Eating Disorder Paradox of Body Obsession and Body Denial
- Category: Psychotherapy and Recovery Work
When you stand on a scale or see the size of an outfit you are trying on your thoughts and feelings may go into free fall. You are happy, sad, angry, ashamed, depressed, despairing, powerful and superior or near emotional collapse. You focus on your power to control your shape and size or your failure to do so. Your body is on your mind 24/7.
Does it strike you that, despite your concern about your body, you do your best to ignore it?
Your body is your home. As a living entity, it thinks, feels and responds. To accept this fact you have to allow your mind and emotional framework to stretch. In that stretching you may want to rage at the painful conflict you experience between your obsession with:
1. how you want your body to look and behave
2. how your body demands care and responds to poor care.
Eating Disorders and Illusions
Your eating disorder thrives in a world of illusion you create with your mind and emotions. Within this illusion your vision, experience and needs seem clear. You want to be loved and cared for. You want to be appreciated. You want to be beautiful and have the shape and size you think will bring you happiness and power in the world. You want to feel safe.
When you encounter a situation or response from another person that disrupts your illusion you feel angry and desperately hurt and frightened. You may lash out. You believe that your expectations of the world around you are normal, reasonable and justified. You believe that you can't achieve your expectations because something is wrong with you or something is wrong with the people in the world.
Puncturing this illusion is an agony you resist with all the force you can muster.
This puts you at odd with your own body, which is always in reality. Your body is honest and never compromises on how it responds to how you treat it. It never gives your illusions a break.
Body response to overeating
You won't lose weight while you eat lots of ice cream. Your body will not give you a free ice cream pass to eat as a rescue from anxiety.
Acid reflux can develop. Your ability to concentrate, focus and remember is affected. You become prone to high cholesterol and high blood sugar. Your kidney, liver, stomach and other organs are more vulnerable to disorders so you may not be able to digest and assimilate the food you do eat. Oil levels in your body are disrupted and can cause acne.
Body response to starving
If you deny yourself food to achieve a lightheaded spacey experience your body will not accept your reasoning that you need to be perfect and spiritual and therefore remain powerful in the world. Instead you will faint. Your heart suffers. You circulation suffers. You'll experience irregular heartbeat, infertility, irregular menstruation, osteoporosis, dry hair and skin.
Eating less fat than your body needs raises your cortisol levels and that means you feel even more stress. You lose muscle and muscle definition because your body will begin to eat its own muscle out of desperation.
If you focus on your appearance and stay in your illusionary world your situation worsens. You experience more intense cravings. You want sugar and caffeine to supply you with energy your body lacks because it receives inadequate fuel. Chemical imbalances distort your thinking and create panic episodes. Rather than move toward health you intensify your eating disorder behaviors to maintain your illusion, even though you are in pain.
Root of conflict
What does your perceived enemy have to say? Your experience is that your body is fighting you as you try to achieve physical perfection and be emotionally safe and happy. Your body refuses to accept your illusions, and that makes you hate your body. That turns to hating yourself because you can't bring your body into your illusionary world.
Your body is real. It can never live in an illusionary world. Although your body has no words and it tells you when it (you) need sleep or food or a change in external temperature. Your body tells you when it (you) need a more firm or cushioned bed or chair.
Your body certainly tells you when something is harmful like too much heat or cold or abrasion or puncture.
Most of us have had a near miss when our eyelids blinked faster than thought to avoid a spec from flying into our eyes. Perhaps you have flinched or moved to the side to avoid a falling object or near collision without being mentally aware of the danger. Or perhaps you felt a chill accompanied by the hairs on the back of your neck rising. This is a primitive body warning of danger on a survival level. Your body responds faster than your mind unless you numb it or weaken both.
Your body as your recovery guide
A major part of eating disorder recovery involves giving respect to your body itself and learning not only its language but also how to heed what your body says.
This is a lesson in humility and courage because you have to leave your world of illusion and enter reality Here dreams are not granted because of a perfect shape, nor are anxieties are soothed by bingeing or starving. Leaving numbness or near loss of consciousness for a more confronting world requires a new appreciation of your identity and what you can accomplish through healing and growth. It also requires a fresh look at what and who you have considered enemies. Your opponents or enemies are those who challenge your illusions that keep you trapped. As you enter reality, leaving your illusion behind, you discover the flip side of those so called enemies are your friends in the real world. And your best friend always, is your body.
- How do you know when you body is talking to you?
- In what way do you deny your body's requests?
- In what way do you grant your body's requests?
- Do you punish or reward your body? How?
- In what ways can you start to befriend your body today?
Joanna Poppink, MFT, Los Angeles eating disorder recovery psychtherapist and author.