PHOTO: Katarina Wolnik Vera
Text: Alejandra Misiolek
Eating Disorders are all about controlling or losing control: either you are in control of what you eat and how much you weigh, or you lose control and binge on food.
When you are in control, you feel empowered, self-confident, calm, sometimes superior to others, good about yourself, capable of anything but also with the fear of losing control, deprived and low energy. The longer this state continues, the more probable that you will flip into de other opposite – no control at all. Any insignificant trigger can easily make you fall into the opposite where you give up on controlling. At the beginning you feel the pleasure of not feeling deprived anymore and of not being so uptight and controlling (a state that can be extremely tiresome), but very quickly you start feeling bad about yourself, heavy, fat, disgusting, ashamed, guilty, a failure and inferior. Your self-esteem suffers and the more time passes, the more you need a quick upboost. The way that you know to do it is either to drastically restrict or purge and regain control and self-esteem.
Do you feel identified with this pattern? If so, what is the way out of this vicious cycle that seems to repeat all over again although you promise yourself that this was the last time? You may intuitively think that control is the solution, as this is the only way you know. Also, you probably use the cognitive tools and knowledge to control your body, appetite, hunger and weight. But these tools, if not balanced with others, will only lead you to the repetition of the cycle, sooner or later. What you need is balance and to build trust in your body and the homeostatic mechanisms that control your hunger and satiety besides the dopaminergic motivation to eat.
How do we do it?
- First of all, we need to adjust the expectations. You will not find the balance straight away; it is a long try and error process. If you have been repeating the cycle for many years, don´t expect to find balance very soon. Instead, try to concentrate on the process and not on the result.
- Secondly, the balance means that you don’t forget about listening to your body and that you learn to respect your body´s needs such as being full or hungry, needing certain foods and not the others, having low or high energy, etc. All these can be called mindful eating.
- Very importantly, the trust in your body needs to be build. You have proved yourself many times that you can´t trust your body. Every time you lost control, you binged. How can you give up on controlling? You need to prove yourself that you can trust. And it is a long process.
- Finally, let’s get back to the question about counting calories. Is it possible to even stop doing it if you know perfectly how many calories have all the things you ingest? The answer to this question is not black or white. It is not about counting the calories but rather about being aware of what is the input of the foods you consume – caloric, but also in terms of vitamins, proportion of ingredients, how you feel after eating it, how quickly it can give you energy and how does it stabilize the sugar levels, how does it regulate your microbiota and how satisfied you feel after eating it. There are foods that might not be very nutritious but are definitely very satisfying and satisfaction is a very important element of eating that we tend to forget about. If the only way you regulate how much you it is by counting calories and deciding rationally with you brain, then you are probably not over your ED. If, instead, you also learn to listen to other signals both from your body and from your mind, then we can talk about achieving a healthy balance. Once you start being mindful in a balanced way, you will start trusting yourself and then you will be able to give up the rollercoaster of controlling and losing control.
In this post I have only discussed the eating patterns and mechanisms that are on the surface, however, underneath each ED there is much more than we see with a naked eye, like emotion regulation, self-esteem, traumas, identity and relationship difficulties.