Let’s face it – sometimes when you’re dealing with an eating disorder, dealing with the behaviors is a lot like trying to smack those moles that pop up in carnival games. *BAM!* Got that one… but there’s another one over there and you can’t quite get him in time. And, while you’re mad at yourself for missing mole #2, there’s mole #3 grinning malevolently from a hole a few spaces away.
I believe that each time you experience an eating disorder behavior, it is an opportunity to explore and deal with what is really eating you.
What is an eating disorder behavior? Does it mean I have an eating disorder if you do one of these behaviors?
Many people who hear the words “Eating Disorder” think Anorexia and Bulimia. However, there are many other eating disorders out there. There is Compulsive Eating, Emotional Eating, Binge Eating, Over Exercising, Exercise Resistance, Night Eating Syndrome, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Orthorexia Nervosa, and Bigorexia. (For further explanation of these, see http://www.something-fishy.org/whatarethey/other.php.)
An eating disorder behavior is defined as a behavior one engages in that may fit into one of the above eating disorder classifications or diagnoses. Simply engaging in an eating disorder behavior does not mean you have an eating disorder. However, doing so frequently, or when it interferes with the quality of your life, may qualify as an eating disorder.
You don’t have to be diagnosed with an eating disorder to benefit from paying attention to eating disordered behaviors. We all have them occasionally. After all, what matters in not the diagnosis, but living a happier, healthier life. Identifying them, however, can help you understand what is really bothering you. One way to do so, is to stop doing the behavior. Once you stop, if even for a moment, you have the chance to feel the emotions or physical sensations that are really bothering you.
It is like the “Whac-a-Mole” game. When a mole comes up, you smack it with your stick. When you do, you get points.
We all know how the game at the carnival goes – You get points for bashing moles. But with food, we get to make our own rules. Here’s one way you might play the game with your eating disorder behaviors.
When you notice yourself engaging in an eating disorder behavior or thought, you earn points just for identifying it. You get further points for pausing the behavior/thought and breathing into your body. Use your breath to take you to the feeling of the behavior/thought. Be open to and allow your feeling to be acknowledged. Major points accomplished! Keep breathing and keep being aware. You continue to earn points. Stopping this process any time and returning to the eating disorder behavior does not take away points (Notice, there is no score in this game, just points.). In other words, there is no criticism for stopping or having a difficult time. More moles/behaviors will pop up all the time. You get to punch away whenever you choose.
Continuing to criticize yourself for the eating disorder behavior will actually continue that behavior. After all, the eating disorder is there for a reason. Often, it is there to help you cope, to protect you from something that appears much worse. Try to change your criticisms to observations – without judgment. Think about observing a chair. You wouldn’t judge the chair, just notice its parts. Is it modern, soft, brown, striped, wood, antique? Try the same with yourself, start by describing your toe (or a part of your body that you don’t criticize) to get the feel of it.
Below are some eating disorder behaviors that you might engage in. Begin this game with those that are most familiar and identifiable to you. As in any game, as you practice, you get better at it. Be cautious of attempting to be perfect. Not only is that impossible, but perfectionism is one of the thought patterns of those with an eating disorder.
Eating Disorder behaviors and thoughts:
• Comparing your body to others
• Comparing what you eat with what others are eating
• Keeping clothes in your closet that don’t fit
• Eating when you aren’t hungry (if done on a regular basis)
• Exercising too much
• Avoiding/resisting exercise
• Dressing to hide your body
• Negative self talk when thinking about your body or food or after eating
• Obsessing about food, weight, exercise
• Paying more attention to your body, food, etc than your relationships with yourself or others
• Chronic dieting or thinking about dieting
• Talking about being fat, eating too much, not exercising enough
• Thinking life will be better if you lose weight
• Perfectionist thinking
• Black and white thinking
These behaviors are the mole. Punch them out by paying attention to and experiencing what is really bothering you. Practice right now. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Follow your breath into your body and notice, observe what happens. Whatever is there, just keep breathing and keep noticing. You may find yourself feeling uncomfortable. That is okay. Just keep breathing. Do this for as long as you like. That’s it. You are playing the eating disorder whack-a-mole game. Now, practice it whenever you notice a behavior or thought surface.
If you engage in a behavior that is not listed, please send me an email to let me know what it is. As I put this newsletter article on my website, I would like to include as many behaviors as possible so that others who read it will be supported by your suggestions