We all want answers to what's unknown. Why did he have to die of cancer? Why did she get diabetes at such a young age? Why am I struggling with an eating disorder?
Forgive me for being harsh, but it doesn't matter.
Sure, it's great to understand what causes diseases so that we may find a cure and prevent them from targeting and harming more people. And if there were something we can do to protect ourselves from getting sick, wouldn't it be valuable to know. But on the personal level, it doesn't matter why or how you developed your unhealthy relationship with food. Practically speaking, it changes nothing. You still need to eat.
If a child is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, requiring regular insulin injections, it doesn't matter why. And it doesn't matter if they hate the treatment—the frequent injections to remedy the body's failing production of insulin. It's simply non-negotiable.
For nine years I had to self inject with a medication for my MS. Three times per week I administered those painful injections. I had no idea why I developed MS and there remains no cure but quite frankly, it didn't matter. What did matter is that I needed to do whatever I could to preserve my health. I could complain about it, and I could feel upset, but the fact remained the same—I just had to do it.
You know where I'm going, don't you.
If you're stuck ruminating about who caused your eating issues, it's time to move on. If the focus of your treatment is about simply understanding the why, it’s time to redirect. I’m not suggesting that these aren’t interesting questions to ponder. Being aware of how your disordered behaviors meet some needs may contribute to long-term changes in the way you use food to cope. For instance, it may be valuable to recognize that food restriction is your drug of choice—that it allows you to numb out and disconnect and avoid feeling those things you’d rather not feel— and then to learn more constructive ways to manage in challenging situations. Perhaps you identify that you never express yourself and share how you feel, so food restricting becomes the way you bottle up those feelings. There is certainly value is making connections between your thoughts and your feelings about food and your eating.
That said a poorly nourished brain fails to allow you meaningful insights. You look through your distorted lens, with rational thought left behind. Yes, it’s a bit of a catch 22; you need to eat to gain insight and understanding as to why you struggle to eat, which you struggle to do in the first place. This is where accountability is key—to your treatment team, family member or a close friend or partner. (And if you aren’t holding yourself accountable with this support, you may need a higher level of care.)
If you binge eat, following restricting, you can’t expect that you will be able to use much insight when you’re ravenous. And your belief in your ability to take charge of your eating will be quite low. You can’t blame yourself for your lack of willpower when you place yourself in unreasonable situations, such as expecting to eat mindfully when you are starving! Normalizing your eating needs to be the highest priority!
For binge eaters who don’t restrict, insight into how you’re using food is essential. And learning alternative strategies to manage in difficult situations and to endure challenging emotions will help you break out of your food fog.
But regardless of which group you fall into—restrictors, restrict/bingers, or binge eaters, you can start by recognizing how in the big picture, your eating disorder is quite ineffective in getting you to a better place in life; it has little positive impact—except in the moment to help you disconnect—managing your stress, anxiety, social issues, work and school trauma, to name a few. And that benefit is short-lived! In fact, I think it’s fair to say it only compromises your ability to cope! And if you were to make an honest list of the pros and cons of continuing with your eating disorder, you’d see that the cons far out weight the benefits of holding onto your disorder.
Even if you hate food records, consider recording just your thoughts, feelings and hunger level—along with the time that you ate. Yes, you can even omit what you ate in your record, because that’s really beside the point. But eating remains the key ingredient to recovery! Without eating adequate amounts of food, you will stay stuck.
Does this sound like a New Year’s approach you can live with? If so, make a point of starting today. Yes, if you’re really ready to move on, you can start on the December 31st!
But if it’s already 2013 when you read this, it’s still not too late!