Anorexia is an eating disorder that like most eating disorders is much less about food itself than it is about trying to cope with emotional pain. For this reason, it could be considered a behavioral addiction instead.
People who struggle with anorexia cope with the specific emotional pain that they suffer from by controlling their bodies, especially with regards to weight. They tend to suffer from an inaccurate perception of their own weight (body dysmorphia), as well as an intense fear of gaining weight. This then leads to behaviors such as severe restriction of food intake even to the point of starvation, misuse of laxatives, enemas, diuretics, diet aids and excessive exercise. Some people who struggle with anorexia binge and purge, similar to those who struggle with bulimia, but there are some key differences between those who struggle with anorexia and those who struggle with bulimia. For a person struggling with anorexia, all these behaviors can lead to abnormally low body weight. This behavioral addiction is not only harmful to a person’s overall health, it can be life threatening.
To understand the motive for this behavioral addiction, we need to understand the life experiences of those who suffer from anorexia. People who suffer from anorexia have deep and often suppressed trauma involving feeling out of control. When we are children, we are essentially out of control in our lives. We are at the mercy of the adults in our life. Our degree of safety is about how much we can trust them to be in control in a way that takes our best interests to heart. All too often however, we come into environments where it isn’t about our best interests at all, it is about their best interests, even to our detriment. We begin to feel as if we are simply a tool for their self-gratification.
This can occur in less severe ways such as being consistently criticized by a parent so we have to shape ourselves to the image they want us to be. And it can happen in more severe ways such as an adult sexually abusing us. All of this spells “I’m totally out of control and because I’m out of control, I can expect to be in pain.” Obviously, this is a terrifying kind of prison to be in. It gives rise to constant anxiety.
If someone is only concerned with their best interests, they don’t see or hear or feel or understand you. This means you are alone even when you are with them in a room. For this reason, anorexia is no exception when it comes to addiction. All addiction is about isolation at its root. Those who suffer from anorexia were and are emotionally isolated and that creates intense pain.
A perception that all people with anorexia tend to share is the perception that no matter how much they tried to do something, it never worked. No matter how much they tried to shape themselves to please the adult and avoid criticism, it never worked to make the criticism stop. No matter how hard they tried to manipulate the adult so as to get their needs met or stay safe, it never worked. No matter how hard they tried to be loved and approved of and belong, it never led to actually being loved or approved of or being treated as if they belong. No matter how much they tried to get the things they wanted in their life, they couldn’t make it happen. Their desires were totally at the mercy of the adult. For this reason, people with anorexia carry a core self-concept of failure and never being good enough. After all, if it seems like everyone around you is capable of making things happen in their lives such as making themselves be lovable or making themselves be approved of or getting their needs met or belonging etc. then what does it say about you? This experience of failing turns onto self hate.
In early experiences like this, there is no actual love. To love is to take something as part of yourself and as such, the other person’s best interests become part of your own. So the person with anorexia learns love as something that it isn’t. And therefore develops a subconscious negative association with love. Love is very often experienced as some form of abuse. Because this false love is taking place in such a dysfunctional way, the giving and taking of energy from one another becomes quite dangerous. To accept something for example may mean you are indebted to whomever you accepted it from. Or to give something may mean you will be rejected. The safest alternative is to not take anything and to be very careful about giving.
If you are dependent on someone who does not have your best interests at heart, the best idea is to train yourself to not need them as much as possible. If you need a specific energy, whoever dolls out that energy is in control. The only way to gain back control is to willingly starve. What is important to see is that the anorexic does not only deprive themselves of food as a form of control, but deprives themselves of many other forms of energy intake; thing like praise, enjoyment, affectionate touch, other people’s presence etc.
If anorexia progresses too far, this self hate and desire for control can and does turn towards life itself. Life is essentially relationships. Because dysfunctional relationships are the experience of those who suffer from anorexia, life itself becomes painful and pretty soon a person starts to feel towards life the same way they felt towards the people who set the stage for their life. Like life is in control of them and not in a good way, rather in a way where they can expect pain. So at a certain point, they may decide to not take in life. At this point, a person does not only shut down in terms of food or other forms of energy intake. They shut down to life itself. It becomes a subconscious death wish.
