Eating disorders and negative patterns with food begin with personal pain and set up a vicious cycle of anger: destructive behavior—shame—depression—self-hate—and back to anger. No matter what your food patterns, the misuse of food starts as a natural response of anger to pain. It goes something like this:
- Something has caused tremendous pain in your life.
- The pain hurts, and that you should experience this pain is unjust and makes you angry.
- As you look for a way to vent this anger, to seek respite from the anger, you choose food.
- Control of food, either through under-eating, over-eating, or intentional unhealthy eating, becomes a self-destructive behavior.
- Your active participation in a self-destructive behavior produces feelings of guilt and shame.
- Intense feelings of guilt and shame produce a profound sense of depression.
- Guilt, shame and depression reinforce self-hate.
- Self-hate says you deserve the pain.
- Now you are angry not only at the pain in your past but at yourself for the pain in the present.
- Once again you choose to vent this anger, to gain relief from this anger, by controlling food and continuing your self-destructive behavior.
- Continuing this behavior produces shame and guilt.
- Shame and guilt reinforce self-hate.
- Self-hate says you deserve pain.
- And the cycle continues on.
Breaking this cycle and finding the strength to disconnect from an unhealthy relationship with food requires relearning not only the proper response to food, but also the proper response to anger. Anger occurs as a natural result in life. We get angry over large and small things every day. How we deal with anger is something we are taught through either example or direct instruction. The training ground for dealing with anger is the family. Too often we have learned inappropriate ways of dealing with our anger through the examples of our families.
You’ve been numbing or avoiding your anger through your patterns with food for so long that it may be difficult for you to connect with that anger and put it into words. Oftentimes, however, recovery from your eating disorder can only be realized once you dig into the true origin of that anger.
Control over this anger has been the silent motivation behind your food patterns. But overeating, unhealthy eating, bingeing and purging, or starving your emotions into submission has only brought you a temporary respite from this emotion at a terrible physical and emotional cost.
The way to really control this feeling of anger is first to acknowledge that it is real. You need to understand your anger. You need to really feel it.
Re-experiencing your anger in its fullness is the price you must pay to free yourself from its control. Confronting your anger and those who caused it will free you for the next step—forgiveness. Only then will you be able to break the cycle of anger, and start taking back the control over your emotions and life.
If you are struggling with a cycle of anger that is fueling an eating disorder, contact the eating disorder specialists at The Center • A Place of HOPE at 1-888-771-5166. They can help you explore support and treatment options to regain your health and well-being.
Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Hope Help & Healing for Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach to Treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Disordered Eating.