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Eating Disorders Are Not About Food

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

The first time I had any awareness that I may have had a problem with food, I was fourteen, although in hindsight it goes back a lot further.

I wasn't exactly sure what was wrong but I knew what I was doing probably wasn't really along the lines of how other people treated food and their body.

I took a trip to the local library and checked out loads of books from the psychology section. I only needed one...the one about eating disorders but to protect my secret I grabbed a few other books so the librarian might think I was very interested in the general area of psychology! The shame I felt that somebody might suspect what I was doing.

I still, to this day remember exact sentences from that book as if somebody had typed them directly into my brain. My suspicions were correct, it did seem that I had an eating disorder. I read the book over and over again, hoping to find some kind of answer about what to do about this condition...I never found an answer. It was 1997 when I was fourteen so a google search wasn't an option.

I struggled for years with my thoughts, emotions and engaging in various different behaviours around food and my body. In 2005 I went to my G.P. for something unrelated and found the words just literally falling out of my mouth, there was obviously a part of me that finally wanted to be helped. I wish that I could say that everything was all lovely and rosy, there was a really big part of me that wanted to recover but there was also a huge part that was terrified of losing the piece of me that I felt helped me to cope, that piece was quite stubborn! Recovery can be an uphill battle with lots of setbacks and challenges. When you are recovering from an eating disorder you are essentially fighting with a part of you that actually thinks it's protecting you or making you feel better. The body feels like an unsafe place to be in and eating disorders exist in the mind, ironically they are not about the body at all. The purpose of an eating disorder often is to keep you out of your body and to distract you from and numb feelings. When you live in your mind calculating calories, weight and portion sizes you don't have to exist in a body that feels unsafe or experience emotions that feel like too much. I worked really hard on myself and eventually got to a point where the food behaviours disappeared and I had my life back. I was so excited to reach this point and I knew I would work in this area. In 2015 I begn working with some incredible people on their own recovery journeys.

Recovery or healing doesn't come from fixing your relationship with food, I cannot stress enough that food is a symptom and although adequate nourishment is important it is not the answer. Healing comes from mending the relationship with you! Healing the pain that allowed the eating disorder behaviours to take hold in the first place - they are around for a reason, it is information that something is not quite right. Healing means feeling safe in your body and identifying why it may not feel safe. Healing means respecting your emotions and feeling safe enough to experience them. All of this won't happen overnight but it absolutely can and does happen. I feel very privileged to be in a position where I get to see this process play out time and time again.

My fourteen year old self never got to read anything like this and spent a lot of years thinking she just had an obsession with being a certain size. My fourteen year old self was actually in a lot of pain and really needed to heal that pain.

"The first question is not why the addiction; it's why the pain?"

- Gabor Maté

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