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Eating disorders / Blog

 Gregg  Jantz Ph.D. CDP

Gregg Jantz Ph.D. CDP's Bio

Dr. Jantz is an expert on eating disorders.

Eating Disorders: When Pain Turns to Pride


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When you find a way of managing a deep, dark pain, the last thing you want to do is admit there is something wrong with the "solution." So if and when someone confronts you about your eating disorder -- saying you need to eat more, or eat less, depending on your situation -- naturally, you are going to get defensive. Finally, there is something in your life that you can control. Something to be proud of.

If you're anorexic or bulimic, you have the "secret" to being thin. As imperfect as you may feel on the inside, on the outside you are on your way to perfection. If you're a compulsive overeater, you have the "secret" to stuffing down your feelings; food is your best friend.

And even if you realize what you're doing is wrong, pride is still there standing in the way, as you may be too proud to ask for the help you need.

It's pride that stood between Amber and her concerned father, a story Amber graciously allowed me to share in my book, Hope, Help and Healing for Eating Disorders: A New Approach to Treating Anorexia, Bulimia, and Overeating.

AMBER'S STORY

"Amber, you've got to start eating. This dieting of your is going too far."

How many times have I heard that Amber thought. Instead of responding to her father's comment, she just kept her face turned away from him, concentrating on the scenery flashing by the car window. Just don't say anything and he'll stop. Even if he doesn't, we'll be at school in a few minutes.

"Your mother and I have talked, and both of us agree you're becoming too thin. It isn't healthy."

Just don't say anything.

Inside, of course, Amber had plenty to say to her father. Since when did you start caring about what's healthy? You never get out and exercise, you never care what you eat, you smoke, you sit around all day long at work -- who are you to start lecturing me me about what's healthy? And when did you start caring about how much I eat? You're not home for dinner half the time, anyway. If I put on weight I'm chubby. If I diet, I'm too thin. There's never any pleasing you!

By this time, Amber was screaming at him inside. On the outside, she affected a disinterested, vacant look, with her arms wrapped securely around her middle and her thighs pressed tightly together. She was physically closing herself off to him, as she inwardly raged at his comments.

"If this goes on too much longer, steps will have to be taken."

Here it comes: the threat. You and mom are so good at the threat. "If you don't clean up this room, you're not spending the night at Sarah's!" "If you talk back like that to me one more time, I'll wash your mouth out with soap, young lady!"

"If you don't start doing better in school, you won't be allowed to continue with dance classes!" "If you don't start getting to bed on time, you'll be on curfew for a week!" "If this goes on too much longer, steps will have to be taken!"

Yeah, like what steps? she asked him silently, lips clenched in a thin, unhappy line. Are you going to start forcing food down my throat? Like you force me to do everything else I don't want to do  It's my body, and I'll eat what and when I want. You, with your middle-age paunch, what do you know about 'too thin'? What do you know about my life? I have to be thin to be popular. I have to be thin, period. You're just mad that there's something about me you can't control. Mom's just mad that I'm thinner than she is. If you want to harp on somebody about their weight, harp on her. She's the one with a weight problem.

At that, the car pulled up to the high school. Without looking at him or saying a word, Amber opened the door and climbed out of the car.

"We are not through with this discussion, Amber," her father warned her as she started to close the car door. She wanted to slam it shut, to yell at him, to tell him to shut up, but she controlled herself and closed it with a soft push. Gathering up her composure and her books, she walked toward the school entrance.

It may not be over for you, but it is for me. I'm fine. I'll be as thin as I want to be.

THE COST OF DENIAL AND PRIDE

It's not easy maintaining the illusion of a false reality -- convincing yourself that this addiction of yours (the eating disorder) is simply a lifestyle choice. As outlined in Hope, Help and Healing for Eating Disorders, the cost of denial and pride depletes every aspect of your life, requiring: 

-Self absorption and self-attention, producing greater amounts of isolation

-Ignoring physical pain and healthy body needs

-Hiding the truth from self and others and constructing an elaborate rationale system

-Maintaining the belief of being better than others, above others, beyond others

-Adhering strictly to perfectionistic thinking and oppressive demands on self

-An overwhelming attention to food, leaving no time or energy to focus on the ultimate source of the pain

-Total allegiance, turning friends into enemies and loved ones into betrayers

-Abandoning the truth and forfeiting joy and peace

-Denying your true, gifted self

-More than you are able to give 

Yet you are not alone in your denial and pride. As someone who has developed an eating disorder, you are probably a member of a family in which it is expected that you always wear a "perfect face." If you are hurting, you are to hide it from the world. As a result, these same family members may either deny their role in the creation of your eating disorder, or deny its existence altogether. It is up to you to face the truth.

AFFIRMING ACTION

I have courage. I am moving from self-absorption to self-acceptance. Self-absorption leads to a false reality; introspection leads to insight. Insight leads to truth.