When Others Try to Get You to Give Up Your Eating Disorder

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Often, people figure out that you have a problem without being told. Your symptoms may be dramatic and trigger intense reactions in them. Some worry and tell you so. Others are intimidated and frightened, unsure how to respond, especially when you're in an eating-disordered mode. Some will speak to you out of concern or frustration because they care for and about you. Others will want to "correct" your thinking or "cure" your eating disorder, without really-knowing how.

A battleground mentality can set in. The eating disorder becomes the enemy, you are its victim, and the other person (e.g., a parent, friend, relative, or teacher) becomes your helper or "rescuer." Typically, several people will confront you about your eating habits, so it's possible to have many would-be rescuers. Some won't know specifically that what you have is an eating disorder and won't use technically correct terms to describe what they think you're doing. They may say, "You're too thin" or "You're not taking care of yourself." People who are well-informed may try logic and offer facts about the dangers to your physical and mental health.

When those arguments don't result in the desired changes in your behavior, rescuers may also try to shake you up with threats of dire consequences like, "You'll lose all your friends," "You won't be allowed to continue living with us," or "You'll end up in the hospital." They might try a guilt-trip technique like, "Look what you're doing to us," "If you cared about anyone else, you wouldn't do this," or "You're so selfish." They might abandon the "logic" approach, become emotional, and beg you to stop such self-destruction. They may literally bribe you:

My parents made a deal with me that if I got my period before my birthday they'd get me a car and I could choose the colon This is one example of the bribes this eating disorder has brought out. Some of the others include a shopping spree if I have my period three months in a row,; I think you get the point. It makes me sad that my parents think of me as such a shallow person that I could be cured from my eating disorder by some simple bribing.

If you're not ready to accept someone else's help, if you feel protected by your eating disorder and have no interest in listening to the other person's point-of-view, any attempt at changing your mind can feel like a power struggle, with one person trying to take control and the other feeling powerless. One unintended consequence of this power stmggle may be that the grip of the eating disorder is actually strengthened. External pressure to change something that is such an important part of your identity can make you even more stubborn in your resolve to keep the status quo. You might even realize how "stuck" you are, yet be totally resistant to change.

Trying to fend off your rescuers as you struggle to keep at least part of your secret intact may lead to some very frustrating, angry, and emotionally draining conversations. You may not realize it, but you are defending a series of behaviors and thoughts that the other person finds indefensible.

The following responses are typical of anorexics and bulimics who aren't ready to give up their eating disorders, followed by some possible alternatives:

Response #1:

"That's definitely not me."

You are telling others that they're misinterpreting your behavior. However, this is usually not true and vehement denial won't necessarily get those people off your case. In fact, your denial may trigger stronger efforts to get you to acknowledge the seriousness of your situation.

Is it possible that you're scared to admit it is you, and that you're having trouble understanding what your behavior is all about?

Resonse #2:

"Everybody does it"

This is the safety-in-numbers, "it's socially acceptable" response. There may be some truth in this statement: many people do diet to extreme, and bingeing is common. But "everybody" does not do it. If you really believe that your choices are "normal/' you probably have an eating disorder as a constant companion.

Is it possible that you're exhausted by having to spend so much time and energy on your disorder, and that you would rather not be part of that particular crowd?

Response #3:

"It's part of my routine. I do it for me. It's my choice. It's a lifestyle thing like choosing a perfume or hair color or whether or not to wear deodorant"

This rationalization characterizes your eating or dieting behavior as voluntary. You are trying to minimize, even trivialize, the importance of an eating disorder in your daily life. But if you have to deny, rationalize, or trivialize it this way, the eating disorder is no longer a matter of your free will and choice, but an addictive habit that is now in control of you.

Is is possible for you to acknowledge that your routine needs to be changed and that you need to ask for help in developing a plan for that change?

Response #4:

"I have to do it to ... make the team/make the weight class/ keep in shape/feel good/be happy/etc."

You desperately want others to see the "logic'' behind your behavior to prove that it is rational, planned, and/or productive. What remains unsaid is the devastating impact it is probably having on your mental and physical health. Your reply invites the other person to bombard you with facts to challenge and disprove your "logic".

Is it possible for you to see that what may have worked for you in the past is harming you in the present?

Response #5:

"I'm not a druggie, so get off my case."

An angry, confrontational response of this sort minimizes the seriousness of an eating disorder by saying you're not dabbling in something that "could" be worse, like taking illegal, addictive drugs. However, the person you address is likely to pick up the thread of your argument and weave in comparisons between eating disorders and drug addictions. Thus, you may inadvertently undermine your own position.

Is it possible for you to express how frustrated and angry you feel and begin a dialogue about that?

Response #6:

Are you pleading the Fifth? It's obvious that you're attempting to short-circuit any further conversation. This won't work. What's more likely to happen is that whoever you're talking to will get more frustrated and angry than before you began the discussion and rather than trying to reason with you will start to talk at you.

Is it possible for you to talk about how you define "taking responsibility" for yourself and your health, and maybe even discuss how you and your family define "privacy?"

Response #7:

"If you stop watching me and treating me like I'm a baby... I'll eat what you cook/eat dinner at the table with the family/ won't overdo the junk/etc."

You're right in one sense: it isn't fun to have every bite you eat monitored by someone else. But the "let's make a deal" tone of "if you do this, I'll do that" is just one of the game-playing techniques of the eating-disordered mind. These deals might work for a while, but in the long run everyone involved loses.

Is it possible for everyone in this situation to lay all their cards out on the table and work out a solution?

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