Have you been struggling with the feeling of control this year? If you have, you’re not alone. The pandemic has meant that many elements of our lives that were previously within our control, are now not. It’s one reason why eating disorder presentations have skyrocketed over the past six months.
Control is often a central feature in eating disorders. Whether it is about gaining control, feeling out of control or misusing control, it can wreak havoc in our lives.
A great analogy was recently introduced to me, which captures the extreme nature of eating disorder control very well. Think about driving a car, an activity that requires focus and concentration. When learning how to drive, it can be an overwhelming experience of controlling the pedals, the steering wheel, watching the road and managing distractions amongst other elements. We might be reactive, lurching forward at a moment’s notice, or pushing on the break too hard. It can often be an experience full of anxiety and stress as we try to control every tiny movement and action to keep ourselves and others safe. As time goes on, we learn to relax, use reflexes, assess the situation and act when necessary. Eating disorders bring the ‘learners’ lens to activities of daily living such as eating, bathing, dressing and exercising. Suddenly an intense focus is put onto activities that previously may have been intuitive, relaxed or a non-issue. ED’s love to convince us that they are doing that for our benefit. To help us gain ‘normal’ levels of control over something. In reality, it is taking us back to the ‘L plates’, an experience full of uncertainty, anxiety, over analysis and often fear.
Let’s consider what healthy control looks like. Should controlling something make you always feel anxious? Stressed? Obsessive? Emotional and reactive? Probably not. When assessing what is healthy control, think back to the moments when you started being able to get behind the wheel, and drive somewhere safely and comfortably. The experience of anxiety and stress might waver based on driving conditions and other variables, but even these don’t result in a destabilizing experience. This is an excellent example of having appropriate control over something.
Eating disorders convince us that controlling things like food and exercise can bring us comfort and safety, which in part is true! Humans love to have routine, rhythm, predictability and consistency, but as you can tell from the driving example, eating disorders take it too far and the ED ends up taking ALL control away from you. The ED ends up calling all the shots and if you stray from its plans, prepare to be inundated with anxiety, distress and a tendency to overcorrect when ‘mistakes’ are made.
Take a moment to reflect on how control looks in your life.
Has your ED tried to convince you that its version of control is the best version?
In an attempt to seek control, has your ED in fact taken over?
What does healthy control mean to you?
How do your controlling behaviors impact your quality of life?
In the next issue of ‘Sending Hope’ we will explore PART 2 of understanding control….