(Photo by Ashley Seruya @badashtherapy)
Eating disorder symptoms: restricting, bingeing, purging and over-exercising, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why we engage in these behaviors. Treatment often focuses on symptom reduction first, however, in my opinion, in order for lasting recovery to occur, we must identify and heal the root causes influencing your relationship to food and your body.
Common 'root causes' include: physical + sexual trauma, anxiety disorders, a need for control, a way to cope with experiences of body based oppression (racism, sexism, cisheteroseixm, ableism), gender dysphoria, chronic stress, chronic illness and difficulties with regulating emotions. This is not an extensive list, and there are often multiple factors that go into developing an eating disorder. When we experience traumatic events at the site of our body, we often develop negative core beliefs about our bodies and internalize the pain rather than externalize it.
Further, when we go through extreme stressors or traumas, our nervous system gets dysregulated. Our window of tolerance decreases and we become hypo or hyper aroused (agitated, on guard, or shut down and depressed). Eating disorder behaviors temporarily bring our nervous system back into our window of tolerance- the space inside of us that feels grounded, safe and is able to socially engage. In order to thrive in life, we have to be able to access safety in our nervous systems and in our bodies.
Because eating disorder behaviors temporarily bring us back into our window of tolerance (safe zone), our brain learns that using behaviors provides relief, and reinforces the cycle. In recovery, we must learn other strategies to bring our nervous system back into balance. Luckily, there are a variety of other ways to find safety in our bodies that do not involve eating disorders. Somatic therapy techniques are a wonderful place to start and I have an entire podcast episode on this here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/5g0lL4mCVoTr9vhZG4b1xR?si=66abf78e704e410a
So, start exploring what might be in your eating disorder 'iceberg.' What is fueling the destructive behaviors? What is your Eating Disorder trying to protect you from? Once you identify this, slowly practice replacing ED behaviors with other coping skills- including the somatic based ones listed in the podcast above. Some of my favorite coping skills that helped me get through my recovery years ago were: spending time in nature, reading, snuggling my dogs, making art, yoga and reconnecting with loved ones.
If you have access to support- I highly recommend doing this exercise with a licensed professional or in the presence of a support group. Please do not hesitate to reach out for support from my practice- we are here to help!