The conversations about eating disorders often revolve around topics of body image and societal pressures. While these are real issues that need to be addressed, other lesser-discussed commonalities among eating disorders are the issues of addiction and control. Whether you grew up in a highly rigid, rule-ridden environment, or in an unstable environment where love, affection and support were sporadic and unpredictable, you lacked control. If every aspect of your life seemed completely out of your control, is it any wonder you chose controlling the only thing you felt you could—your own body?
In the excellent book Addiction and Grace, Dr. Gerald May defines addiction this way: “Addiction is any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human action. It is caused by the attachment, or nailing, of desire to specific objects. The word behavior is especially important in this definition, for it indicates that action is essential to the addiction.” The objects of desire for a person with an eating disorder, or a pattern of disordered eating, is food. For the bulimic or the overeater, it is the consumption of food. For the anorexic, it is the abstention from food. For the emotional eater, it is the pleasure or calming of food. Each of these limits the freedom to eat in a normal, healthy way. The question becomes, when was desire or control or comfort or calming nailed to food?
Eating disorders and disordered eating are all about choices. Each is a deliberate choice of how to deal with pain. These choices may have started on a subconscious level. But as the eating behavior and relationship with food progress, the choices became more and more deliberate and at the forefront of your conscious mind. For many reasons, food has become an integral part of the way you cope with life.
Understanding how you came to choose food as a coping mechanism in the past does not necessarily enable you to deal with an eating disorder or pattern of disordered eating in the present. What began as a method of controlling a difficult, painful situation has now evolved into an addiction. For this reason, it is not enough to simply address the symptoms of an eating disorder, or even to sort through the most recent, obvious causes for the disordered eating pattern. In order to truly recover from an eating disorder, you need to first unearth the deep roots causing your need for control. This can often be a difficult journey into the depths of your past, but it is the process of shining light on these dark corners that ultimately brings true healing and freedom.
The team of eating disorder treatment specialists at The Center • A Place of HOPE are available to talk about opportunities to receive professional help and support during this recovery process. Call 1-888-771-5166 or fill out our contact form and someone from The Center • A Place of HOPE will be in touch with you soon.
Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Hope Help & Healing for Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach to Treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Disordered Eating.