overeating and anorexia: a dialogue

“yes, it is possible to lose too much weight,” said joshua seth in one of his submissions to the carnival of eating disorders, talking about courtney love’s unfortunate adventures with all kinds of eating disorders.

my first reaction to this was, “well, yes, duh!” but then it got me to thinking. while we read and hear about anorexia in the media, like with many mental health issues, unless it’s in our face all the time, it’s actually not “duh”. it’s not self-explanatory.

there is an interesting dynamic that can take place between people who undereat and those who overeat.

“oh i wish i was skinny like you!” is something that people whose anorexia does not manifest in radical or overly visible weight loss often hear. hearing this can be crazy-making, because the cognitive-emotional reaction often goes in two opposite direction at once. one is a wistful, almost helpless “if only you knew that i’m not skinny-beautiful, that i’m skinny-sick”. the other is a prideful, judgmental, “it’s because i have discipline, you fat cow!”

once in a while it happens that two people at the opposite spectrum of eating disorders sit down and talk and realize that they have a lot in common: a constant preoccupation with food, body image and weight. not infrequently, it plays itself out in similar ways, for example, going to great lengths to avoid situations where certain types of clothing are worn (e.g. weddings, beach); not eating in public; excessive weighing; crushing feelings of guilt over every morsel that is eaten; an obsession with diets; an intense craving for junk food, etc.

and every once in a while, these conversations reveal that eating disorders are precisely not about what the preoccupations are about. a significant proportion of people with eating disorders suffer from depression and anxiety. somehow, at some level, food – eating or not eating it to excess – turned out to be a useful tool for coping with overwhelming thoughts and feelings. granted, at some point the coping mechanism doesn’t work anymore and then a person is burdened with the eating disorder on top of everything else. but that’s usually some time – even years – down the road because another common denominator of eating disorders, similar to drug use, often start out quite pleasant. for the person who eats too much, chocolate tastes good, and the one who doesn’t eat enough, knowing that a lowly feeling such as hunger can be beaten down and ignored can give a heady feeling for control.

“yes, it’s possible to lose too much weight” – and let’s add, it’s dangerous to do too much of a lot of things. one thing that we rarely do enough of, though, is talk to each other and share our experiences. and dialogues between overeaters and anorexics – there’s definitely not enough of that, and i honestly believe it would help everyone.

p.s. there is a movie about this topic, disfigured. i haven’t been able to get it yet but am looking forward to seeing it. anyone been to it yet?


  1. I have Disfigured from Blockbuster Online, but I have not watched it yet. I am heavily into body acceptance, but wonder if we help correct those areas, what will the thinking patterns latch onto next? It really isn’t about the food or even the weight, as you noted. Thank you for the Link Love and the comments 🙂

    Krista’s last blog post..14 years

  2. Great article. Glad my article inspired it 🙂

    You are exactly right that eating disorders are not really about eating at all. They are self destructive behavior patterns that manifest themselves in the absence of healthy coping mechanisms. That’s exactly why I wrote my new book “The Weight Loss Hypnosis Solution” actually, to show people how they can change their emotional relationship to food simply by changing the way they think.

    Thought precedes action, so whether you’re overweight or underweight changing the thought patterns that inform your behavioral choices can have a profound effect.

    The first step in this process is asking better questions which is what your suggestion of dialoguing can help to bring about.

  3. “oh i wish i was skinny like you!” I have a different reaction than what you describe. Depending on my mood and where I am at one, I don’t believe them or two, I become angry because I don’t want to deal with that issue or three, “if you only knew, you wouldn’t.”

    I have a different take than Josh; however, I liked his statement and immediately my head went, “no, you can never lose too much.” I know that once I start losing, I set a goal meet it, then set it lower, then meet it, then set it lower…there is no end until I end up in the hospital or am dead. I’ve never reached either of those, but came close to hospitalization. For me, it is all about control and anger. My thought process is not the way that my recovery follows. Mine is to integrate my trauma into who I am as a whole person. If simple cognitive-behavioral or REBT was the answer, I’d be free of a lot of addictive behavior. But, I still have lots to deal with and REBT I can do in my sleep. However, I do see the benefit and have used it myself, but it has limitations.

    I rarely actually talk or write about my eating. I’m feeling a bit vulnerable and exposed.

  4. Oh, I totally believe that overeating and anorexia have the same roots, but manifest in different ways. Some of the thought processes are the same. I look at one as overcontrolling and the other as being out of control, but in reality they are both out of control. Control really is an illusion.

  5. @krista blockbuster online, what a great idea, i’ll try that for that movie. let’s see who ends up watching it first.

    the interesting thing about removing food issues is that we can actually be confronted with “what the mind latches on” (a very buddhist concept, come to think of it)

    @joshua like you, i see asking good questions as a tremendously powerful tool.

    @CC thanks a lot for your courage in talking to an issue that leaves you feeling vulnerable, and for adding to my observations of what happens after the “you’re so skinny” remark.

    thanks also for adding to the discussion around the importance (or not) of thoughts. i believe that recovery and healing are different for everyone, and we each have modalities that are central to our experience. you talk about integration. i’d say that when integration is central to healing, thinking probably plays a part, but there is not so much emphasis on it. would you agree?

  6. Integration to me is the ultimate goal, but I agree that not much is said about this. I think, that for a variety of reasons that it becomes symptom management rather than deep healing that requires integration. Also, many people have much difficulty with integration and don’t get that far…it is excruciating.

  7. I’ve struggled with being overweight all of my life. If I were a cave-person, I’d be a survivor!

    Mental illness, addictions and food that have formed a Troika in how I view myself.

    I love that you get to the heart of eating disorders, the common path of pain that we trudge.


    Dano MacNamarrah’s last blog post..Brilliant Blogs Award.

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