Eating Disorders – Peer pressure or influence from social media?
Eating disorders are seen as any system of behaviours relating to food that seek to make us feel in control. There are a number of diagnosed disorders that dominate media coverage, such as anorexia or bulimia. However, over eating, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder and many other issues around food make this a complex topic.
From a therapeutic point of view, any action that seeks to illicit control within our lives comes about as a consequence of other parts of our lives feeling out of control. When we are insecurely attached in early life, seeking control could be a lifelong process. Most vitally, if we have been through a trauma, most of our usual coping mechanisms will not fulfill our fundamental need for safety. Therefore engaging in a more controlling behaviour can help us to feel like there remains a part of our loves that we can fully influence and therefore feel safe about.
Controlling behaviours could occur within a relational setting, as we seek to exert a power over another person that we do not feel within ourselves. Equally, it could occur within a physical exertion, as we try to minimise the emotionality within ourselves by focussing entirely on a physical piece. If, for you, the most accessible means of control is within an eating disorder, there are some factors that might help.
First of all, we all, as a society, need to recognise the smoke screen that our collective world view of beauty and beauty acceptability creates. This smoke screen allows eating disorders to flourish. When we accept a world view that thin is better, more beautiful, sexier and therefore more worthy of love, affection and attention, we allow a systematic controlling of food intake to be an acceptable means of processing trauma. Indeed often we are so entrenched in this world view that we accept the narrative that certain people are unworthy of food at certain times. We assess the appearance of someone on a restrictive diet, to discern for ourselves whether it is ‘working’. We accept that for the sake of an event or to impress a person that someone would seek to make themselves smaller of frame, thinner and therefore more beautiful.
All of this buys into a set of beliefs that a wounded or traumatised psyche can tap into in order to gain control via food. Whilst the world view does not cause the eating disorder, it lays a framework in which the disorder can flourish in a socially- acceptable manner.
Secondly and most importantly, any controlling behaviour is a symbol of your fear response. A very controlling food behaviour likely began when your fear response was quashed at a young age. If it is unacceptable to you to show fear in a real way, then controlling the physical manifestation of self that the body represents is an option open to you to help the fear to go away. The deep work here is to allow yourself permission to feel fear. More than this, we all need to be supported in our fears and allowed the emotional space to feel them at their fullest without this damaging any relationship long term.
Finally, the short term goal with treatment of any eating disorder is to allow the behaviour to cease without the emotional content being suppressed. There are excellent counsellors with speciality training, as well as a number of specific non profit organisations that are available to allow behaviours to be released, loosened and worked through. Once this is done, more long term work could be useful.
If you find that your relationship with food is controlling you, take a step back. Engage with support. This can be conquered and you can build a new and healthier relationship with food.
By Lorraine Hackett