The Root of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders, like many addictions, are often referred to as cunning and baffling. I believe those who suffer from them are some of the brightest, most altruistic, and sensitive beings on the planet. Because of this, I am passionate about helping people dive deeper into the world of eating disorders to gain an understanding that surpasses the statistics, treatment models, and scholarly articles. I see the women who are suffering as women who have an untapped power that is just waiting to be freed. The world needs each and every one of them, so let’s take a look at some commonly overlooked root causes this disorder – let’s help society better understand what is really going on here.
It’s Not Simply About Control
More often than not, the general public seems to parrot this notion that eating disorders are all about control. I beg to differ. In fact, I flat out disagree. Personally, I believe this understanding of what an eating disorder is really about is rather prehistoric. To me, it is missing something. I believe the need to control is a response, not a primary issue. Therefore, if we just work with the “control issues,” we are bypassing the actual issue(s) at hand.
The experience of feeling unsafe generates the need to control. It’s being terrified, feeling alone, and like you have to make it in the world on your own without any tools or support. It’s the feeling of total vulnerability and powerlessness. On an energetic level, this is like standing on train tracks, watching a train approach, and you cannot move your feet. It’s like your nervous system is in overdrive and there is nothing you can do about it – except try to find a way to shut it down and get your feet working.
Similarly, those who are suffering from an eating disorder feel stuck. They feel locked into a situation that is terrifying and not okay with them. And it may have become so commonplace that they don’t even know that it’s not okay with them anymore. All they know at this point is that they feel their thighs are too big, or that they shouldn’t have had those extra calories last night at dinner. All they know is that tomorrow, they better run further and faster. These obsessions, these methods that come across as control issues, are make-shift attempts to feel safe. Because deep, deep down, there is no safety; this beautiful woman must create a world where she can find a way to experience some sense of being protected.
Protection, safety, and survival, are all one. They are the most basic, primal needs of all that live. Therefore, it is only natural that if these states have been lost, they must be restored. And if it cannot be done in a way that is direct, it will be done indirectly. After all, as long as we experience something as calming and safe, then in some sense, it is.
Love and Lovability
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t include the purpose an eating disorder serves outside the realm of our base focal point on this planet. In additional to survival and safety needs, eating disorders are a way to create a different experience as it relates to love and lovability.
Part of what we need as humans is to experience love. Without it, we emotionally starve. And if we are emotionally starving – desperately aching for more nourishment, validation, and pleasure – then we are more susceptible to any type of addictive tendency. And food is the perfect symbol of nourishment and pleasure.
In Dr. Anita’s Johnston’s book, Eating in the Light of the Moon, she discusses the implications of a society that has repressed the feminine spirit, and how this has impacted the lives of women across the globe. She writes, “Because a woman has lived in a state of perpetual spiritual hunger. Her starving soul yearns for nourishment” (page 6). This quote speaks to the deep need that modern women have to fill their hearts and souls with intimacy, connection, support, and love.
These experiences, so vital to our well-being, cannot be ignored. They are what feed our souls, and without this deeper sense of nourishment, some part of us is starving for more. This part of us must be fed, and so food can become a pseudo-way to play out this need. It can become the area in our lives where we limit ourselves, stuff and dissociate from ourselves, and drown our deepest desires.
I see eating disorders as an expression that encompasses the full human experience, from the most basic needs, to the deepest spiritual desires. They are a language that is often the lost voice of the woman who not only needs something, but also knows something. Something important, wise, and filled with truth that isn’t being expressed overtly.
My invitation to anyone who has an eating disorder, or knows someone with an eating disorder, is to let go of the belief that it is about control. Instead, I invite you to consider that this woman is strong and that she possesses the inherent resources to overcome her current situation.
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