What do these have to do with eating disorders?
“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” -Benjamin Franklin
I believe in living a healthy life. I believe in eating healthy and exercising for health. I also believe in emotional health and I believe emotional health is as important (if not more so) as any other type of health.
Unfortunately, it seems that emotional health is at the bottom of the heap of healthy living. Too bad. Emotional health is crucial to physical health. Studies are clear that high levels of stress cause ill health. Stress comes in many forms, not the least of which is personal and professional challenges. These challenges come from your childhood, your parents, and your culture. For example, in this culture discrimination is rampant (many people are discriminated against, including people who are fat) and being the target of prejudice and discrimination is very stressful. All this stress adds up to ill physical health, no matter how healthy you eat or how many miles you run each day. No doubt about it, emotional ill health is hard on your body.
I am sure you have heard the quote I listed at the top of this article: “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” -Benjamin Franklin
Death and taxes; these are certainties. You will be taxed. And YOU WILL DIE! I hate to break the news to you but it is true. You are going to die someday. You will die whether or not you pay your taxes, whether or not you eat your veggies and whether or not you exercise your weekly quota.
I think our culture is so afraid of dying (and of getting old) that we actually pretend we can prevent it. I believe this as one of the unconscious, underlying emotions running your eating disorder behaviors. You are afraid to get old and die. You think you can prevent it… prevent the difficulty of old age, the pain of being on your death bed, the difficulty of saying good-bye (if you are lucky) to your loved ones, letting go of your life forever. It is scary stuff, no doubt about it.
So you try to be good. You try to eat right, you try to exercise, you try to prevent cancer and diabetes, and wrinkles, and weight gain (believing what you are told that being fat causes all those deathly diseases – it doesn’t).
In fact, our entire culture is all tangled up with this fear. The diet industry tells you they sell health and a longer life. The cosmetic industry tells you they sell youth. The doctors tell you they sell disease prevention (usually just a pill that causes more problems). The clothing industry tells you they sell youth and attraction. Nearly every advertising out there sells you an avoidance of getting old and dying. And you buy it. It isn’t your fault. It is what you have been told. Yet you can change. One way is to confront that you will die someday and there is nothing you can do about it. In fact, it could be tomorrow. That is also part of the fear. You really have no idea when it will be.
Which brings me to my next point: you have no control over when you will die. You can eat perfectly and still die tomorrow. You could exercise every day and still die next year. You could put on your sunscreen and hide those pesky lines on your face with makeup and you will still grow old and eventually you will die. No matter how much you try to control it, you will die and you don’t know when it will hit. It could be sudden. It could take it’s time. No matter what you do, you have no control.
I know you hate to feel out of control and so all the things you do to try to stay in control give you comfort. But they also cause you pain. It is like you are tricking yourself, lying to yourself, denying yourself. This causes incongruence inside and incongruence equals poor emotional health.
Sometimes people ask the question “if you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do?” I like the question because it challenges this fear of death concept yet there is something missing in it. You don’t know when you are going to die and therefore this question is irrelevant. The question I want to ask you is this: “Imagine yourself on your death bed. Really imagine it. Your life is going to be over very soon. You look back on your life. What would you do differently? What would you keep?”
Take a moment right now to contemplate this. Close your eyes and imagine it. Image yourself old or young, big or small, it doesn’t matter. Just imagine, make it as real as you can, and reflect on your life, on your relationship with food and your body. Did you enjoy eating? Did you enjoy your relationships? How much did you let your body image impact the amount of fun you had or the love (physical love included) you received? Did you love your work? Did you take enough vacations? When did you start loving yourself?
I think death can teach you. Rather than avoid it, confront it. Use your pending death to help you live your life. Be creative. How can your death teach you to live the life you want to be living? What can you do to get on the path you want to explore? Remember, life is a process, not a destination. Yet, you will get to the final destination some day. You will die. How do you want to live while you move toward it… knowing that you can’t control one bit of when or how it will happen.