Eating Disorder Recovery: How to Release Control, Perfection, and Routine
I can honestly say that any eating disorder has a root cause: control. I think it’s much easier to see the ‘control’ when it comes to women who struggle with restrictive eating or dieting. Over-exercising and orthorexia are heavily linked to control, as well, rooted in routine and discipline. However, I would also argue that over-eating, emotional eating, and binge eating can easily be linked to control, also, because it’s not the food we are seeking control over, it’s our emotions.
Somewhere in your life, you were fed a lie. *Spoiler alert!* It could have come from your celebrity crushes, social media apps, harsh school coaches, models in magazines. The lie is this: “You are bad for feeling bad.” That there is a destination, formula, mold we can all strive for and eventually achieve that will bring us unwavering joy, happiness, fulfillment, confidence, fortune, and more, and all you have to do is control, regiment and perfect your body, bank account, home, image, diet, and more.
Sounds like a pill you may have swallowed at some point?
We think there’s a secret, body size, boyfriend, job, check amount, etc. that will make us never feel bad ever again. And not only that, we think that it’s our fault that we haven’t found it yet! We think that if we do, act, look like, follow, wear the same designers, shop at the same stores, weigh the same amount as the celebrities on TV then life will be…. Perfect.
And how does one try to achieve perfection? By creating the ‘perfect’ diet, lifestyle, body, workout routine, family, and more.
So, we try to control EVERYTHING! We try to control the food that goes in our mouths, the clothes on our backs, etc. and not only that we try to CONTROL OUR EMOTIONS.
We begin to filter what feelings are and are not acceptable. Feeling good makes us good now and feeling bad makes us bad now. If we feel bad, it means we failed. It means people won’t like us. It means there’s something wrong with us because our screens say that there’s a way to never feel bad and we aren’t doing a good enough job to have that.
Food then becomes our punishment. When we feel bad we restrict harder, we diet harsher, we exercise more, we plan to lose more weight, the only difference between the control found in restriction and the control found in binge eating is that binge eating is control over one's emotions still just in the opposite way.
I used to feel sad in high school about my body. I would have a really bad body image day or I would feel bad about my acne or bad about my grades and to feel good I would restrict my diet. That brought me a sense of control and distraction from these bad emotions I was telling myself that I wasn’t allowed to feel in the first place. Fast forward to college, I would have a bad body image day or have a bad fight with a friend and feel bad about myself and I would binge eating to have control and a distraction over not wanting to feel my negative emotions.
See? They are actually the same.
It’s not the control over the food we need to be questioning here. It’s the control over your emotions.
Why is it bad to feel bad?
What does feeling bad mean about you or what do you think that it does?
What do you think of someone else when they feel bad?
My guess is that you feel like a failure for feeling bad. So, when you feel bad you have to take action to distract yourself from that and find a new fleeting sense of happiness. You turn to a quick fix and your quick fix is through food, regardless of your relationship to it! Restricting can bring a high of accomplishment and having a new goal to strive for. Binge eating can bring a high of happiness and disassociation from your present state.
You are trying to control your emotions through food in both instances.
What we fail to recognize is this: The only way to truly be in control is to control the choice to feel.
Let me explain. If you tell yourself you are NEVER allowed to feel. That feeling bad or sad or insecure makes you a failure and that happy people never feel bad, you’re setting yourself up to feel bad and not only that, to feel bad constantly. You’re running a losing race. It is impossible to always feel good all the time. Perfection doesn’t exist. And so what happens is this: Perhaps you feel good for a few days and then, you wake up and hate your thighs. You beat yourself up for feeling bad about your thighs. You’re piling on the hate and pain, you see!? What if you just sat with this negative emotion? What if you accepted that both you and I have bad days and have sad ones, as well, and they don’t make us bad or sad. They also don’t make us ‘out of control.’
You believe that being in control is not only being in control of your routine, calendar, ‘to do’ list, weight, diet, etc. You believe that being in control means only ever feeling good and happy.
Which is impossible.
Which makes you feel like a failure when you feel bad.
Which makes you feel even worse about yourself more.
Which makes you try to control the wrong variables once again→ you search for more and more ‘highs of happiness’
What if you accept that you will feel bad? That you will have bad days, weeks, months, heck even years! But, what if you not only accepted this but embraced it.
What if you actually attended your own pity party.
