The Link Between Eating Disorders and Control

Eating disorders and control

Life can be stressful at times. You may face financial challenges, loss of a job or relationships, or instability in other areas. When things feel chaotic, overwhelming and out of control, it’s common to focus on the one thing you do have power over – your body. 

Unfortunately, this idea can lead to food restriction as a coping mechanism. It provides a distraction from all the chaos and creates a feeling of control, alleviating stress and worry. But when taken to extremes, you could get trapped in a cycle of counting calories, restricting food intake, exercising, and checking your weight.  Over time, this pattern of behavior can become ingrained and develop into an eating disorder. Fortunately, it’s possible to recover and focus on getting your health – and life – back under your control.

How Eating Disorders Can Be Deceptive

Eating disorders are insidious, tricky diseases. They slowly unravel, persuading you to succumb to their demands; and sometimes, the demands are to eat less, binge, purge, or restrain from eating entirely. When an eating disorder takes over, it doesn’t just command your diet. It takes over your brain, behavioral patterns, emotions, and decisions. Even if you are hungry, your eating disorder voice manipulates you to change the idea of what “hungry” really means to you.

Psychologically, an eating disorder like anorexia can provide a sense of mastery over your body. Rigid rules and rituals around eating create a feeling of structure, predictability and security. You may feel that you are handling life well because you’re able to make the changes you want to see in your body, even if those changes aren’t healthy. Short term anorexia symptoms and health risks include weight loss, fatigue, dehydration and hair loss, which can quickly progress to more serious complications.

Eventually this behavior alters the brain circuits governing appetite and food intake. Due to the lack of necessary nutrition, your brain actually shrinks, becoming significantly weaker. This causes synapses to delay or misinterpret information from your hypothalamus – a small, but important part of your brain that controls hunger. Consequently, the brain can reject specific cues like taste and hunger. It then clings to the new habits you’re introducing to it, distorting your view of healthy eating habits and your body image. Disruptive thoughts, such as a distorted view of your body and self, remain the most destructive symptom of eating disorders. You know you need food to survive, but your brain is now re-directing your sensible thoughts and morphing them into challenging ones that are hard to combat and manage. We often refer to eating disorders as having their own “voice” or “entity.” That’s because when you develop an eating disorder, your thoughts and actions don’t really feel like your own anymore.

As the disorder progresses, it forces you to spend more and more time fixated on managing your most basic need: food. Ironically, what starts as a need for control over food intake can lead to the disorder completely controlling you and the way you live your life. 

Accept the Reality: You Cannot Control Everything

In reality, restricting and controlling the way you eat doesn’t actually help you with any of the situations in life that are bothering you. You aren’t going to change how someone treats you at work because you work on losing weight. You’re not going to bring someone back after they’ve passed away by setting down your fork before you’ve eaten.

Real freedom comes from realizing that you cannot control everything in life. There are simply things that will happen that you could not have predicted and that you cannot change after the fact. All of these issues are part of the human experience, but they are also out of your control. However, you can control how you respond to those events in a way that is positive for your mental and physical health. You can regain power over those events by adapting and finding alternate coping strategies.

When it comes to matters of the brain, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an excellent way to restore your thoughts and feelings. In this treatment, you can change your behavior and thinking to manage your problems better. It can benefit many forms of disordered eating because it revolves around the brain’s thought process – where the main problems stem from when an eating disorder develops. 

You Can Overcome an Eating Disorder

While it is true that an eating disorder is a severe disease that can have lasting implications, you do have an opportunity to overcome it and move forward with your life. Experienced therapists, dietitians and other health professionals can help teach you ways to overcome fears in your life and to let go of the obsessive need to control everything through food intake.

Once you learn healthier ways to cope and have the strategies you need to handle situations that make you uncomfortable in your life, you will find that you don’t need the eating disorder to resolve feelings of fear, worry, or anxiety. Over time, you will find that you don’t need to control every bite you eat, because you’ve given yourself the permission to let go, relax, and take challenges as they come. The journey of life can be uncontrollable, but it can also be unforgettable. There is beauty in surrendering and accepting, so don’t allow the eating disorder to drag you into its perfect storm.

If you’re dealing with anorexia or another eating disorder and feel out of control, now is the time to seek the help you need. Eating Disorder Solutions can help you get back on the path to better health. Contact us today at 855-808-4213 for more information on our anorexia treatment programs.