honest thing in my life. The food, the weight, the exercise…those were just little pieces of it. People don’t realize this about EDs. Thank you for posting!
    The Cockroach

    • And thanks for taking the time to reply! I understand everything you said: hiding, controlling, proving a point, saying a big “stuff you”, gave me something I could actually succeed at… The eating disorder isn’t the problem, the problem is that we crave control or that we want to be invisible. And why do we want to be invisible? Because of all these things I mentioned that may have broken a part of us inside X

  2. If only it were just about the food – I could follow some more rules, use that magical “willpower” and… problem solved! But it’s never been about food, even when food is taking all my attention. It’s about feeling like there’s ONE THING in my life that’s in my control. It’s about the belief that the things that aren’t in my control, or that I don’t like, or that are hard, are somehow my fault and if I punish myself enough I will become a better person and all those “things” will suddenly be okay. It’s about using food to obliterate feelings.

    Unfortunately it gets really complicated if you have an ED but you’re not underweight, because other people still assume it’s all about food and you actually end up being REWARDED for it. My ED has involved me swinging between restricting and bingeing and so I’ve been slightly overweight (and sometimes very overweight) for years. When I do lose weight I am rewarded by people telling me I am awesome, and they wish they were like me. People see me eat something ‘healthy’ and compliment me on my self control. My jeans start to fit a bit better and people tell me I’m doing really well. I get up early to exercise and people tell me they are in awe of my discipline. I don’t have the problem of people telling me to eat a hamburger; I have the problem of people affirming my ED-fuelled decision NOT to eat a hamburger. It makes it very hard to keep making healthy, non-ED choices when I am continually rewarded for making unhealthy ED choices – making it all about food, and ONLY about food, tells me I have no problem at all.

    • Ah, it makes me so mad! We live in this super obsessed with weightloss and slimness world and it’s so, so, so wrong.

      “Using food to obliterate feelings”
      That sums my ED up in a nutshell. But I don’t think I was aware of it? I was just in this huge long state of numbness. And life sucked. And life is so much better when you eat regularly and well and eat a chocolate biscuit every now and then.

      • Ah… eating “A” chocolate biscuit “every now and then”. Not “most of the packet of chocolate Montes before breakfast”. I knew I was doing something wrong! 😛

  3. if my body were fixed in time so i couldn’t change my weight or shape or appearance – i’d still have the ed. You are right it isn’t about food or weight and while we focus on food or weight – even on recovery – we still are missing the real issues.
    ED is a really good smokescreen! Everyone is running around like a chicken with their head cut off about the person dying from starvation or purging or whatever – so they don’t look at the real problems. And if the real problems get too hard all the person has to do is pull out the Ed symptoms again and the pressure is off as the focus goes on those again.
    BUT caution here. You cannot engage in therapy if you are starving/malnourished (and even if your weight is ‘fine’ you can still be in a state of starvation, you can still be malnourished. Obese people can be malnourished – it has to do with nutrition over energy in and out. Even though it’s not about the eating, the first priority MUST be about the eating in the majority of cases. 1. to save their lives and 2. to move the patient out of a state where chemically and biologically they are NOT able to engage in any decent therapy at all beyond a surface level. It’s a bit of a catch 22.

    • Very, very true. I’m not sure if you saw the blog post I wrote for Melinda Tankard Reist on thinspo sites. but I basically said the same thing: that eating properly & well is super dooper necessary for one to begin thinking clearly again. You can’t think rationally whilst you’re starving your brain and not giving it everything it needs to function. It just doesn’t work that way. So yeah, I see how bulimics or compulsive overeaters also would fee the effects of that.

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