Ending the Eating Disorder Shame Spiral
When you think of an eating disorder, what comes to mind?
Many people envision a frail, emaciated young woman who is wasting away to nothing. You might be surprised to know that many people with eating disorders look just like you. Eating disorders are insidious and silent, often times undiagnosed by medical providers because of appearance. Our culture values thinness so much that unless someone drops to a dangerously low weight, even trained professionals aren’t able to see that someone is struggling in their relationship to food.
All Eating Disorders (EDs) are characterized by shame about what we eat and how we look.
And with the new “wellness” trend as the latest diet fad, health adds another layer of shame to the disorder. Most people with an ED can trace back to the moments or experiences that lead to this shame. It might have been parents obsessed with weight loss who put their children on diets. It might relate to a family culture of extreme health in which members were punished or shamed for eating “unhealthy” foods or skipping exercise. Still others can trace their shame to traumatic experiences such as a sexual assault in which they felt they lost control over their body.
Shame is what keeps people with ED sick.
Whether we are severely restricting, bingeing and/or purging or overexercising, it’s the shame that motivates us to continue. The source of the shame relates to feeling alone, damaged, unworthy. Not knowing how to manage these terrible feelings alone, while pretending that everything is fine on the outside.
People with are ED are some of the smartest, strongest, self motivated people I have ever met.
Despite our struggle which is often kept hidden, we are high achievers, kind and giving. Unfortunately these qualities are part of the problem. Because we hold themselves to such high standards, we end up punishing themselves with our ED behaviors. Or we use the ED behaviors to cope with feelings of insecurity or failure. Regardless, we are prone to feeling that shame that tells us that we are not enough. That our flaws mean that we are bad and worthless.
Support and connection are key to ending the shame spiral
Shame thrives on loneliness and alienation. When surrounded by people who understand, validate and support recovery, the shame of the eating disorder can begin to dissipate. Learning how to nourish and be kind to our body provides the love and support necessary to heal. Accepting our body as it is ,creates empowerment and strength. Self advocacy against family, friends, medical providers who have commented on and critiqued people with ED leads to feeling worthy and complete.