This is a very difficult question to answer and many researchers and scientists are still learning so much about these complicated disorders BUT we do know it is rarely about the food or wanting to be thin. What? Yes, that’s right, there are many misconceptions about what causes an eating disorder in our society and they really are caused by a combination of factors including genetic, psychological, biochemical, cultural, and environmental.
Eating disorders are complex and complicated and should be taken very seriously as they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry. For example, one shocking statistic is that 20% of people suffering from anorexia will die prematurely from complications of their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems! Yikes! So, what can we do about that?
Let’s begin by stating what we do know right now. People with eating disorders tend to use food and the control of food to cope with overwhelming thoughts and feelings. For some individuals, dieting, bingeing and purging may begin as a way to cope with painful emotions and to feel in control of one’s life without realizing the damage they are creating to their physical and emotional health. People just don’t choose to have an eating disorder and you can’t tell if someone has one just by looking at them so we need to look at specific factors that contribute to them. Here are a few to be aware of:
Eating disorders are complex and something to take very seriously. Once started, the disorder can create a self-perpetuating cycle of physical and mental destruction. Successful treatment of eating disorders requires professional help. A large part of my practice is helping those with eating disorders and something I specialize in. Contact me at the Carlsbad Counseling Center (619)431-1842 to see how I can help you or someone you know get out of the grasp of an eating disorder.
What you think and say about yourself has everything to do with how you see yourself. Have you ever had a day where it seems as if everything in your closet just doesn’t fit quite right, except of course the shapeless tunic way in the back that hasn’t seen the light of day for three years? Ever have a day where you are dragging around and no amount of caffeine puts that spring back in your step? All of us have days like this where we may feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied with our bodies… and this is quite normal. It’s when someone gets stuck in the dissatisfaction with themselves and the body they are born in that body image can become a problem. Learning how to move past these negative feelings about our bodies and accept ourselves completely is the key to positive body image. Easier said than done. How does someone do that?
1.) The first step is to recognize your body is unique, special and amazing. Our bodies can do incredible things and the mere fact that we can breathe without thinking about it is downright miraculous. There are thousands of actions our bodies can do without us even giving it a second thought. Respect that! Honor that! Remind yourself of this daily.
2.) The second step is to accept that fact that we are all born with a natural shape and innate talents that make us individuals. Discover your talents, be a detective and search for what makes you… well YOU! You were born in a body that was perfectly made to utilize those specific talents.
3.) The third step is to mentally challenge any negative thoughts that pop up in our minds about our body. Learn to overpower negative thinking with self-affirming and positive thoughts. Unfortunately most of us pick up on negative thoughts much easier than positive ones so it will take some mental muscle to be aware of these negative thoughts and find ways to challenge them.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), people with negative body image have a much greater chance of developing an eating disorder and are much more likely to suffer from depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.
These three steps are very simple concepts but very difficult to master. We are inundated through social media with many reasons why we don’t measure up and why we need specific products to make us become "better and more attractive" people. Tailor what you watch and look at so you can be your own positive body image advocate. Accept yourself. Accept your body.
Recently I made the decision to use myself as an object of study with stress management. I figured if I'm going to suggest ways to vastly improve stress to others I might as well know how well they work when deep in the trenches. I went through a typical week that included my regular schedule and demands, and tried very hard to remain a neutral observer and watch for symptoms of how stress affected me, the signs, the triggers, and if any changes made a difference. These are my discoveries:
Noticing the signs and affects of stress. I definitely noticed somatic (physical) symptoms such as increased stomach aches, headaches, irregular sleep, mental distraction / cloudy thinking, and increased irritability. These were all symptoms I have begun to see as "normal" parts of life and I realized that stress greatly affected my self care and well-being and slowly seeped into my personal relationships. This was a significant discovery because I realized that like many people I am learning to live my life with a high amount of un-needed stress AND I was the cause of most of my stress!
The triggers of stress. I began to see that I could notice triggers easier than before because of the increased sensitivity to my somatic symptoms. As I started to "tune in" to my body, I could often foresee the need for increased self care at a much quicker pace than I had earlier recognized. The notion of just noticing these symptoms without judgement was important in uncovering many of these effects that at times I wasn't even aware of, that had even become my "norm.'
Implementing Self Care. When I began to see the increase of my physical symptoms and recognizing I was in the driver seat to how much better I can feel by instilling more self-compassion and self care, I had a sense of power. I felt more in control and less of a victim to a stressful life. Taking a few breaks throughout the day and focusing on my breathing, becoming more mindful in uncomfortable situations without judgement, and realizing heightened emotions can be short lived, were all part of my self care plan. One very important change I also incorporated was realizing some of the stress I created for myself didn't belong to me and I didn't have to "own" negative energy just because the person(s) in front of me wanted me to. Although I can offer empathy, understanding, and validation to someone in the moment, I don't have to absorb and take on what is not mine. There is so much power in owning your own stuff and gently giving back what is not yours.
Deborah is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who is passionate about helping people discover their true, authentic self.
Deborah is licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist #94438 through the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.