aka When did you start binging?
aka Are you a control freak?
aka I’ve never heard about vulnerability and eating disorders. I thought it had to do with control.
Such a good point! That word does comes up a lot when eating disorders are talked about. I can’t believe I haven’t brought it up yet! 🙂
When I first heard about the link between control and eating disorders, it didn’t make sense to me. First off, my life felt very OUT of control. And second, I was binging and purging, which is like the most chaotic thing ever!
I thought, sure, if you’re anorexic. They’re controlling. They control and limit what they don’t eat to keep the weight off. But me? I can’t control what I’m eating and the weight is coming on!
I was a bit off. Here’s what I’ve come to realize about how control fits into the picture.
First, let’s check out the definition of control so we’re on the same page. ‘Control’ according to google: the power to influence or direct people’s behaviour or the course of events.
In my words: You do what you gotta do to get a certain outcome.
And what I see across the spectrum of disordered eating and eating disorders: You do what you gotta do to make the feeling of vulnerability go away.
Control is on the other side of the vulnerability coin.
It’s not that we’re all control freaks. It’s that we’re scared of vulnerability.
When you feel vulnerable, and that feels uncomfortable, you try to control situations so that you don’t have to feel vulnerable anymore. Duh!
And when the feeling of vulnerability shows up in your body in a place that you usually associated with food, food becomes an answer.
You either feel the hunger and eat (ie binge.)
Or you have a loss of appetite and don’t eat. (ie anorexic)
Or you feel the hunger and binge, but then try to undo the binge because there is more vulnerability and fear in the thought of gaining weight. (ie bulimic)
Trust me, I was not aware of this when I started to binge. All I knew is that I felt something in my stomach that resembled an insatiable appetite (you know, that one that got me to an 11lb baby).
And so I ate, and ate, and ate.
At first was a very mild binge. I remember halfway through Freshman year of college, sitting in my dorm room in front of my computer with a box of Cheerios next to me. I’d mindlessly, yet anxiously, move my hand from the cereal box to my mouth. Back and forth. Back and forth. It was practically a meditative act.
Harry had reminded me that I had a paper due the next day that I hadn’t even started and I had no idea how to complete up to standard. And so Mr. Dick started hopping around with, ‘You really think you can succeed at an Ivy League school?’
Harry also reminded me that the guy I was supposedly dating hadn’t gotten back to me in weeks. Mr. Dick loved this one. ‘Ha! You think you’re worthy of having a boyfriend? You think you’re pretty enough? What about those cottage cheese thighs?’
The uncertainty of being in a new academic environment where excellence was expected, being stretched out of my comfort zone mentally, socially and physically, navigating failed romantic relationships while trying to keep my ego intact…. that all felt just a tad vulnerable.
That box of Cheerios? Comfort. It was a cereal that was always stocked in our cupboard at home. I was familiar with it. And it was safe. Not too many calories and low in fat. I could get away with a few extra handfuls in my diet.
And while from a health perspective, sure, I could get away with a few extra handfuls.
But the danger here was not in the behaviour in and of itself, but in the fact that it was a misfit response to a feeling.
Whether that feeling is vulnerability, loneliness, tiredness, boredom, sadness, grief, anxiety (which one might argue all fall under the vulnerability umbrella), a box of Cheerios does not solve the problem.
Acknowledging the feeling, talking with someone you can trust, and finding a fit for purpose solution does.
Now, I totally get it that this is not always an easy thing to do; unless you’re wired like my sister and wear your heart on your sleeve. I however, tend to filter my heart through my head before you get to see it. And it’s in my head where I can easily talk myself out of feeling the feeling, and in to avoidance mode.
I’ve had to learn to sit with the feeling. Allow for the pit in my stomach to be there. Here’s what helps.
- Know it will pass. As all things do.
- Breathe. Fill your belly on the inhales and force all the air out on the exhale. This physical movement in your belly helps soothe the tension.
- Write. Connect with what is behind the feeling. What are you worried about? What are you afraid of? What is true in the situation?
- Move. Dance, do some yoga, go for a walk. I recommend a physical activity that connects you to your body. Dancing and yoga is fab for this. I find walking a close 2nd, although more than connecting to my body it connects me to my soul. Running and cycling might work for you too. I used to use running as a tool, but I found it actually disconnected me from my body and became more of an escape. Find what works for you.
- Perspective. Talk to someone who will lift you up. Remind yourself of the truth of who you are: You are kind, beautiful, worthy, enough, and more.
- Face the music. This part is often the hardest, but trust me, the conversation isn’t going to get easier, the bank account won’t have more money in it, and the comments won’t be any nicer, by digging into some Cheerios. They will get easier when you remember:
Something to think about: How do you deal with vulnerability? Do you ever feel like a control freak? What do you think you are really worried about? What are you really craving when you start mindlessly eating? Do you like Cheerios? 🙂
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