The only real cause of eating disorders

So, let’s get down to it. Everywhere I read of the different causes for eating disorders. Reportedly it can be about control, expressing anger, avoiding growing up, media influence, a multitude of things.

Clients tell me many things, the purpose and usefulness of their behaviours, and about the eating disorder beliefs that underpin their illnesses. Together, we consider their families, early experiences, life events, all the things that have led to them becoming ill. Now, these factors apply to a person with anorexia, bulimia, anything in between, across to those with binge eating disorder, and emotional eaters.

Everyone’s struggles have their own individual beginnings, and impact uniquely on the person. Despite the common themes, they all present differently, and each sufferer needs, and deserves, for their particular illness to be understood.

But, on a lower level, at the very lowest of levels, these eating disorders, they’re all exactly the same, and have just one cause.

And it is this: it is the attempt to manage the emotional aspects of the self with something, anything, other than the people we connect with.

Let me explain.

Humans have evolved to live in small groups. Everything about us supports this way of living. Physically, hormonally, and most importantly, emotionally, we need to be with other people.

Our emotions are “designed” specifically to aid us to live together. Their purpose is to lead us away from danger, and toward opportunity. In this context, there is even value to guilt and shame; they encourage us to conform to the demands of the group, the demands that are necessary for successful co-operation and survival or the species. The overuse of these emotions of course can be hugely damaging, but, used appropriately, they very much aid our existence.

Our sense of self is created by and through our associations with others. “No man is an island” springs to mind. It’s well known that extreme isolation frequently leads to madness. Social isolation has been used throughout history as a form of punishment?

The undeniable evidence of this need for togetherness is all around. Ask any decent parent what has brought them the greatest joy, the most happiness, and the purest of feelings, they will tell you, it’s their children; being with them, caring for them, protecting them, interacting with them, loving them.

Doesn’t a pleasant interaction have the power to cheer your day?

We are meant to interact, to rely and depend on one another. Early experiences, or poor or misguided parenting may lead us to believe otherwise, but this is the truth.

This truth is the basis of much of my work; engaging with a client in a way that allows and encourages them to explore how relationships can be, testing and challenging their beliefs about themselves and others.

Here’s a little homework. If you have an eating disorder, or something along those lines, make a list of the pros and cons of your illness. You can probably list the cons easily; your family and friends will most likely be telling you of them often.

But concentrate more on the pros. What do you get from the behaviours you use to be okay? What is their value to you? Isn’t it the case that they are the very things that, in an ideal world, you would be getting from the people around you? Will your strategy work for you, in the long term? It is my experience that the attempts to avoid or manage difficult feelings simply serve to prevent the person from experiencing the pleasant emotions, like joy and happiness; sadly ironic is the truth that the difficult ones get harder and harder to cope with, they are not managed.

Almost everyone has someone they can connect with; how about reaching out, today, just this once. See how it feels; test my theory.

Because, if we know what doesn’t work, surely we don’t want any more of it, do we?