By Natalie Hutson, M.S., L.P.C.
The beginning of eating disorders frequently start with a feeling of inadequacy, or simply “not being good enough.” The feeling of inadequacy can result from high expectations from parents or others, perfectionist personalities, or simply a high value placed upon success at all costs. The struggle with feelings of inadequacy is a difficult one to conquer; it seems like nothing one can do will ever be enough.
Feelings of inadequacy go hand-in-hand with the need for Approval.
People with eating disorders typically look to others to define their worth and go to drastic measures to attain approval from others. The problem is that they never think they are approved of no matter what they do; they could always improve in some way. Sometimes, this is the real message they are given, while other times it is the distortion they have in their thinking that leads them to think they are disapproved of by the people they love and care about most in their lives. Approval from others does not satisfy the intrinsic need to approve of oneself; therefore, they continue to seek approval from others that they will never satisfy. During this process, they engage in All-or-Nothing thinking.
If it isn’t done perfectly, it doesn’t count. If I am not selfless, I am selfish… The thoughts of inAdequacy, disApproval, and All-or-nothing thinking create intense feelings of Anxiety.
In order to reduce the anxiety, people with eating disorders Act-out and use the eating disorder behaviors to create a sense of safety and control; however, the control soon spirals them into a lack of control over anything outside of the eating disorder. The anxiety then becomes more intense, which perpetuates the cycle. When the anxiety takes over, it fogs their thinking so they can only focus on the thoughts of inadequacy and disapproval. The eating disorder becomes an escape to temporarily reduce these feelings.
All this being said, I have found that the key to living life free of an eating disorder is about Acceptance- acceptance of who we are as individuals. Each and every one of us has so much to offer the world as difficult as it is to see sometimes. Life with an eating disorder not only prohibits one from enjoying all the gifts life has to offer, but it also inhibits one from sharing all the gifts one has to offer the world.