Why Does It Hurt So Much? Feelings and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are not just about wanting to lose weight. They are not about calories and not about being addicted to food. An eating disorder is a way of coping with the world.

Rather than face and deal with upsetting emotions your body becomes the shield. In a way your eating disorder protects you from emotions. When you get anxious, nervous, stressed, sad, angry, and overwhelmed you feel unable to handle all the intense emotions. You turn all that emotion inward and judge yourself and your body. This triggers thoughts to lose weight and restrict food, or it triggers thoughts to eat. In some way disordered eating is a way to manage all the intense emotions you feel. You feel unable to deal with the intense emotions but feel like you have some power and control over your body and food, so you focus on that instead.

Eating Disorders Mask Feelings

You have a bad day and you feel fat. You feel stressed and look at your stomach in the mirror. You don’t have time to be stressed so you eat. You feel out of control so you count calories to feel like you have some control. You feel lonely and think that if only you were skinny you would have more friends. You have conflict with your partner and believe you would be more respected in your relationship if your weight was different.

It is not about your body shape. Rather you feel anxious, nervous, mistreated, stressed, disrespected, and lonely. These emotions SUCK. They are very hard emotions to face and deal with, for anyone. You have found a way to cope and deal with this upset, the problem is that the coping is no longer helpful or beneficial to you.

Feelings Exist…

And feelings will never go away. No matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you try to avoid, no matter how your body changes, feelings are going to exist. Life is really hard and part of being human is dealing with different feelings. Part of recovery from an eating disorder is to learn to:

  • Identify feelings
  • Accept feelings
  • Know you are OK
  • Find ways to deal with feelings

Identify Feelings

There are way too many emotions to list. Feelings come in so many flavors, intensities, and varieties. Although all humans have the same feelings, how we feel, and how we handle the feelings are totally different for each person. There are a couple ways you can start to learn to identify feelings:

  • Ask a trusted friend
  • Evaluate your thoughts
  • Experience your emotions

Ask A Friend

If you have been restricting, bingeing, or bingeing and purging you may not know how you feel. It is possible you feel numb. Perhaps you have a lot of upset feelings but you could not even begin to name all of them. That is OK. Ask a trusted friend or loved one. Explain to them the situation and your thoughts and reaction, then ask them, “How would you feel if this happened to you?” Allow them to give you feedback about what feelings you may be experiencing.

I want to caution you here. Friends are great, but can be misleading at times. They can be biased and may not offer you the right support because they love you and value your relationship. Perhaps this is something you can talk to your therapist or recovery coach about. Need one, check here. Make sure this person is someone that will be lovingly honest with you.

Evaluate Your Thoughts

Some people are very “in your head”. This is how I describe thinkers. You know, you rationalize, analyze, and consider everything. You find you get lost in your head and your thoughts. When you are an “in your head” type person you may not FEEL your emotions. You do not have a physiological or emotional response. This does not mean you are void of feelings, you have lots of feelings, it just means that you experience feelings in your head.

You can identify your feelings by evaluating your thoughts.

Start by writing your thoughts down. Write them down as they occur to you. Try not to judge them. Don’t worry about catching every thought, just write down what you can. Now ask yourself, “how would this make me feel?”, “If I think this way, how would I feel?” There is no right or wrong answer here. What you think you feel, so if you are not sure how you feel, think about your thoughts and let your thoughts tell you how you feel.

Experience Your Emotions

Some people are emotional beings and feel emotions. You wear your heart on your sleeve and you feel strongly. You tend to have a physiological reaction to feelings. For example, you get a headache, tight muscles, and a nauseous stomach when stressed and anxious. You cry when you are upset and frustrated, or your voice gets loud and you feel tension in your muscles when you are angry.

You feel and you are looking for a way to stop feeling so intensely. If this is you, grab your journal and start by naming all the emotions you are experiencing. Now allow yourself to elaborate. Why do you feel this way? What is wrong? These are your thoughts about your feelings. As you start to identify your thoughts about the different feelings you can start to develop a plan to cope with them.

Accept Feelings

Once you have identified how you are feeling, it is time to accept them. This is hard. There are things you can control, and there are things you cannot control. You can control your reaction and your behaviors. You cannot necessarily change how you feel. If your boyfriend cheated on you you are not going to suddenly feel really awesome about this. This SUCKS and it is hard. The emotions about this will not change.

Know You Are OK

You have a right to feel the way you do. Someone wronged you and you are angry and hurt. You are strong enough to handle the emotions, although you do not feel this way now, you are capable. Feelings are like a wave. Sometimes they are very large, overwhelming, and scary, but just like a wave, it will crest and diet down. Sometimes emotions are low and rolling, but one thing is certain, feelings change. They are not constant so how you feel will change. You are not going to feel this way forever.

Find Ways to Deal With Feelings

There are so many ways to deal with feelings, there are so many it is impossible to list. But I bet you have a good working foundation. If I asked you 3 ways to deal with feelings you would be able to make a list of these things. If you are not able to come up with a list write down 3 things that make you feel happy, relaxed, and in control.

These are ways you deal with feelings. This is how you learn to cope with very intense and overwhelming feelings. You can learn to deal with feelings without your eating disorder.

You can learn to accept your body and love your life. You can learn to challenge disordered eating thinking and behaviors. You can learn to have confidence and self-acceptance. If you find you are having trouble with this, please ask for help. There is a lot of good support and help out there for you.

If you find this information helpful please share. This is a very complex issue that cannot be addressed in a 5 minute video, but feel free to ask questions and comment. Perhaps there is something I can help clarify for you.

Still not sure if you have an eating disorder? Here is a self-assessment, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening-tool. This quick tool is to help you determine if you have an eating disorder and if you should get help. Visit NationalEatingdisorder.org to find help and get more information.

Do you feel you struggle with an eating disorder? Call Dr. Stephanie and see how you can overcome the cycle.