Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association
"Supporting those affected by eating disorders"
On this page you will find an interesting view of eating disorders written with the intention helping people to view some eating disorders in a different light.. Permission has been granted for the inclusion of the article on the Somerset & Wessex Eating Disorders Association web site, the views contain therein, however, are the author's alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Somerset & Wessex Eating Disorders Association.
Eating disorders are horrible things, I know as I have experienced them myself. They are also complex and varied, each one different, made unique by the complex feelings and experiences of the individual they afflict. To date they have defied attempts to contain them within an all encompassing theory or model. It is, therefore, not my intention to detract from the horror and misery of eating disorders or to present them as good in any way. I am not proposing a theory or model that encompasses eating disorders (for, apart from the generality of coping mechanism, I dont believe that there is one). My intention here is to present some thoughts based mainly on my own experience of an eating disorder and partly on the experiences of others that I have met along the way, that may perhaps enable people to view some instances of eating disorders in a somewhat different way.
Many carers and therapists who tend to view eating disorders solely from the medical model approach of affliction and cure express puzzlement at the, often extreme, resistance they may receive from sufferers when attempting to relieve them of their eating disorders. The idea of eating disorders as coping mechanisms may be familiar but is often only vaguely understood.
It would, I think, be stretching analogy too far to suggest that an eating disorder, like aestivation, is in any way an evolutionary survival adaptation but, in some instances within the context of the emotional and psychological environment, and seeing an eating disorder as a coping mechanism, there are striking parallels.
There is a least one theory of eating disorders (anorexia in particular) that suggests they are a protracted suicide, a death wish. In the context of this article I would suggest that at least some eating disorders indicate the exact opposite of this, a strong desire to survive a life wish in the presence of, albeit perceived, unmanageable environmental conditions.
My own eating disorder resulted from extremely traumatic and ongoing mental health issues. It is my honest belief that the final outcome of this would, should it have continued unresolved, have been a complete mental breakdown and/or suicide. My environmental conditions where untenable, at least as I perceived them. The eating disorder that ensued was awful and, without a doubt, life threatening in the long term (although not as immediately so as suicide). Despite this I do believe that it provided a sufficient period of dormancy to allow enough environmental changes to occur (or be made) for a re-emergence into a manageable life to be made. Could it sometimes be more appropriate to see an eating disorder not so much as a coping mechanism than a survival strategy?
True to a group of disorders that have so far defied a unified theory, I would not suggest that all eating disorders are survival strategies. I have. However, met enough individuals who have described their eating disorders as having bought enough time in the presence of ongoing traumatic conditions to effect sufficient change to move on, for the idea to be worth considering.
If one accepts the idea of an eating disorder as a coping mechanism with deeper, more immediate issues lying beneath then it may even be possible to view the eating disorder as a therapeutic ally allowing more time to work with the trauma and perhaps preventing, or delaying, an even less appropriate response.
Lungfish lie dormant because they cannot survive in the conditions that prevail. When the pond is full the fish emerge.
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