Eating Disorders Causes


1. How do you think you coped with your thoughts andfeelings before you had an eating disorder?

2. How do you think other people cope with similar kinds of thoughts andfeelings?

3. What happens, or are you afraid will happen, if you don’t use your eating disorder behaviors to cope?


You might be surprised to realize how many of your behaviors are triggered by your thoughts and feelings. Most of our clients feel unclear about how their thoughts and feelings lead to their behavior, or what can be done about it. Deconstructing the chain of events that leads to your eating disorder behaviors can help you take a step back from them and become aware of a process that, right now, seems merely habitual or automatic. Thoughts and feelings lead to urges to take some kind of action. How you handle your thoughts, feelings, and urges determines what kind of action you take. Those actions will either keep you sick or help you get well.


Urges are strong, visceral feelings that are hard to control. They are created by a combination of thoughts and feelings that produce a strong desire to act in some way. Learning to deal with your thoughts and feelings allows you to curb or even prevent many urges from happening. Over time, you will learn how to surf the urges and get through them without having to act on them Surfing the urge means learning to accept and feel your feelings observing the urge to act rising within you, and, instead of acting, riding out the urge until it lessens, even goes away. A key that you might easily miss is the acceptance part. Accept your feelings without judgment and accept you having the urge to act on them Just notice and be curious about the urge rather than judging it, trying to get rid of it or make it go away. Wanting to get rid of the urge is the path to engaging in an eating disorder behavior because that has become the easiest way. Giving in to urges feels like the one thing that will make them disappear, but in reality, it feeds‚ them and serves as reinforcement for another cycle. Does this sound familiar? I’ll just do it this one last time and then I will stop.‚ Acting on urges reinforces the pattern; accepting but not acting on your urges will help extinguish them altogether.


Though it might be hard for you to believe, you can learn how to respond to thoughts, feelings, and urges rather than react. Certain reactions, like purging after eating a scary‚ or forbidden‚ food, might seem out of your control, but you can learn to respond differently and eventually retrain your brain such that your urges to purge lessen and then disappear. The process is the same for every difficult behavior change, including weighing yourself or counting calories. Learning how to manage your thoughts and feelings better, and understanding how to separate yourself from them so you can think more rationally, makes it easier to stop automatically reacting with your eating disorder behaviors. Over time, your urges will subside.


Look at the following chain of events that can lead to engaging in either an eating disorder behavior or a healthy alternative one.

Eating Disorder Self:


She cancelled our plans. Now I’m alone. She doesn’t like me or care about me.


Sad, hurt, angry, lonely, fat, and ugly Urge

I want to binge to stuff down the hurt and anger, fill the loneliness, and numb out.


I go to the kitchen and start stuffing down food.

Notice the automatic conclusion the Eating Disorder Self jumped to, and the reaction that occurs as a result.

Healthy Self:


She cancelled our plans. It’s hard to be alone. I wonder why she cancelled.


Sad, disappointed, hurt Urge

Feel the urge to cry and call her to express how I feel.


Cry, call a friend or someone else to talk over whether I should call her and ask her why she cancelled, or tell her how I feel after I am calmer and less emotional.

Notice in the scenario above that when her healthy self is in charge, she responds to the situation by feeling her feelings and seeking more information, rather than assuming the worst. She also knows how to take care of herself. She takes responsibility for calming herself down and reaches out to a friend for support in helping her to respond rather than react. It is important to note that sometimes you may discover that your assumptions are right that the person did reject you, and you actually have good reason to feel hurt. However, when you experience the pain of rejection or betrayal, engaging in your eating disorder behavior will never help you resolve what you are hurting over, though it may provide the illusion of helping by temporarily alleviating pain. It will be tempting to use familiar behaviors to cope, but using your healthy self by employing alternative coping methods to deal with pain and hurt will lead to a true resolution rather than temporary distraction.

The two scenarios above show how a situation might be handled by either your Eating Disorder Self or your Healthy Self. There are many variations that can take place along this chain of events.

For example, let’s say you are at a point in your recovery where you can notice your thoughts and feelings and not assume things, but you still get the urge to binge because you feel bored and alone. You can take care of yourself by feeling your feelings, observing the urges you have, letting them pass through you, and figuring out a new way to respond instead of automatically giving in to them Again, the bottom line is that having an urge does not mean you need to act on it for the urge (and any underlying feelings) to go away. The urges and feelings will fade and pass, because that is what feelings do.

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