The Function of Eating Disorders

What Function Does your Eating Disorder serve?

One of the reasons that an eating disorder can be difficult to recover from is that it may serve an important purpose in your life. Figuring out just how the eating disorder symptoms you exhibit benefit you could very well be a big help toward your recovery from it. For example, for some individuals, restricting food and over exercising is way to feel in control or to gain praise and attention from others. For others, bingeing and purging may be a way to suppress or mask difficult thoughts and feelings. In the first case, it might be necessary to find healthier ways to feel in control or to gain praise and attentions, whereas in the second case it may be important to learn to identify and process the thoughts and feelings more directly. For me, the following is a list of what my eating disorder does for me.

  • Helps cope with my negative thoughts and feelings
  • Controls my weight
  • Helps me feel in control
  • It gives me comfort
  • It feels familiar (companion, habit)
  • Helps me strive for perfectionism
  • Focuses and distracts me from more difficult issues
  • Gives me discipline or punishment (“I don’t deserve to eat”)
  • Numbs my emotions
  • Purging allows me a perception of normalcy—it allows for normal eating
  • Helps me to fit the ideal of society
  • Gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Through severe restriction, it helps to numb my emotions, cope with negative thoughts and feelings. Through both purging and restriction, it allows me to appear normal when I need to appear normal, fit the today’s societal obsession with weight loss and exercise, discipline and punish me, and help in my goals for perfectionism. Through the use of a scale, how my clothes fit—or don’t fit—and new caloric lows it gives me a sense of accomplishment, a ‘weight loss high’, and distracts me from difficult/uncomfortable issues or situations. Other reasons that an ED could function as are listed below:

  • Relieves or manages stress
  • Protects your self esteem
  • Suppresses traumatic memories and events
  • Helps to hold your family together
  • Helps you to receive attention and love
  • Give you a unique identity (makes you special)
  • Gives you time for yourself
  • Relieves boredom
  • Helps you deal with anger
  • Serves as a scapegoat for failures
  • Gives you momentary freedom
  • It buffers your relationships
  • It acts as an escape from daily stress

Now the questions appear: How much do I need the ED to fulfill these needs? How much longer am I going to allow it to function so heavily in my life? And are there other—better and healthier—methods to fulfilling these needs?

I definitely think there is an abundance of other methods that could replace ED. Will finding, applying, and choosing those methods every time instead of Ed be hard? Yeah…it probably will be. Habits aren’t formed overnight and no one likes being away from their security blanket of coping—whatever that coping looks like (Ed, alcohol, etc). I don’t like to admit the fact that a part of me still feels I need the ED in order to function as a normal human being. But that’s one more reason to fight back that much harder and to adopt new ways of managing the unpleasant things in order to break free of Ed’s destructive ways.


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