Anorexia nervosa is a very serious eating disorder.
Symptoms of anorexia can be very severe. They include extreme restriction of caloric intake, very low body weight, and a fear of getting fat.
A distorted body image can lead to a rigid adherence to an extreme weight-loss diet. Self-starvation is often the outcome.
Anorexia nervosa can be deadly. It has the highest mortality rate of all psychological disorders.
What Does Anorexia Have to Do With Control?
Everything! More than food, weight or fat, an eating disorder is ultimately about control.
Many anorexics say that their illness is about controlling their body, and about controlling their natural impulse to eat.
Restricting your food intake, however, has immediate consequences.
You become hungry but force yourself to abstain. This means you can control something most others cannot, and you feel powerfully in control.
You experience both the need to eat and your own self-imposed denial of your own needs. This self-denial can, and usually does, extend to other needs and to your feelings and relationships.
“I may not be in control of anything else, but no one can force me to eat,” a recovering anorexic says.
Anorexia Means You Control Your Eating.
A lot of anorexics control their eating through calorie counting.
Many are very well informed about the calorie density in all kinds of food.
They set goals both for calorie restriction and for continued weight loss.
Often, the need to control evolves into elaborate eating rituals, where a small amount of food is cut up into tiny pieces, and meals have to be consumed under rigid rules.
All of this calorie counting, goals, rules and rituals aimed at being in control on the outside can make the anorexic feel quite out of control on the inside.
Anorexia and Overeating – When Are You Out of Control?
If you have ever struggled with overeating, you know that it makes you feel out of control.
Some anorexics develop their illness when they are overweight.
But even for those who don’t share a fear of overeating, food becomes the enemy because it contains the power to make you fat. An irrational fear of becoming fat is often running the show in the mind of an anorexic.
If you don’t eat, you feel you are taking the power away from food. It feels as if you have ‘overcome’ your desire to eat.
You are abstaining from satisfying your desires and even your basic needs.
Many anorexics feel ‘virtuous’ and ‘good’ when they deny themselves their needs. As if needs and desires were something bad and need to be controlled. These beliefs are commonly learned in the anorexic’s family experience and run deep into their family’s history. If you have struggled with not being able to stop eating, this experience is new and particularly powerful.
Anorexia and The Rest of Your Life – What Can You Control?
What can you really control in your life?
Probably a lot less than you want to.
You are born into a particular family, you have to go to school, and you have to earn a living.
There are many social norms that you have to adhere to.
Your society is ruled by powers far beyond you.
Anorexia is often a response to all of that.
You feel overwhelmed and disempowered.
Maybe there is a point of crisis where you feel that you can never do what you want and that others control your life.
One of the few things you can control is your eating. And through your eating, you can control your appearance. And inside, the main reason for all of these attempts at control is a desire to feel in control of your life.
Anorexia and Body Shame – Who Controls Who?
Recent studies have shown that anorexia is commonly very much connected to body image and body shame.
If you are not thin, you inevitably will be shamed for your body.
Shamed by your immediate environment, by the media, often even by the medical profession.
If you suffer from anorexia, you tend to shame yourself.
Every time you look in the mirror, you see a body that you need to control.
If you don’t, it will become fat. Sometimes, in the later stages of the disease, it can be a particular area of your body that you feel needs to ‘slim down’ or disappear.
But all of that self-denial, that self-control you exercise, really only feeds your body shame. And that body shame controls you.
As an Anorexic, Your Eating Controls You.
The more you get fixated on controlling your eating, the more time and headspace you give to food, counting calories, and your weight. Your life revolves around your strategies to deny yourself your most basic need.
This is a paradox that all anorexics experience, and it can be heart breaking.
You are desperate for more control over your life, you struggle, but you can’t find a different solution other than to starve yourself. Ironically, by doing that, you let the very thing that you want to control, control you.
Anorexia and Your Future
Anorexia is a complex condition, with biological, psychological, and societal factors all impacting your physical, spiritual, and mental health.
In spite of the severity of this disease, there are many very good treatment approaches. You can recover from anorexia with well-trained, experienced help that eventually involves your ability to let go of your excessive control over food and your extreme self-denial. When you learn new and healthier ways of taking control of your life, you will find that you need the eating disorder less and less, and it will thus become easier to let go of. You will get many options back that will empower you to make your own choices and shape your life in ways that your anorexia never can.
Take the First Step…
If you are tired of feeling out of control, and would like to take control over your life in a healthy way, I would like to help. Please contact me via voicemail or email so we can set up a time to discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT