When clients call me to help with an eating disorder, they’ve often tried many other avenues such as traditional counselling, to resolve the problem.
Eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, should never be taken lightly. They are serious mental illnesses that have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.
In fact, those who suffer from anorexia are 32 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
It’s estimated that around one million people in Australia are experiencing an eating disorder, and this kind of illness has a devastating impact not only in the individual, but their friends and family.
Negative body image is a factor that effects eating disorder patients, because when a person has negative thoughts and feelings about their own body, the shame that arises from that can create or fuel disordered eating.
In this post, I’ll reveal 3 tips to give you a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of eating disorders, and hopefully implementing these suggestions will help you or a loved one make real progress to overcoming the illness.
STEP ONE: Limit Media Exposure
Behind most eating disorders is an intense feeling of unworthiness.
The endless striving to achieve the ‘ideal body’ leads to internal pressure that has a push/pull effect.
On one hand, food (or certain types of food) becomes demonised, and on the other hand, the more we deny ourselves of that food, the more we want it.
Mass media has a significant impact on body dissatisfaction, because it creates and perpetuates cultural ideals of what is attractive or beautiful.
A number of studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and disordered eating.
Many of my clients dismiss this data, by saying: ‘Oh yeah I know, but I don’t pay any attention to that’. But you do, without even realising it.
Whether you like it or not the more time you spend in the media world, the more you are exposed to unattainable images of beauty; this makes you vulnerable to body shame, as you compare your appearance to unrealistic body standards.
In fact, these images are designed to deeply condition your subconscious mind to accept and indoctrinate the unattainable beauty ideals as a prerequisite to happiness and wellbeing; and there’s a lot of money riding on it.
The only way to protect yourself is to open your eyes and see clearly. Be selective about your media use and choose media that supports your values and encourages you to develop solid self-esteem outside of your appearance.
STEP TWO: Do The Exercise: ‘…And Then What?’
When I’m working with my clients, I take them through an exercise that reveals the true source of their illness.
When you try to control your appearance through rigid dieting or demonising food, you may think that all you want is to achieve the ‘perfect body’.
But it goes much deeper than that. This process helps you discover the deeper motivation behind your behaviour. Once you know what it is, you’ll begin to see that the behaviour is just a symptom of other, more intrinsic needs.
Then, when you address these deeper needs, the eating disorder has less and less power over you. It works this way:
You start with a specific question, and once you have the answer, you drill down more and more by asking ‘and then what’ until you find the core issue.
Here’s an example:
What is it you want?
I want to stop binge eating
When you stop binge eating, then what?
I’ll be able to control my weight
When you can control your weight, then what?
I’ll be able to look good in my clothes again
When you look good in your clothes again, then what?
I’ll feel good about myself
When you feel good about yourself, then what?
I’ll feel accepted and loved
When you feel accepted and loved, then what?
As you can see, in this example, the true, deeper need driving the eating disorder is to be loved and accepted, and to belong.
Once we know this, we can start to work on the root cause of the problem, which is a feeling of disconnection, isolation and not feeling like part of a whole.
To overcome feelings of isolation, unworthiness and disconnection, we have to look inside ourselves, and stop beating ourselves up.
We do this by practising self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the antidote to low self-esteem and body shame. You probably find it easier to show compassion to others than yourself.
This is because we all have the ‘inner critic’ which is constantly harping at us in the background. When you practise self-compassion, you acknowledge when you fail at something or when you see something you don’t like about yourself and instead of beating yourself up, you be kind to yourself by saying things like:
- I’m really struggling with this…
- I know I’m not alone…there are many people in the world who are struggling just like I am
- How can I be kind to myself in this moment?
That’s pretty much it. If you want to overcome your eating disorder, you have to think outside the box. The old way of obsession and controlling and self-punishment isn’t working, so you have nothing to lose by trying something new.
Overcoming an eating disorder requires a deeper understanding of the motivation behind your behaviour, as well as a willingness to stop the mental habits that feel the unwanted behaviour.
Once you do this, the illness, which is merely a symptom, loses its power. If you’d like to know more about how to overcome eating disorders, contact me here.