For a person with anorexia, much like a person with OCD, they feel so out of control, they gravitate towards controlling whatever they can control. And often, they find this is related to their body. This is quite ironic because so many people who are anorexic felt out of control physically as children. But this is one reason why being able to control the body somehow is so attractive. They control whether they eat, what they eat and why, how much they eat, whether their body is allowed to keep the food or whether they throw it up, whether they force a bowel movement, whether they exercise so hard that the body is forced to lose weight and anything else related to the way they want their body to look. But the emphasis tends to remain on weight. In the life of the anorexic, they often learned at some point that thinness is equated with self worth. This makes their weight a good target in terms of being able to control their self-concept and whether others value them.
For the anorexic, being in control in this way is a way of mitigating the pain of these life experiences, the feelings of being a failure, the low self worth, anxiety and feelings of being totally out of control. It is a method of coping. So what should a person do if they are struggling with anorexia?
Anorexia is a behavioral addiction. For this reason, it must be treated like an addiction. You must accept that like any addiction, it is an attempt to escape from the pain the addiction is serving to mitigate. If you want to overcome the addiction, you must be brave enough to go in the opposite direction that the addiction is taking you. Instead of going away from the pain (the wound that exists within you), you must go straight into it. And preferably with help to do so. In my opinion, the best process for doing this is: The Completion Process. You can go to thecompletionprocess.com to learn all about it as well as to find a practitioner to work with if you want one.
Find any way you can to be in control but in a conscious way. For some people, the path of progression for them specifically is to let go of control. This is not the case for someone suffering from anorexia. A person suffering from anorexia must see that they are capable of taking control of things in ways that lead to positive feeling states. The behavioral addiction of anorexia is actually an attempt at this. Here is a small list of just some ideas of what I mean.
Consciously visualize things for 5 minutes a day and seeing how they show up in your reality. Design a day your way. To do this, decide to do only what would make you feel really good to do and plan it and then execute it so that you have taken control of what happens in your day. When something happens that doesn’t feel good, like something spills, clean it up and while you are doing that, consciously remind yourself that you are taking control of the spill and now that there is no spill anymore, feel how good it feels that you could control that and turn it into a situation that felt better. Create something, like art, where you are in control of the finished product.
There are SO many ways you could consciously learn to be in control and see that you can be. Make sure to start with little, achievable goals and things. The more achievable and controllable a goal is, the better this will work. Completing the goal you can set and meet and controlling the things you can control are obviously going to help your body somatically learn to move away from the story that you are out of control and a failure because of it.
Get people in your life who can and do take your best interests as part of their best interests. Separate from those who can’t and don’t do this. This will get easier and easier with the more conscious awareness you place on these deep wounds that created the addiction in the first place. Addiction is about aloneness. We feel alone when we are not seen, heard, felt and understood. If someone is only concerned with their best interests, they don’t see or hear or feel or understand you. This means you are alone even when you are with them. You really need closeness with people. You need to experience the opposite of the relationships that created this perception that you are out of control in a negative way. Your ultimate goal needs to be to collect people with whom to have long term, intimate relationships where you are safe because you can think the thought with them, “I’m out of control with this person… and so I feel safe.” In these relationships, you can viscerally learn that it is safe to receive from other people and that is safe to give.
Bring Love to Your Self-Hate. Self-hate is a coping mechanism that comes along with anorexia. At first glance it may be hard to see how self-hate could possibly be a coping mechanism. After all, self-hate can’t possibly decrease a person’s distress can it? The answer is yes it can. To understand this coping mechanism in depth and to find out how to heal it, watch my video titled: Self Hate (The Most Dangerous Coping Mechanism).
Discover your narrative and demolish it. Every person who is struggling with anorexia is struggling with a narrative… A story of yourself or alternate reality that is completely false and is doing damage to your life. You have a false ‘story of me’. This story of me contains two sides. Not only false negative things but also false positive things. For example, a story of oneself as hideous, bad, disgusting, dark, worthless at the same time as a story about oneself having ethereal powers, being endlessly self sacrificing, coming from royal blood, or any number of other things that serve to negate the negative self story. It is a polarized view of self. This comes from parts within that adopted a negative self-image from one’s childhood and parts that were designed to compensate for or cope with those parts.
Often the disorder itself is woven into these false positive stories and as a result, we have to shoot holes in our positive self-story in order to overcome it. For example, my thinness and not eating is attributed to the fact that I am a super spiritual being with such a high consciousness that food weighs me down to the physical. To overcome anorexia, you must philosophically dissolve away your false story of self. Part of these narratives are also stories about the world. These need to be demolished as well. For example, we tend to tell ourselves that no one likes fat people. But what if that weren’t true? What if men for example were more attracted to the 1950’s body where women have curves and cellulite? What if entire dating sites exist of only people who are looking for chubby and fat people to date, people who think skinny is gross?
