Eating Disorders and Control
At Oasis Counselling Centre we believe that an eating disorder is all about the need to control. To be ‘out of control’ is to be ‘bad’. The eating disorder, particularly anorexia and bulimia, are almost symbolically exact replicas of this need.
“If I can control what I eat and what I weigh, I prove that I am in control.”
Paradoxically this does not seem to lead to happiness but to despair.
The need to control means that all feelings have to be shut off. Rigid boundaries are set that keep people, social life and anything or anybody good out. The act of self-denial around food is replicated in all areas, any needs are denied and seen as signs of weakness. This rigid and inflexible way of being, in order to feel in control, is of course another paradox. Women who feel self-confident and at ease with themselves are much more able to ‘go with the flow’ and accept life on life’s terms and therefore feel more in control of their emotions.
It seems that it is often a desire and need to be perfect that can be seen as a cause of the eating disorder. The need for perfection can start at an early age, perfect school grades, perfect clothes, perfect athletic performance – the list is probably endless. Of course these people or children are often high achievers but again it is seldom, if ever, satisfying to them; as they grow up they will need to achieve what they perceive as the perfect body shape and size. Orthorexia, the need to eat only ‘perfect’ ‘pure’ foods and to look down on those that do not is another way to control.
Over-exercising has been included in the bulimia nervosa category of disorders but this may soon become a classification on its own. It is a dangerous compulsion that leads to physical injuries, pulled muscles, shin splints, ripped tendons and stress fractures all ignored by the exercise addict. It has become another controlling behaviour that denies nutrition and energy to the body to control weight gain. We have probably all seen men and women running in the area of our homes that look as though they are near starvation and yet keep running to keep the ‘fat’ in check.
Treatment for eating disorders is notoriously difficult. The fear of loss of control extends to therapy and the belief that ‘they’ just want you to be fat. So first a trusting relationship needs to be built. The depression, low self-esteem, loneliness and despair needs to be looked at and spoken about. It will help to be in a group with others who have similar problems and probably similar reluctance to letting go of control. Being able to see the insanity of the obsession in others can be a great relief. As others seem to get better perhaps hope may dare to emerge.
Without hope there is no recovery.