The Third Group

If you missed my last post, read it here to catch up on the conversation.

Even though I didn’t initially mention it, I also believe that there is a group that falls somewhere in the middle. While they may not be as obsessive and compulsive about everything in their life as one group, they also aren’t solely driven by a desire to fit a physical ideal. From my perspective—slightly skewed, mind you— I think this is where a majority of those dealing with eating disorder issues fall.

This also reinforces the fact that although both science and society would like mental health to fit into neat and tidy categories with distinctive boundaries and guidelines, it ain’t gonna happen.

Anyway, I think a lot of attention is often given to the first group because it’s seems simpler to explain. If the disease can be looked at as coming from a place of self-loathing and a desire to be thin, avoid food, look a certain way, etc. then there is a tangible way to go about “fixing” the problem. In other words, we can go back to neat and tidy categories.

But for this group “in-between,”— a group I identify with 99 percent — it’s much more complicated.

While there are certainly elements of physical dissatisfaction, a majority of the thoughts and behaviors are motivated from a place of emotional/mental dissatisfaction, which is much more complicated to address. A majority of people in this group are mature, intelligent, seemingly knowledgeable people who basically have all the tools to save the world, but yet find it difficult to break out of the routines and save their own sanity.

Whereas they may appear to have it all figured out in other areas of their life—perfectionist tendencies, anyone?— they still find it hard to be satisfied with what they’ve done or what they’re doing. It’s just my personal opinion that a lot of people in this group are actually sensitive to the point of appearing callous at times. Although they are independent and seemingly indifferent to a lot of social pressures, they are actually extremely perceptive to the point of being slightly hypersensitive and prone to disappointment.

They may be much more introspective and self-aware, a line of thinking that doesn’t jive with what is commonly accepted and encouraged. They may begin to doubt themselves, feeling anxious that they aren’t doing whatever it is they’re “supposed” to be doing, and search for some way to regain a sense of control and order in an otherwise uncertain and undefined environment.

Numbers are real. Routines are ideal.

With this sense of “order” restored, this crutch put into place, the anxious energy can be harnessed into a seemingly endless and slightly mind-numbing project to keep everything neat, tidy and organized. If you eat this, you know how you will feel. If you exercise for that amount of time, you can go on with your day. As long as everything is done how you want it, when you want it, where you want it, a sense of control and (fleeting) calm can be restored. Obsessions over food, exercise, recipes, body checks, self-doubt, etc. can fill a void created by dissatisfaction with anything else you are trying not to think about.

For many seemingly logical individuals, illogical routines and beliefs begin to take precedence over the energy usually dedicated to more “traditional” forms of achievement. Obviously, this is not healthy, and thus, where I think a lot of people are today.

In the end — for any of us — it does come down to food.

Whether it’s looked at as an enemy to physical perfection or as a pawn in a psychological battle we’re waging, it does come down to the food. Taste is no longer important and often the pleasure associated with it is thrown to the wayside, replaced by a power that seems absolutely illogical to the sensibilities of those struggling to recover.

As much as we want to deny it’s a factor, it most certainly always is. How could it not be? I think the key is to change the perceived power of food, as it’s easy to forget that we are always in control of our actions. We can change the routines, we can use our food knowledge for good and not manipulation and we can expose ourselves to any fear and anxiety that is rooted in each and every bite.

But that’s just my experience. Take it to heart or take it with a grain of salt.

I in no way, shape or form have any of this figured out—trust me. But I do believe that a combination of challenging our illogical beliefs and proving to ourselves that we have the strength to overcome self-imposed barriers to health—whatever those may be for you—is more than a small first step, but rather a giant leap of faith.

I’m working on this.

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17 responses to “The Third Group

  1. i definitely agree with you. this is so insightful and interesting, i enjoyed reading it

    wishing you nothing but the very best my love!
    xo bec

  2. I can relate to this third group that you mention in so many ways. I have a horrible sense of perfectionism that drives me to do everything to the best of my abilities and if one little thing goes wrong I’m prone to self-doubt, and being hard on myself because it’s disappointing and doesn’t live up to the [impossible to achieve] standards that I set for myself.

    I’m learning more and more to enjoy food for the taste, not the nutrients or OCD habits, but there’s still a mix of both. I can happily say though, that there’s clear evidence of progress with which I am proud of.

    I like the way you worded one of the group characteristics as well:

    ” A majority of people in this group are mature, intelligent, seemingly knowledgeable people who basically have all the tools to save the world, but yet find it difficult to break out of the routines and save their own sanity.” – It’s so true it’s not even funny. I’m not saying that I’m a genius engineer who will cure cancer, but I will give myself enough credit to admit that I’m quite mature and intelligent and have been all of my life. That said, I understand that consequences of my OCD and anorexic actions, I know how to overcome those actions, I know what I need to do to become healthy, yet it’s the act of doing those things that is so difficult as it produces so much anxiety and discomfort.

    Maybe a solution would be to just persevere through the discomfort and see what happens? If we’re stuck in a vicious cycle and it looks like there’s no end in sight… what do we have to lose by taking a chance with something new and different?

