Emotional ‘Un-Wellness’ at Heart of Eating Disorders

Regardless of whether a person struggles with an eating disorder that involves too little food (anorexia) or too much food (bulimia or binge-eating), the physical ramifications of the disease can be horrific. In addition, eating disorders can be just as devastating to a person’s emotional and mental health. Eating disorders stem from emotional un-wellness, but they intensify emotional problems, too. Below are just a few of the common emotional struggles associated with eating disorders.

Low Self-Worth

Failure to recognize one’s individual worth can trigger an eating disorder, but it can likewise be a result of disordered eating. People who think they are worthless or at best inadequate may turn to restrictive eating patterns (like anorexia) or purging habits (associated with bulimia) as a way to change their appearance and thereby gain acceptance. If only they were thinner, they would feel better about themselves – or so the person believes. Others attempt to drown their nagging voice of low self-esteem in copious amounts of food. This only leads to guilt and shame about eating. The fact is that eating disorders never lead a person to a satisfying place of self-acceptance.

Seeking Control

The person who feels bad about themselves will look for a way to feel better. But that is only one trigger for eating disorders. Another trigger is a feeling of helplessness or powerlessness.  When life conditions (such as divorce, a move, or death of a loved one) seem beyond the person’s ability to control, food and weight can become power tools – a way to exert some degree of control over life. The empowerment that the person “gains” through disordered eating then becomes a necessary coping mechanism.

Obsession With Weight

An eating disorder can begin with a simple desire to change the way a person looks or feels about themselves. Far too often, however, the desire to lose weight morphs into an obsession. Those struggling with anorexia or bulimia often become phobic about gaining weight.

Mental Health Disorders

Eating disorders are frequently accompanied by other mental health conditions. Mental illnesses like anxiety disorder, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and even addiction to drugs are often comingled with eating disorders. The low self-worth that may have initiated the disorder can become self-loathing that expresses itself through such self-harming behaviors as cutting.

Eating disorders begin because there are unhealthy emotional factors in play. A person may engage in restrictive eating, purging or even binging as a way to alleviate these emotional problems. However, the disordered behavior only strengthens these negative emotional patterns.  Intervention is necessary and the sooner the better since the effects become more life threatening over time.

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