Hope for Relationships

The whole-person approach to healing

Disordered Eating: Control or Controlled?

Bulimia, anorexia, and compulsive overeating all have their roots in abuse.

Catherine was having an affair. It was her little secret. No one else was let in on it, not even her best friend. Her husband didn't know, of course. Every time she would meet with her lover in a quiet room in an out-of-the-way place where no one knew her, she knew it was wrong. But her lover met needs she had in a way nothing else seemed to. Even though she would feel dirty afterwards, it didn't stop her from going, and she would devise elaborate lies to cover up what she was doing.

Even when they were apart, Catherine's mind was on her beloved: when they would meet, what they would do together, how it would feel when it was just the two of them alone again. As she thought of their time together, she could almost begin to hate what they did enough to stop it. But life without her lover seemed like no life at all.

It might have been different if Catherine's lover had been another person, but Catherine was a bulimic, and her lover was food -- preferably sweets, chocolate in particular. She would find a safe place, away from prying eyes, and consume mass quantities of cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and desserts of any kind. Shoving them down her throat as fast as she could, she felt as if her hunger was just on the verge of being satisfied. It was always on the verge, though. She would stuff more and more down in the hope of achieving fulfillment.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Afterwards she would panic. Finding a bathroom, she would turn on the water full blast to hide the noise and stick her finger down her throat.

Something inside Catherine's mind drove her to act out this destructive scenario over and over with her body. Not content to keep the abusive effects to itself, the mind was determined to take the body along with it.

Bulimia, anorexia, and compulsive overeating all have their roots in abuse of some kind. They derive from an inappropriate use of control. The bulimic and the compulsive overeater are out of control. The compulsive overeater is a binge eater, like the bulimic, without the subsequent purging. For the anorexic, the problem isn't lack of control, it is the obsessive use of control -- specifically control over one's consumption of food.

No one starts out life deciding they are going to spend years stuffing sweets and junk food down their throats only to throw it up or flush it out of the body with laxatives and diuretics. No one starts out life deciding they are going to drink only water and take four bites of food each day to force their body to shrink. No one starts out that way.

Somewhere along the line, messages are given to all these individuals about their self-worth, their looks, their weight, and their value to themselves and others. Those messages, delivered under the battering of emotional abuse, gave birth to the destructive practices of the eating disorder.

If you are living with disordered eating:

  • Are you willing to work with mental health and healthcare professionals to address this condition, or do you feel you need to get better by yourself?
  • Have you tried to get better by yourself in the past? If so, was this successful?
  • If you are not willing at this time to work with mental health or medical professionals, can you identify why?
  • If working with your current mental health or health-care professional is not producing positive results, are you willing to seek help elsewhere?

While you might choose to ignore the signs of emotional abuse in your life, often you have no choice but to pay attention to the physical ones. When the body speaks, it's time to listen. By being alert to one part of yourself, your body, and the effects you experience, you can be led to discover the truth about your whole self -- emotional, physical, and relational.

2013 Hope and Healing From Emotional Abuse, Gregory L. Jantz. Revell.

Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D., founded The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Edmonds, Washington.

more...

Subscribe to Hope for Relationships

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.