In the work I do, I consider eating disorders a survival mechanism used to numb feelings, expressing on the outside the pain felt on the inside. These feelings, which are usually below a person’s level of awareness, eat away at the self. Food, or the lack of it, becomes medication or deprivation to actively bury unexpressed feelings of heartbreak and powerlessness.
The relationship to the body and with food becomes all consuming, with the body becoming the harbor of shame or punishment. Being under or overweight is unconsciously used as camouflage to look physically unavailable or unapproachable to ward off undesirable attention.
Eating disorders, or eating defenses, effectively mask the person from identifying the wound that created the need for the defense in the first place. This defense usually protects one from remembering some variation of inappropriate and unwanted sexual contact. The divorcing of one’s self from the original hurt can create detachment from self, confusion, chaos, numbness and self hate that can lead to cutting, as well as the need to starve oneself or gain excessive weight to present an image that eludes sexual attention.
It is as possible to heal from an eating disorder as it is to heal from any addiction. All addictions are symptoms of buried wounds and cries for help. The underlying denied feelings, which actually hold the key to our authentic self, ache to be revealed, cleansed, healed and transformed in the light of day. As long as there is a willingness to slowly open to what lies within, you can heal and grow far beyond your dreams.
Repressed or dissociated feelings can be accessed through art therapy, working with one’s inner children, as well as through insight oriented and experiential therapy. Learning to identify, trust, and safely express feelings is key to opening to your power, to real power that is in the service of love. Feelings experienced, whether it be anger, rage, shame, fear, or grief, can then be released from and through the body, leaving room for light and uplifting energies to enter. What is brought to consciousness can set you free.
Types of Eating Disorders
With the defense of anorexia, the relationship with food may be the only means of control in an out of control environment. The abstinence of sufficient nutrition, or the purging of it, can lead to dangerous levels of weight loss, and a concurrent fear of gaining weight. Anorexia can serve as a coping mechanism to mythically maintain looking very young, which is equated with keeping the body and self safe.
In bulimia, there are addictive cycles of bingeing and purging, along with the use of fasting and/or extreme exercise. The painful act of vomiting, or purging, acts as a way to expel feelings the person has no awareness of. What they may be in touch with is raw suffering but not what created the suffering. As in anorexia, this can lead to dangerous medical complications.
Compulsive overeating, bingeing, or eating inordinate amounts of food uses weight as a protective barrier for body safety. The outer self may be hungry for attention while the inner self is saying “stay away”. The real protection is in developing a relationship with the inner self which allows for the healing of broken body boundaries and self concepts. Instead of weight, a person can learn to use their authentic powerful self to set boundaries as well as to turn the rage/pain/grief cycle carried inside into a creative motivating force that fosters wholeness.
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