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.