Fit vs. Fiction's Blog

Eating Disorders: What’s PAIN got to do with it?

“WHY would someone starve themself or Binge on food so badly that they feel sick, I don’t get it!”

I hear this a lot….just heard it recently at a workshop I led on Body image and Eating Disorders for teachers. Eating Disorders are incredibly difficult to understand because, frankly, they don’t make any sense. Trying to find something logical in the illogical is a complete waste of time. Which is why it can be so frustrating for the loved ones of something battling one.

WHY would someone who seems to have so much going for them “Choose” to hurt themselves with food?

I think the answer comes down to 2 words: Pain and Control.

There are several factors that play into why someone develops an eating disorder, but oftentimes it’s a way of controlling a situation that seems completely out of their control. When something in life feels overwhelming and beyond our control, we turn to the one thing we have complete control over: Our bodies.

We can decide what,when and how to eat..or NOT to eat. It can give us the feeling of power in a world where most of the time, we feel pretty powerless. But it’s only temporary. As anyone who has battled an Eating Disorder will tell you, it doesn’t take long before the Eating Disorder takes over and we are once again, feeling powerless and this feeling is incredibly painful.

PAIN is a big part of this disorder that most people do not understand. It is hard to understand WHY someone would knowingly do something that hurts them. Here’s my explanation:

There are so many reasons for why someone would develop an Eating Disorder. For a lot of people, it begins with a trauma. That trauma can come in many forms: Abuse, death of a loved one, divorce or even a big change like starting a new school or moving to a new city. There are SEVERAL reasons for why someone would feel the need to take control of their lives through their bodies.

Transfering Pain:

There are 2 kinds of pain: Emotional and Physical. Truth be told, for many people, especially kids, emotional pain can be much harder to deal with than the physical type. Physical pain is easier to understand because it makes sense and usually you can SEE it. If you cut yourself, you feel pain, you bandage it up, you feel better. If you break your arm, you feel pain, you get it fixed, you feel better. Easy.

But by not being able to SEE an emotional heartbreak, it is far more difficult to deal with it. So the idea is by transfering an emotional pain into a physical one, it becomes easier to CONTROL.

Eating Disorders HURT. Whether someone is starving themselves or compulsively overeating, there are side effects like stomach aches, nausea and headaches to name just a few. But this type of pain seems manageable compared to the emotional pain that’s driving them.

I’ll use myself as an example: When I was 17 years old, my brother Billy got sick and died. He was 21 years old and my hero. His death shattered me. I had never had an issue with food until my brother got sick. When Billy died, the pain of this loss was ENORMOUS. I could not wrap my head around the fact that he was gone and the pain was much too intense for my teenage brain to  comprehend. I turned to food..or rather, away from it.

By starving myself, I felt a sense of control through the mayhem. I felt sick most of the time, but the pain of my empty stomach was EASIER for me to understand than the pain of knowing that my big brother was gone. The more I could concentrate on stomach cramps and headaches, the less I had to think about my heartache.

Basically: The pain that comes from an Eating Disorder seems easier to manage than the pain that’s causing it.

For many people, in order to recover you must hit a type of “Rock Bottom”, which can happen when the pain of what you’re doing with food becomes MORE intense and destructive than why it started in the first place. We can’t heal from what we can’t face.

The best advice I can give someone who is watching helplessly as their loved one battles an Eating Disorder is to stop trying to understand it and just BE THERE with love and compassion. Eating Disorders bring with them feelings of shame and guilt, knowing they are loved unconditionally can help someone suffering get the courage required to seek out the help they desperately need.


One Response to 'Eating Disorders: What’s PAIN got to do with it?'

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  1. myiejourney said,

    Thank you for this. I think I hit my rock bottom last week…or was it the week before? Or maybe I’m still in it somewhere. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone in this and there are so many other people with eating disorders or recovering from them.

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