Two days ago I felt awful about myself. I felt like my posts were never good enough. I felt like I didn’t have enough money. I felt like I didn’t have enough clothes. I felt like I didn’t look cute or pretty or successful. Suffice it to say, I was throwing myself a downright PITY PARTY! The only difference being: This time, I actually attended the event!
I didn’t throw out all of these awful things I felt about myself and then ran away to scroll on Pinterest for two hours or stuff my face with chips to forget that I felt nervous about my call that afternoon! Nor did I start a new diet to bring me a ‘high’ of happiness and purpose that from my track record would have been followed by a heavy crash of pain and disappointment. I didn’t run. I sat down. I attended my sad gathering.
And it felt absolutely amazing.
I sat in silence outside in the Sun. I journaled about how awful I was, how terrible I felt like I had been performing at my job, what an awful friend I was, sister, daughter, etc. I journaled about how I hated the way I looked and hated the way I seemed to be living my life. I went in on this pity party HARD.
Then, the party ended. I had a little cry, did a little dance, made myself some lunch, turned on some pump-up music, and by mid-afternoon, I felt back to my normal, bubbly, happy, loud self, the girl I truly am and the same girl who wasn’t bad for feeling bad that morning; she was just the Em I love having a bad day.
My point is to pretend like you aren’t feeling bad about yourself or to only half-ass your pity party planning and attendance means the longer you’re putting off your own planned event. Your pity party is waiting for you to arrive! It wants you to sit in it and be surrounded by it so that the event can END! You don’t get to skip pity parties thrown by you! No one does! That’s life! We can’t expect to always feel good about all things in our life at all times!
Do you know where that gets you?
Planning and prepping and fearing and having to distract and cope with the unwavering upset and anxiety that your pity party is coming up and you don’t want to go.
I urge you to attend your party as soon as you receive the invitation.
I think the reason we fear feeling sad or bad is two parts:
1. We think that this will become our new baseline. If we allow ourselves to feel bad, then, we are going to feel bad forever! We instead adopt the belief that if we just keep faking it and pretending and running away from the bad feelings that we can ignore them and they’ll go away… how has that worked for you in the past? For me, it landed me in feeling bad CONSTANTLY! The more I tried to not feel bad ever or allow myself to feel sad or insecure ever, the more it became my reality. Every single day. The more I tried to be only happy and only perfect and only smiley, the more I never truly felt that way. Because perfection doesn’t exist and the chase towards it, then by default, is also going to bring you the pain of upset and letdown the more you try to never feel bad and then feel bad and then feel bad about feeling bad. Do you see what I mean? The more you try to only ever feel good, the more you’re actually making yourself feel bad every time that you don’t. And feeling ‘not good’ is a human emotion. It’s a universal truth. It’s part of the human experience. And you are a human living this experience! When you feel an emotion, you allow it to pass through you. When you ignore it and pretend it’s not there, it has no other option than to hang around inside that head of yours.
2. We identify with our feelings. This is a self-worth ‘aha’ moment. If someone complimented you and you felt good about yourself, do you feel that you are good? Or if you achieve something or accomplish something good, does that make you good? It doesn’t. Just like having a bad day, week, feeling bad doesn’t make you bad. You are a human being with innate worth and value as a BEING. Beings have good and bad feelings. Neither of which makes you good or bad. I’m not saying if you kill someone that you aren’t bad, but killing someone is an ACTION. Our actions dictate who we are in this world. Our feelings do not. If you feel depressed, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. If you feel joyous, that doesn’t mean you’re a good person! You are a being experiencing feelings, of which, are never going to be perfect or only positive! The quicker you accept this and lean into your feelings regardless of what they are and the less you identify AS your feelings, the more you actually will feel good.
Because the ‘feeling good’ comes from honoring oneself and creating space to feel good and be present in the first place. If you’re spending every hour of every day trying to put off your own pity party and distract yourself from having one in the first place, how much energy do you have to focus on feeling good?
I give you full permission to feel your feelings.
I give you full permission to not identify with them.
I give you full permission to feel good and bad and not have it mean that you are good or bad.
I give you full permission to be a human being.
I give you full permission to not seek happiness in food regardless of how it has become a distraction for you.
I give you full permission to release the belief that you have to control your emotions. Because you know the most controlling thing you can actually do: Control your right to feel. Control your right to honor your feelings. Control your attendance at your pity party. Control how you control yourself when it comes to feeling your feelings.
You cannot control always feeling good.
You can control how you respond to feeling bad.