She cannot stop running. Her legs feel heavy, like wooden logs, and her heart is pounding so hard she feels like it will explode. She starts to feel the familiar dizziness, the edges of her vision are becoming hazy, and her knees are painfully throbbing.
Her friends applaud her dedication and say they wish that they could be so disciplined. It is not discipline or motivation that causes her to run for miles down this winding road at sunrise. The voice of anorexia is screaming in her head and demands that she keep running. She is a prisoner to her own mind.
Eating disorders are not a choice. No one would choose to lose all of their friends because they cannot go anywhere where there will be food, to watch in terror as their hair falls out, to binge eat until they feel that their stomach is going to burst, or to exercise despite physical pain and injuries.
Eating disorders are one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses. People commonly misperceive that individuals with eating disorders are “vain” or that eating disorders are all about wanting to look thin like models in the magazines. An eating disorder is a maladaptive coping skill that people use to numb themselves from painful emotions, to escape from the trauma that they may have experienced, or to feel a false sense of control.
Eating disorders are not a choice, but individuals can choose to begin the journey toward recovery. Keep in mind that it is normal to feel ambivalent about wanting to recover. After all, your eating disorder is serving you in some way. Otherwise, you would have chosen recovery a long time ago. There are much healthier ways to meet the needs that your eating disorder is currently meeting.
The following are some common reasons that I have heard people use about why they do not want to recover and my counterarguments.
- I am not sick enough to recover. Your eating disorder voice will desperately try to convince you that you are not sick enough to recover. It will scour the Internet for stories about women and men who are deeper into their eating disorders than you are. Just because you are not underweight does not mean that you do not deserve recovery.
You can be malnourished and can suffer from health complications at any weight. In addition, just because your blood work came back normal does not mean that you do not deserve recovery. No one would say that their cancer is “only stage I” so they want to wait for it to progress to stage IV to seek treatment. Everyone who struggles with an eating disorder deserves to seek help.
An eating disorder is a mental illness and you do not need to be experiencing physical symptoms to seek treatment. If you are struggling with this thought, I would recommend making a list of what your life could look like 10 years from now if you choose recovery and what your life could look like if you stay sick.
- I will become overweight. One of the goals of eating disorder recovery (if you are not currently at your setpoint) is to find your setpoint weight and maintain it. Your setpoint is defined as “the weight range in which your body is programmed to function optimally. Setpoint theory holds that one’s body will fight to maintain that weight range.” Therefore, it stands to reason that if you are working on mindfully attuning to your hunger cues and eliminating restricting, purging, and bingeing behaviors, it is very likely that your body will be guided towards its setpoint.
Your eating disorder thinks in “black and white” terms and will try to convince you that if you recover from your eating disorder, you will be miserably unhappy with your body. I have yet to meet someone who is in the midst of struggling with an eating disorder and is happy with his or her body. However, I have met many people in recovery who feel much more accepting and even loving of their bodies than when they were in the midst of their disorders.
- My eating disorder makes me feel special and unique.
The truth is that the deeper that you are in your eating disorder, the more you become a carbon copy of everyone else who is struggling with an eating disorder. An eating disorder hijacks your true sense of self and identity and replaces it with an illness. I guarantee that there are other traits or qualities about yourself that make you special and unique, which the eating disorder is currently masking.
If you have struggled with your eating disorder for a long time it might be hard to remember what you were like before it began. Try to think back to your childhood passions and what you enjoyed doing. If your eating disorder began in childhood, now is the time to truly discover your passions and interests outside of food and exercise. Think about the amazing contributions you could make in the world if you utilized all of the time that you spend obsessing about calories and exercise for a different purpose. You could even eventually serve as a role model or mentor to others who are struggling with their own recoveries.
Recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Choosing recovery each and every day will enable you to discover your true self and to reclaim your life again.
You should not have to suffer in silence. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, it is a sign of strength to seek help and support by opening up to a friend or family member, or reaching out to a therapist or dietician. Developing an eating disorder is not a choice, but it is never too late to choose recovery.
Woman with eating disorder photo available from Shutterstock