Eating disorders and substance abuse addictions are full of paradoxes. For example, individuals feel protected if his/body is too thin or too big—thus making them “unattractive” and “safe” from being vulnerable and hurt by others. On the other hand, eating disorders increase vulnerability by making the body physically unhealthy, weak, and isolated from loved ones. Similarly, an individual may feel power by restricting intake and “controlling” body size and appearance. However, this obsessive focus on body, food intake, and overall size leads to compulsive behaviors that actually take control over the individual. The scale may lead to feelings of happiness and confidence one day and create feelings of despair, sadness, and anger the following day.
One common message I hear in private practice is the desire to be “unique” Similarly, having difficulty going into treatment because he/she is not “sick enough” compared to person X and Y. Clients often communicate that it is okay for a friend to have a muffin yet not acceptable for him/her to consume a muffin because it would lead to weight gain. Alternatively, needing to exercise for longer durations due to having a slower metabolism compared to peers. In other words, there seems to be a conviction that they are “special” and that “rules” don’t apply to them. This type of thinking is very dangerous and represents a negative trap for remaining stuck in distorted and unhealthy patterns of behaviors.
While the human body is resilient, it will not accept such illusions or exceptions to the rule. The body will respond to danger (e.g., eyelids blinking faster to avoid dirt) unless it is too numb or too weak to be present—which often happens when the body is undernourished or under the influence of substances. The body also does not lie. For example, someone may say they are not “sick enough” and blood results may appear normal, yet the body density scan will reveal a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
A significant part of treatment and recovery is re-connecting with the body and learning how to listen and honor it. This is extremely difficulty because it requires courage, hope, faith, trust, and strength to let go of illusions and seek reality. The longer someone has struggled with addiction the more challenging it may be to release negative ways of thinking and behaving. Binge eating and restriction do not lead to sustaining changes in lowering anxiety and depression. To achieve freedom and more emotional control, a person needs to address and process the underlying roots and concerns that are leading to negative urges and related behaviors. Staying present and being connected is incompatible with numbness or a loss of consciousness. Ultimately, the process of being in the moment and approaching underlying feelings provides freedom and a fresh start towards becoming friends with your body. The body is no longer considered an enemy but rather a trusted companion.
Another principle in treatment is looking beyond the individual level; instead of trying to be “unique” or “normal,” examine what health truly means to you and not how society, a friend, a sibling, or family member defines health. Be alert to tricks and illusions—specifically recognizing that the sense of being an further proves the rule. Allow yourself to “do what everyone else can do” as you take your body where it needs to go. As you choose to enter recovery, consider letting go of defenses and rules, and ask yourself the following:
- How are you denying your body requests today?
- What are you doing to grant requests made by your body?
- How are you continuing to punish your body?
- What are you doing to reward your body?
- What are ways to re-connect with your body?
- What is one way you can show your body trust, kindness, and friendship today?”
Remember, even as you learn a rule based in reality you are still subject to it. Recovery and treatment require consistent reflection, vulnerability, honesty, and self-awareness. Search for traps, lies, and mind games, and most importantly, invest in a relationship with yourself and