  3. Thanks for taking the time to always reply to my comments 🙂 You pretty much described me in those couple of paragraphs – qualities that I know about myself but nobody else does, things I don’t want to admit, traits that my therapist was able to dig up out of me.

    My family often says I’m kind of “cold” yet every teasing remark from them has a profound affect on my mood and self confidence. I’m very independent but feel guilty about not being social. I used to (and at times still do) use food to feed my social anxiety. “I’m not gonna hang out with them because they’re having dinner at ____ and I can’t eat there.”

    And lately the feeling of not doing what I’m ‘supposed’ to do has been relentless. I have been rethinking my major and career path a lot. I honestly don’t think I like it much and got into it because I thought I ‘had’ to and that I needed to do something impressive and successful. Still struggling with it.

    You may not have it all figured out, but you’re making a darn good effort.

    – Nell

  4. “I do believe that a combination of challenging our illogical beliefs and proving to ourselves that we have the strength to overcome self-imposed barriers to health—whatever those may be for you—is more than a small first step, but rather a giant leap of faith.”

    Right on, sister. You know my thoughts on this, probably much too well. I don’t think there comes a point of figuring it all out; but the more we understand ourselves, the better expectations we have about recovery and what it means for us. That’s what it’s about, right?

  5. I’m gonna second Kim. Really, you took the words right out of my mouth (or screen?). Not surprisingly, you’ve said it all. I really appreciated that you noted FOOD is a factor in all this mess. So many people think “its not about the food…blah blah blah blah” but you cant ignore that part. Small steps dont get you very far….its those giant leaps of faith we should count on.

  6. I’ve been lurking to read other comments before I comment 🙂

    This part: “A majority of people in this group are mature, intelligent, seemingly knowledgeable people who basically have all the tools to save the world, but yet find it difficult to break out of the routines and save their own sanity. Whereas they may appear to have it all figured out in other areas of their life—perfectionist tendencies, anyone?— they still find it hard to be satisfied with what they’ve done or what they’re doing.”

    Maybe it’s okay to not know? Maybe you aren’t supposed to be satisfied with life, and everyone else isn’t but they cope in other ways, like with alcohol or smoking? I have found recently in conversations with friends that none of them are happy. But they don’t obsess over it. They do things like play video games (which I find to be silly and pointless and not even fun) in the same way that I record and monitor and plan.

    I’m not saying it’s okay to not be happy, but it seems to be the status quo these days.

    • yea, i agree, happiness is overrated. Even in yogic philosophies (sorry, I’m studying this now so bear with my yogic interjections) teach that we should never strive for pure bliss. I think I’ve come to learnt that I should strive to be “happy” but rather, not sad (or skinny, of course, but those two go hand in hand) 😉

      • While you probably get sick of me saying it, I don’t think it’s any surprise that I agree with you completely. I’ve posted about this a bunch of times (as you know) in that happiness is really a relative concept. Everyone thinks there’s some “aha” moment of enlightenment and that their life should be blissful because of “X” or because something else makes someone else “happy.”

        Not accepting that it’s pretty much an elusive concept just sets them up for disappointment, in my opinion. It’s not “settling,” but rather being content with our own versions of “happy.”

  7. I found this and the precious topics very fascinating, Abby…but I wonder if we’re just going around in circles. It makes for deep and thoughtful introspections, but I think it could also lead to too much self-awareness. I think part of ED is that we think about ourselves too much: what we eat, how we feel, what we think. that’s why I always say when you’re ED, you live in your own little world. I wonder if recovery doesn’t really come from the inside, but starts from what you do on the outside: focusing on others, on more external things, and having more definite goals than just attaining a temporary self-happiness within our own world of rules and routines.

    • I see your point, but I have to politely disagree with you based only on my own experience. While that might have been the case for you and others, I have always been introspective but also a bit too sensitive to my external surroundings and other people. (In fact, much of my restriction of things was in an effort to provide more to everyone else.)

      My restriction or routines are often not a way to make myself “happy” and attain some personal perfection, but rather a way to deal with some of the anxiety and disappointment that I internalize from the external situations.

      I realize that might not make sense, but I guess I just don’t see it as selfish to have a mental illness. This isn’t a choice for me. While the focus is on “me” in my mind a lot of the time, it’s really only so I can get to a flatline and handle “others” in the best way possible.

      • my dad seems to think ED’s are “selfish” in that your in a little cocoon, doing your thing. But I feel, at least in my case, its more self-less…I help others (or esp in my case, feed) more than myself. Perhaps I’m too external and not “internal” enough….Im not sure if that makes sense.

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  9. I of course, agree with you and Eden….as usual. As you both know – I am a perfectionist – and when you say ‘numbers are real. routines are ideal’ – holy crap. You struck a cord. You can’t hide from those things. That is why they were always my ‘crutch’ – my ‘always there’. how that the ‘real number’ is not what I expected – that is where the chaos comes in. they say ‘order-chaos-new order’ – but ‘new order’ is very scarey.

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