I think we all know it by now; but eating disorders aren’t just about food or weight or body image. In fact, eating disorders are a pretty clever way for the body to react to a stressful situation. It is a coping mechanism – something occurs that the mind and body both cannot cope with – and so it finds a way to. It finds a way to survive. And the eating disorder is how it does. The irony is that the eating disorder keeps the person alive and slowly kills them at the same time. That’s the sad reality.
We also know that eating disorders are more likely to occur in individuals who have dysfunctional relationships within their families, have been sexually, emotionally, mentally or physically abused, who have experienced a traumatic incident (this covers A LOT of things) – basically, anything. But the thing is that the eating disorder is merely a symptom of something much, much deeper – and often this fact is overlooked.
Eating disorders are clearly a negative and unhelpful thing in the long-term – but right here and now, they serve a purpose. They help the individual avoid particular uncomfortable emotions, memories, or pain. They provide an outlet – a way to punish themselves; a way to punish others. It holds people at a distance. It means the sufferer doesn’t have to get too close to anyone, it’s self-preservation – a way to not let others in, a means of not being hurt by others. Eating disorders are paradoxical – they stop time, but also make the days go faster. They fool others into thinking that the only problem is the weight, the only problem is the food, the only problem is that eating is difficult. Eating disorders don’t make sense – because the person is craving people so, so badly – but the fear is that this is a wrong desire – to want, to need. It seems to be wrong, to be disallowed – to crave, to live, to exist. The individual has missed all of this earlier in their life and they have come to believe that they don’t deserve it at all. Thus, they deprive themselves of food – an essential for living, being, existing. See the parallels?
So they’re kind of clever, eh?
I guess what we need to be doing is finding an alternative means to eating disorders – finding ways that people can feel in control and feel valuable and successful, as well as pushing people to take risks in trusting people, whilst being straightforward about our own fallibilities.
We can be better support people to individuals suffering with eating disorders if we take opportunities to learn more about the intricacies of the disease itself and recognise that this is not something that one is able to just stop – recognising that it is an emotional response to a traumatic event, and is henceforth a means of coping – it is not something the individual is necessarily choosing to do.