The addictive nature of overeating, the anguish, the memory blanks, the inability to stop, the constant search for new diets, the emotional highs of losing weight, and the guilt and shame of gaining it back seem to be consistent and rampant in our culture.
I found myself frustrated that many people looked for an answer in a diet or exercise program. I got angry that desperate, frightened people were being promised answers via diets and exercise programs.
Reasonable diet and exercise programs, if followed consistently, help provide a person with health and strength. But when programs completely bypass underlying issues of eating disorders, the programs are doomed to fail.
The tragedy is that often the person doesn't know it was the program that failed. The person with an eating disorder, already racked with guilt and self-punishing thoughts, is certain that she is a failure. This only perpetuates despair.
It's more apparent than ever that overeating and other related behaviors (starving, compulsive exercise to work off calories, purging through laxatives or vomiting, bizarre eating rituals) are attempts to soothe emotional pain.
Most current research acknowledges that the underlying causes of overeating are complex and profound. Yet people still search for and are being offered diets as answers. You may have tried diets and diet programs only to be disappointed by little or no weight loss.
You may have felt elated by quick weight loss and then frightened and despondent as your weight returned, even to higher levels. If your self-esteem is low and you are accustomed to accepting harsh criticism from others and yourself, you will believe that the fault rests with yourself and not the diet or the program.
Please do a reality check. Did the diet program help you cope with your anxieties? Did it give you tools to use when you felt too vulnerable to function? Did it give you a way to give yourself healthy limits and the ability to say no when you rushed into experiences you couldn't handle? Did it care for you and provide you with a way to think thoughtfully and considerately about the wisdom of your actions and in-actions?
Weight loss diets and diet programs are designed to cut calories, increase exercise and take weight off your body. That's all. If you have an eating disorder, they not only don't work in terms of weight loss. They can also trigger your fears, insecurities and difficulties in setting healthy limits so your eating disorder becomes more powerful in your life.
If you have an eating disorder, you don't need a diet. You need to find your eating disorder recovery path that will nourish your mind, body and soul. You need to develop an inner sturdiness that helps you to move beyond your need for your eating disorder so you can be competent and confident in the world.
Triumphant Journey can help you.
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Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.
She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder
Appointments are virtual.
For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at