the illusion of control in eating disorders

Eating disorders are not just about weight, beauty and health. Sure – these things may play contribute to the development and preservation of the disorder. But another huge factor, that should not be underrated is the illusion of control.

when you´re controlling your food intake, your body and your weight, then you´re generally in control of yourself AND what is happening around and with you right? That is what it feels like. But where does this illusion of being in control in eating disorders come from? - But more about that further down.

the wellness movement

That girl, aesthetic lifestyle, clean girl aesthetics, juice cleanses, hot girls walks, clean foods, veganism, … sounds familiar? It is an industry built upon the idea of so called “health”. Not medical based health, natural, whitewashed cures, cleanses, overpriced superfoods, gym memberships, intermitted fasting and SO many more manifestations of disordered eating.

And the worst about the wellness movement is, that it presents a choice. It claims that it is a choice to be “well”, “healthy” and good to yourself. And yet – no one would actively choose to have a mental illness – which eating disorders are. No one would choose to feel anxious about eating, withdrawing from loved ones, being obsessed with your body, weight and shape, not being able to sleep, but yet being so extremely tired, bruising easily, risking your bone health and fertility. 

And that´s the wellness industry: You can control anything. Your mental disorder, your weight, your genetics, your success, your love life, … It sells the illusion of control.

social media and full day of eatings

What does your “for you page” look like? I remember well how my fyp has basically been a compilation of all different kind of ways to lose weight. Health pages with “eat this, not that”, “his and her plates”, “what I eat in a day”, “calories in different pizzas”, “workout routines to lose weight”, … But let´s talk more about my least favourite one: “what I eat in a day”. Oh boy, you have NO idea how harmful this shit (sorry 🙂 ) is.

“What I eat in a day”, “full day of eating”, … whatever you may call it, is not only an accepted form of communication, but also an encouraged one. Nowadays it seems to be normal to emulate someone else’s diet, workout routine, etc. than listening to our own body. When you eat this – you are being good to yourself/ you´re going to lose weight/ you´re going to look like me/… Do you see how harmful this is? We are all unique, we all have unique genetics, have a unique life, we are SO different, it only makes sense that we all have different needs. 

Oh, you´re watching them for meal inspiration? … I have really bad news for you – why don´t you use Pinterest or the good old cookbooks then? Because you´re comparing your food portion with the one the other person eats? Because you want to know what you are allowed to eat around those foods? – Think about it.

everyday interactions and language

“Oh, I only had coffe today”, “I look so fat in these jeans”, “I totally forgot to eat”, “I want to be as skinny as her”, … there are so many examples of disordered eating that is being normalised in everyday life. But not only are they normalised, they are being glamourised, labelled as cute and having great willpower.

But the ugly truth is, eating disorders aren´t cute, pretty and aesthetic. They are all consuming. They make you withdraw from loved ones, make you feel generally anxious, they make you do horrible things to yourself (let´s not talk about how aesthetic and cute it is to stick a finger down your throat or misuse laxatives.) Eating disorders are exhausting and they take everything from you you used to like. And most of all: They are life-threatening.

eating disorders control Kontrolle Essstörungen

you´re not so much in control

Having an eating disorder feels like mastering one particular area of your life in your otherwise chaotic and failing existence. It gives you the feeling that you at least have some power over you and what is happening to you and your body. Feeling powerlessness and viewing yourself as a failure is very common amongst restrictive eating disorders. 

Feeling out of control in eating disorder recovery is less about the lack of self-control, it is more about the uncertainty of recovery but also about not being able to live up to the unrealistic standards set by yourself or others. Are you really going to be unsuccessful because you may gain weight in the recovery process? Does enjoying food and putting on weight really mean you are out of control? Will it really change the way others are seeing and interacting with me?

Recovery can be scary and often times it feels very uncomfortable and wrong. But it is possible to rewire your brain, find more effective ways of coping and find safety in a recovered body.

letting go of the illusion of control in eating disorders

First of all: Understand that your eating disorder contains a false sense of security and control. It causes harmful, lasting effects. Not everything that feels safe is actually safe. And not everything that feels unsafe, is unsafe. Turning to your disordered eating behaviours (as a coping mechanism to stressors) may give you a sense of comfort, safety and control, but they are very much malfunctioning. 

So, how can you revert those old ways of thinking and handling and surrender control to develop healthy, sustainable and effective coping stretegies?

  1. Create a routine. For example planning meals, trying to eat intuitively (when this is accessible for you right now), plan weekly dates with friends (and include food), and incorporate mindful movement (if this is safe for you at your current health state). This doesn´t need to be a sweaty workout, it can also be a gently stretching session or a mindful walk.
  2. Build a support team. People you can rely on, and you can talk to when you are feeling triggered, distressed or in need of encouragement. This can be a therapist, a coach, a friend, a family member or an individual that has been going through the recovery process in the past. 
  3. radical acceptance. Accept that it is OKAY where you are at right now. It is okay to maybe feel sluggish and tired today. It is okay, that the world is literally burning right now. It is okay, that you need to gain weight to gain food freedom and health. You are not alone in this. 

You are resilient, capable and worthy.

eating disorders and the false sense of control
Die Illusion von Kontrolle in Essstörungen
control in eating disorders Kontrolle in Essstörungen

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