Anxiety & Eating Disorders (COVID-19)
I remember being told that anxiety and eating disorders were linked. I remember thinking, “I for sure have anxiety!” But, what I don’t remember is someone helping me through it. Someone explaining to me how it was linked, which was the cause or the effect or if that even mattered, and most importantly, what the heck to do about it in the first place!
People who struggle with eating disorders of any kind are usually more prone to also struggle with anxiety. They are usually more high-strung, obsessive, easily addicted and of course, perfectionists. I don’t know about you, but the more I looked into the connection between anxiety and eating disorders, the more I realized this was finally my full profile and knowing one’s full profile is the only way to empower someone to recover.
On a scientific level, it’s been shown that people who struggled with an eating disorder at any stage in their lives were also predisposed to struggle with anxiety. A lot of studies point to this: “If one feels out of control internally, one is more likely to find a sense of control elsewhere.” And this rang MAJOR bells in my head! I always felt unsettled, uneasy, on edge when I was growing up and it could simply be that this was the way I was wired, but the way I learned and trained myself to cope was the real problem. When I would feel these sudden bursts of panic or uneasiness, I would turn to searching for control elsewhere and can you guess where I found it?
I controlled my diet.
I controlled my weight.
I controlled my step count, workouts, water, hours slept, movements tracked.
I controlled every calorie.
I controlled every ounce of sodium.
I controlled my environment to the best that I could because I didn’t know how to control what was going on inside of my little head.
And this is common amongst eating disorders. People say that their restrictions make them feel ‘safe,’ ‘secured,’ ‘in control,’ and to be honest, they probably do! I think it’s important to note that your eating disorder, to a certain extent, does make us feel safe! That’s sad, but it doesn’t make it less true! I loved the control and the satisfaction it brought me. That’s why going on a simple diet can be harmless for some and detrimental to others! I became addicted to being in control and the only way to always be in control is to keep controlling more and more.
Studies have asked the question, “Why do some people go on a diet and return to normal life while others continuously restrict and develop an eating disorder?” It’s your addiction to control. And anxiety is fueling that addiction.
Something I had to learn the very hard way was that my anxiety, just like my eating disorder, wasn’t going to go away by being ignored. No matter how hard or long or seriously I fought ever admitting that I was struggling with anxiety, the harsher and deeper the anxious roots became. Until one day, I cracked! And can you guess what happened and what happens to most?
I began to binge eat.
I would control and restrict and control and restrict and then I would binge. I would gorge on food. Nearly zoning out of reality and zoning into my plate of distraction and I would ignore the pain I was feeling once again, this time just in a different way.
What I think is misunderstood about anorexia versus binge eating disorder *both of which I experienced for years* is that one is about controlling and one is about being out of control.
I don’t agree with this.
Anorexia brings about a false sense of control and binge eating is the rebellion of that false sense. I’m not saying your eating disorder is all your fault and you should get it together! NOT AT ALL! I’m saying you have never been in control of your disorder, you have always been being controlled by it.
You have to release the idea that controlling your diet puts you in the pilot seat of your life. It doesn’t. Controlling your emotions does. When you focus on counting every calories, your eating disorder is running the show whether you feel ‘accomplished,’ ‘safe,’ ‘good,’ or not. Don’t believe me?
I gave my entire life to my eating disorder, which for seven years was primarily anorexia. I thought, “I am so diligent and so good and regimented and closer to being perfect every time I control or restrict.” What was actually going on, was Emily surrendering her wheel to Ed. Every. Single. Moment.
I didn’t choose what I wanted for dinner. Ed did. I didn’t choose what I wanted to wear that day. Ed did. I didn’t choose where I went, who I saw, how I felt, what I said to or about myself. Ed did.
I didn’t have an ounce of control because I was being controlled. And I allowed myself to be controlled because I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings of anxiousness.
I had to disassociate.
I had to run away from that panic and pain.
I had to hide.
Until, I couldn’t hide anymore.
You see, when you’re young your brain chooses flight. Every. Single. Time.
Because it can’t imagine dealing with that pain or trauma or negative emotion when you’re so small. But, as you get older, and this is the key, you have to fight.
You have to choose to face it. You have to do so willingly and with the same determination, seriousness, and commitment you handed over the reigns, now you have to take them back! You have to FEEL anxious. You have to FEEL unsettled. You have to FEEL uneasy, on edge, panicky, and you have to seek support, love, and whatever resources you can to work through the anxiousness that could possibly be underlying your eating disorder. This anxiousness was underlying mine for sure.
I can’t remove the gene that makes me a bit more hyper or motivated or obsessive or type A, but I can choose to use it to my advantage. One of the biggest tips I have ever found was an article that talked about how anxious individuals are usually more creative, which is a reason we experience anxiety. We tend to easily get bored, but our brains crave stimuli, creativity or excitement possibly more than someone’s brain that doesn’t struggle with anxiety.
So, I chose to use my personality profile to my advantage and dive into creative projects. I noticed that when I was feeling inspired it was oddly similar to the initial feeling I would get of having a panic attack. Some people use this hyperness to exercise *do this carefully and be sure you are along far enough in your recovery to trust yourself with this one.* Some people find that music helps them by cooking or coloring.
You aren’t broken, maybe you’re just a seriously strong, determined and creative individual who unfortunately chose the wrong thing to become obsessive over. You can choose again. You will choose again. Feel the anxiety out. You felt it in. And find something that lights your soul on fire. Use your genome to your advantage and not detriment. It’s taken me a long time to do so, but I wish I had embraced Emily sooner instead of embracing Ed with open arms because I wasn’t satisfied with myself or that sometimes I felt anxious.