What a ballsy question for me to do my best answering…
There are, of course, many layers as to why one might develop an eating disorder, as everyone is unique and has experienced different life experiences. I have, however, seen many similarities in my clients (including myself) as we’ve peeled back the layers and discovered the root cause.
The question isn’t;
“Why the addiction?”
“Why the pain?”
In this context, I’m speaking about the addiction to restriction or the addiction to needing to be perfect etc.
Eating disorders usually arise from trauma and codependency as a child (more about this shortly).
Poor body image is usually an outcome/consequence of trauma, not the root cause of an eating disorder.
Some professionals focus primarily on changing eating behaviours with some basic body image work to support clients through recovery but in my opinion, this isn’t enough. If a fear of weight gain is still present or if the client doesn’t love themselves then we’re looking at quasi-recovery at best… and that’s not enough. Why only partially recover when you can love in total freedom and self-love?
Only focusing primarily on changing eating behaviours with some basic body image may be enough for some, especially for those with a similar experience to Tabitha Farrar who had “no childhood trauma” (her own words) and developed the eating disorder simply by epigenetics – a genetic response to being underweight for those with the genetics for anorexia.
But for most people with eating disorders in order to fully recover fully, we have to go deeper.
Many people (including myself years ago) think that poor body image/fear of weight gain is the cause of eating disorders by attempting to fit into society and receive praise, validation and love.
That can absolutely be the case, especially due to the societal pressures we live in.
In my opinion, disordered eating that develops after childhood/adolescence is usually born from the root fear of weight gain and the pressure to look a certain way because…
Disordered eating is NORMALISED in society. 😡
An eating disorder that is developed in childhood/adolescence (and which can reappear at any time later in life if not completely healed) is due to deeper reasons other than just wanting to look a certain way.
An eating disorder is a misinterpretation of food as a threat.
Self-worth & body image
The degree to which a person’s self-worth and happiness are dependent on the way they look is the degree to which they will suffer from an eating disorder as a consequence of them trying to control their body…
Why the need to control the body?
- needing to be perfect
- people pleasing
- desiring to be loved and accepted
- fear of rejection
- needing to be small –> hidden/unnoticed
- wanting someone to take care of them – being sick
- wanting others to see the pain they’re feeling on the inside
If the percentage of someone’s self-worth is let’s say 90% dependent on how thin they are (the old me), then this person will most certainly develop a severe eating disorder.
If the percentage of someone’s self-worth is let’s say 30% dependent on how thin they are, then this person will most certainly develop disordered eating.
Those who develop eating disorders from childhood or adolescence almost always have experienced abuse → shame → codependency → process addictions → anxiety. The eating disorder is a way of coping with the abuse.
Types of abuse that cause codependency are:
Enmeshment is a concept in psychology and psychotherapy introduced by Salvador Minuchin (1921–2017) to describe families where personal boundaries are diffused, sub-systems undifferentiated, and over-concern for others leads to a loss of autonomous development.
Signs of enmeshment...
- You feel anxious when spending time alone or apart from the other person in the relationship.
- You have a hard time feeling happy if the other person is unhappy.
- You prioritize their needs and erase your own. Or you subconsciously assume they need the same things you need.
- You feel responsible for their emotions as if it’s your job to make them happy.
- This can feel like you are a parent to your parent or partner.
- You are an avid people pleaser.
Enmeshment is abuse because it uses the child to take care of the caregiver.
Enmeshment trauma is one of the most misunderstood forms of emotional abuse, which is why so many people suffer from it without realizing the impact it has on their relationships.
Abuse within an enmeshed family system is a unique sort of trauma. Some survivors of such trauma may not recognize their experiences as traumatic and may even defend their abusers.
Enmeshment describes family relationships that lack boundaries such that roles and expectations are confused, parents are overly and inappropriately reliant on their children for support, and children are not allowed to become emotionally independent or separate from their parents.
In the context of caregiving, neglect is a form of abuse where the perpetrator, who is responsible for caring for someone who is unable to care for themselves, fails to do so. It can be a result of carelessness, indifference, or unwillingness and abuse.
For example, I was taken to my Grandma’s every day when my mum and dad were working and my Grandma would lock me outside whenever I cried until I stopped crying. She would bully me and emotionally abuse me. My parents still delivered me there every day even though they knew what was happening. It was actually laughed off.
There are 4 types of neglect.
Early childhood experiences are the biggest contributor to developing abandonment issues when you become an adult. The traumatic event might include the loss of a parent by divorce or death or not getting enough physical or emotional care as a child. Emotional abandonment occurs when parents:
- Do not let their children express themselves emotionally
- Ridicule their children
- Put too much pressure on their children to be “perfect”
- Treat their children like their peers
A fear of abandonment presents itself in people who seem like “people pleasers” or need continuous reassurance that they are loved. There is also a consistent anxiety that occurs with abandonment issues.
Common signs of abandonment issues include:
- Giving too much or being overly eager to please
- Jealousy in your relationship or of others
- Trouble trusting your partner’s intentions
- Feeling insecure about your relationship
- Having difficulty in feeling intimate emotionally
- Needing to control or be controlled by your partner
- Settling in unsatisfactory relationships
It is not uncommon for you to want your partners to treat you the same way as you were treated as a child.
Shame and perfectionism are 2 sides of the same coin.
If you’ve experienced any of the above during childhood then you’ll be harbouring a lot of shame.
Shame is a deeply painful self-conscious emotion often associated with negative self-evaluation; motivation to quit; and feelings of pain, exposure, distrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness.
Shame creates deep feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or somehow being unlovable. It causes low self-esteem and codependency. It can lead to other problems, such as aggression, PTSD, perfectionism, anti-social behaviour, depression, eating disorders, and addiction.
In an attempt to cope with codependency, we turn to either or all of the following:
- Process addictions
- Chemical addictions
- We can develop anxiety disorders
- And mood disorders.
There is always a reason why an eating disorder is developed as it serves a purpose…
Until it doesn’t.
What have you been seeking and why?
An essential part of healing and living in full recovery is to discover what you have been seeking and what you have done in an attempt to get those things.
I was seeking;
- Unconditional love
Because I had so much pressure to be perfect. I took responsibility for my mum’s emotions (codependency). I was always seeking a way to be good enough, accepted and loved. As a child, I had experienced enmeshment, abandonment, neglect and abuse which created a shit load of shame.
I was also the hero and the scapegoat.
And as a result of this endless seeking, I became addicted to…
This resulted in multiple eating disorders starting from anorexia at the age of around 12 (I started dieting at the age of 9) which morphed into binge eating and bulimia until I was 30!
So the eating disorders were a symptom of my seeking (bc I didn’t yet know how to reparent myself and give myself what I didn’t get and needed as a child.)
How do we heal all of this?
Hire someone who you trust and feel connected with to support you through your recovery journey. Someone (like myself) who loves you before they have even met you and who can mirror back to you how God damn worthy and lovable you are as they support and guide you back home to self-love. ❤️ Someone who has rewired their own fear of weight gain and who has done and continues to do the inner healing work themselves.
Self-love looks like:
- Putting yourself and your needs first
- Expressing yourself
- Meeting yourself where you’re at
- Values & identity exploration
- Reparenting yourself
It’s a journey but the effort, time and investment are so worth it. If you could only taste what it feels like to live in total food freedom and self-love you’d start recovery in a heartbeat without a second thought!
If you’d like me to support you then take a look at how you can work with me here.