eating disorders, depression and perfectionism

by now you must have cottoned on to the fact that i really like therese borchard’s beyond blue: surviving depression and anxiety and making the most of bad genes.

one of the things she talks about in that book is her run-ins with eating disorders. in the chapter BMI (body mass issues) – depression in my thighs she mentions a number of writers in the field. for example cherry boone o’neill and her book starving for attention

in my early years i equated my worth as a person with the level of my performance and i felt that the love and approval of other people would be conditioned upon my perfection. therefore, i expended every effort to be the best i could possibly be in any given area of endeavour, only to repeatedly fall short of my goals and risk losing value in the eyes of others. trying even harder, only to miss the mark again, resulted in compounded guilt and self hatred.

therese then draws the connection between eating disorders and depression, citing dr. raymond depaulo from johns hopkins who observes that young women with eating disorders also tend to suffer from depression. it’s interesting to hear therese compare the two experiences:

i asked a veteran nurse which illness – an eating disorder or a mood disorder – is harder to overcome.

“an eating disorder, hands down,” he said. “because you have to eat to stay alive, and so it’s always there. you are always confronting your behaviour.” butter, flour, and friends are always at the table sprouting horns.

depression has bullied me much more than an eating disorder, and i’d take anorexia or bulimia any day over the intense suicidal thoughts i experienced for eighteen months later in life. but before giving birth and whacking out my brain chemistry, i did get to enjoy several years symptom-free of depression. there were many days i didn’t even think about my mood! but to this day the eating disorder is still there. at every meal.

in the next chapter, she talks about the perfectionism that we mentioned earlier.

like practically every other depressive i know, perfectionism can cripple my efforts to live freely and happily, not to mention plague me with writer’s block. left unattended, perfectionism will build a prison around me so that every shot at expressing myself is thwarted by the fear of not getting it right.

one of the people who helps her with that is her editor. she reminds her of something that goes for all of us, whether we’re depressed, deal with eating disorders, are writers, or whatever else. she constantly reminds her to

to write from wherever i am, not from where i want to be, because the journey – full of backward steps – is what makes material real and most helpful.

finally, she quotes anna quindlen:

perfection is static, even boring. your unvarnished self is what is wanted.


  1. Wow. I don’t thing I ever thought about the eating disorder being with one ‘at every meal,’ even after one gets ‘well.’ I’ve thought of this with other chronic conditions, but not with food.

    Sometime in the past couple years as I’ve continued to understand my own battle with perfectionism, trying to not push it away, but rather somehow embrace/honor one of these darker sides of me….I asked myself, “What is one thing I am perfect at?”

    The answer came: “Imperfection.”

    light bulb…. “The only perfect thing there is, is imperfection.” ….at least as far as humanity goes.

    It was kind of freeing for me. Simple and obvious…but at that moment, freeing.

    I’ve written various poems with perfectionism in mind. I’ve linked one of my favorites, via my name above. Hope that’s o.k. (Head’s up: it does contain some *language.*)

    Thanks for this entry Mori….and all the others too. I enjoy ‘reading’ you. 🙂

    To life!

    I love this quote you referenced:
    “…to write from wherever i am, not from where i want to be, because the journey – full of backward steps – is what makes material real and most helpful.”
    .-= Carol Welch´s last blog ..The Ride =-.

  2. I find that perfectionism has been a constant in my life which uncovered is self-hatred as is an eating disorder. I don’t believe that you can have an eating disorder without a mood disorder. They seem to go hand in hand. I would think that treating someone with a mood disorder would be much easier than treating someone with an eating disorder and mood disorder. After all the eating disorder is only a symptom of something deeper. For me, it has been depression and expressing my emotions. Eating disorders are a great defensive…not very helpful though.
    .-= ClinicallyClueless´s last blog ..Short Songs by Tim Hawkins =-.

  3. There is no doubt perfectionism goes hand in hand with an eating disorder – however I do believe recovery is not only possible, but that life can be free from what can be an all consuming passion/distress with weight and food. Fiona, author of Cardboard: A woman left for dead

  4. In my experience as a hypnotherapist, in working with patients with perfectionists issues, part of this way of thinking stems from not receiving positive reiniforcement of efforts made with tasks/exams/goals as a child and/or teenager. This led to a perception that their best was not good enough and only perfection would do. Given how often perfection is unlikely to be achieved this gave rise to feelings of inadaquacy, loss of motivation and depression. An eating disorder includes can include these elements too. Trying to be a certain size or shape based a what is perceived as the perfect size and shape of fashin models, pop stars etc.

  5. i love this article. I hope, however, that your wrong about the eating disorder staying with you at every single meal. Its hard to imagine having a family and job with the disorder controlling and planning all your thoughts ): dont get me wrong your words are inspiring and lifting! i just hope the disorder will let go eventually so i can get on with life and other people can too

  6. hi jordan – thanks for the comment. i don’t think therese borchard is saying that the eating disorder stays with EVERYONE for every single meal – experiences vary so widely! no matter what, if you get help and work through it, you WILL be able to get on with your life.

  7. Depression is the twin of eating disorders and in my experience they go hand in hand…..the over eating is an attempt to self sooth unconscious anxieties that the concious personality is unable to contain, regulate or integrate……one has to identify the trauma or rather traumas that have split off the authentic self.

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