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Anorexia and Overeating: Two Sides of One Coin
Although the signs and symptoms appear dramatically different among all forms of Eating Distress, there are a great number of common causes and similarities especially when it comes to emotional factors and influences. The most common element surrounding ED is the inherent presence of an extremely low self esteem.
Having ED is much more than just being on a diet. ED permeates all aspects of every sufferer’s life as well as their loved ones. Both extreme forms of this condition are an attempt to make someone’s life better through eating or not eating. This is done with or without the awareness that it is not just the behaviour but, the attitude to life that needs to change.
Men and women living with any form of ED suffer a combination of very similar symptoms. They use their behaviour as a way to hide from their emotions; to fill a void they feel inside; and to cope with daily stresses and problems in their lives. All ED behaviours whether bingeing, starving, over-exercising or another destructive behaviour, can be used as a way to keep people away. Often these behaviours are use as self-punishment for doing ‘bad’ things, or for feeling badly about themselves.
Focusing on diagnosing ED can be dangerous. Diagnosing doesn’t help the sufferers; it only helps the professionals to communicate better about the condition. When people with ED read diagnostic criteria, they usually think, “I don’t have all these symptoms, so I must not suffer from anything, I do not really have it. That means I am okay.”
Both Anorexia and Emotional Overeating sufferers seek and desire acceptance, affection and approval from everyone. The only way they know how to achieve this is with the ED behaviour and thinking. Denial of the damage that the behaviour is causing is necessary to achieve that. Trying to find a way of coping, combined with the constant need for love and validation, and the inability to see love even when it is there, turns the person to obsessive episodes of destructive behaviours as a way to numb the pain.
Sufferers of all forms are convinced that the whole of life hinges on what size and weight they are and how they look. The underlying logic behind this is not selfish. The focus on size and shape is an attempt to control life though weight. People experiencing ED are sometimes aware that there are some abnormalities in their thinking, but shame and society’s lack of understanding push them back into denial.
Being overweight in our society means being unaccepted and lazy; someone who doesn’t have will power or self discipline; and a weak individual. We still have a “pull yourself together” attitude. People are often told to ‘just go on a diet’. This suggestion is emotionally devastating to a person suffering from Emotional Overeating in exactly the same way as ‘just eat’ impacts a person suffering from Anorexia.
Some similarities between different forms of Eating Distress:
- Anxiety associated with fear of weight gain
- Lack of self-acceptance that drives the person to look for external ways of changing themselves so that they can become acceptable in our society
- Feeling that happiness is inevitably linked with a person’s weight
- Weight loss or refraining from eating is viewed as a major accomplishment
- Black and white thinking
- Minimising important matters and maximising less important matters
- Wasting a lot of time analysing and ruminating instead of taking action
- Using destructive behaviours to numb feelings and to cope with unexpected life events
- Disconnection between the body and mind; not able to listen to the body’s requirements
- Coping with feelings and emotions like loneliness, shame and guilt by dysfunctional eating
- Very sensitive to other people and to the environment
- Suffering from ‘tomorrow syndrome’ and ‘if they only knew’
- Difficulty connecting with the outside world
- Feeling out of control but having a strong need to control their body shape, size, and eating patterns
- Not realising that the ED controls the person
- Constant fear of the unknown and change; worries become a major preoccupation
- An inability to enjoy receiving and feeling deserving of the good things in life
- Experiencing a lot of anger which is not expressed or addressed appropriately but is instead diverted toward destructive behaviour
- Feelings of insecurity and helplessness when dealing with the world around them
- Sensing that controlling weight will reduce negative feelings
- Valuing perfectionism and believing that anything less than excellent means failure
- A morbid fear of failure
- Lack of meaning in the world