Dedicate yourself to Authenticity. You learned there were consequences for being yourself. And there were when you came into environments with people who were incompatible to you or who were only concerned with their own needs and desires. But the more authentic you can be, the happier you will feel in life. The less you will feel like you are uncomfortable in your own skin, living your life in the attempt to gain approval and avoid conflict. You will stop being controlled by perfectionism, which is really an attempt to manipulate in order to get your needs met. People will be attracted to the real you and as a result, you will feel what it is to be truly valued for what is intrinsic about you. You will stop this pattern of rejecting your own needs and consistently attracting people into your life who reject your needs. Also, you will stop feeling disconnected from your role in life… Where you truly fit in. To learn how to do this, watch my video titled: How To Be Authentic.
Heal your relationship with Your Body. You behave towards your own body, like the adults in your childhood behave towards you. You are in control of it without having its best interests at heart… only your own. This means you are disconnected from and abusive towards it. To undo this, do integration work with your body specifically. You can treat your body (or even specific parts of your body) as if it is one separate part. To learn how to do this, watch my video titled: Fragmentation, The Worldwide Disease.
Close your eyes and feel what emotion or feeling you get when your body feels the way you want it to feel? If I am brutally honest, what does self-starvation give me that nothing else does? What does it feel like when it is clean on the inside or skinny or when you are in complete disciplined control of what goes into it when others are putting things in their body that cause them to get fat? What emotion or feeling is it that this gives you that you cannot seem to feel in your life without it? Perhaps it is the feeling of gratification of revenge or punishment of someone else? Perhaps it is the feeling of being light and slippery and able to get away from anyone fast. Perhaps it is the feeling of relief of being in control. Identify the sensation. Brainstorm other, healthier ways that you could get that feeling in your life. Involve other people in this brainstorming as well.
Focus on safety. Some people need to get out of their comfort zones. You need to develop comfort zones first. This means, become familiar with the feeling of safety. Consciously do things that make you feel safe. If you struggle with anorexia, you feel like you have to fend for yourself and as such you feel unsafe and unprotected. This means in every situation where you begin to feel unsafe or anxious, instead of tuning it out, use that feeling of un-safety as an alarm bell. When it goes off, ask yourself, what could I do to make this situation feel safer? And then take action on the answer you receive. It isn’t always dramatic things like leaving the situation that are necessary to do. For example, in a social situation perhaps putting on a puffy coat would make you feel safer. Write up a safety list. Put everything that makes you feel safe on that list. Things like warm water, listening to soothing sounds, being held, the smell of bread etc. Make this list as long as possible. When you feel unsafe, go to that list and pick something off of it and go do that thing.
Give loving presence to and understand your worry. People with anorexia are struggling with anxiety and worry. This is because they feel out of control in a world where people and even the universe cannot be trusted to be in control in ways that will benefit them. To understand your worry in depth as well as what to do about it, watch my videos titled: How To Stop Worrying (Ask Teal Episode On Worry) and How To Stop Expecting The Worst (Catastophizing).
Develop a positive relationship with food. Since negative food relationship is a part of anorexia, it is critical to change your relationship to food. It is ok to be controlling with food, so long as you ACTUALLY are in touch with your body’s signals, needs, desires and best interests. Just be ware that just like the adults in your early life thought things were in your best interests that actually weren’t in your best interests at all, you run the very real risk of thinking things are in the best interests of your body that actually are not in your body’s best interests at all. For more information about how to do this, watch my video titled: How To Improve Your Relationship With Food.
If exercise is part of your anorexia, the same should be done with exercise. Exercise with the best interests of your body in mind and heart, even if that means much less exercise or totally different forms of exercise. What would it be like to exercise with the idea of helping your body to feel healthier and stronger instead of for it to lose weight? So often we can do things against our body instead of for our body, but we lie to ourselves by telling ourselves we are doing it for our body. This is self gas lighting. Any time we do something against our body, it will backfire eventually.
As with most things, I could write an entire book on the process of healing from anorexia. But here I have listed the most important aspects of healing. If you commit yourself to these steps and this process, you will experience this healing. Believe it or not, it is possible for you to have relationships where people take your best interests as part of their best interests and therefore to feel safe in your relationships. It is possible for it to be safe for you to take in energy from life and for there to be no consequences for doing so. It is possible that the person that you really are is not only a success, but is also more than good enough. It is possible for you to control the conscious creation of a life that feels good. In fact, you came here to do exactly that.