Discipline, Drugs, and Disorder

I was recently challenged with the notion that eating disorders are not as intense or similar to drug addiction or alcoholism. I’ve also been challenged about how much eating disorders are a discipline–not a disorder–issue.

And then we have misconceptions about what eating disorders “look” like: only when are you scarily thin should you get help. When you are overweight, you just need to “eat less and exercise more.” Not exactly.

There’s a lot to fight against with eating disorders, and perhaps that is what makes them so difficult for sufferers to admit what they are going through. I do appreciate the questions I receive from those who simply have not had an eating disorder because it means they are either trying to understand, or that they are at least helping me to understand their confusion and skepticism. But it can be frustrating when people quickly dismiss the illness lightly when you are not hooked up to an IV or fainting at work.

No one can see the obsession circling day in and day out in your head, and that’s the scariest part–that you can’t escape your own mind.

I have certainly not had alcoholism and cannot say I know everything that entails it, but I feel I can understand the pull of the addiction. I have not had drug problems, but I feel I understand the intense, all-consuming cravings when I hoard food and binge. I even knew an eating disorder sufferer who did drugs say that after experimenting with various drugs, the worst “drug” he feels has been food.

So we’re supposedly supposed to “snap out of it.” Would you tell that to an alcoholic? A drug addict? How are eating disorders different? While the world often treats eating disorders as petty girl issues (and what about the male sufferers?) or a matter of discipline, those of us who suffer want to scream that it is not just about aesthetic or something within our control, but a chemical and emotional disturbance that is fought day after day.

I tell you, it is similar to struggle of alcoholism. It is much like yearning for the high of drugs. And to pull away from it is like a breakup from a very destructive love affair. To let go is to fall headfirst into months or even years of grieving the loss of something that you felt held you together for so long.

This is why eating disorders not only take over lives, but also kill. It may not be as quick as a life-threatening drug withdrawal, but a long, slow death is no easier.

Order your copy of Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It here.

6 replies
  1. Fran
    Fran says:

    Dear Rachel, I feel particularly touched by your story, bacause I have been through the same, and I am still fighting. This year I could start training again after one year and a half stop. Throughout this year my weight has been quite normal, and no one seemed to believe how difficult it is this daily fight with compulsion. I would be happy to talk with you and share my experience.

  2. Tamara Steil
    Tamara Steil says:

    Here is an addition to the difficulty of the problem that you, Rachael, have pointed out to me in the past, and I believe bears re-iteration. An alcoholic/drug-addict can direct recovery by eliminating the offending substance (alcohol or drug). A food addict cannot eliminate food. She or he MUST eat food and find a way to do it in a healthy way. Alcohol or drug addicts do not have to make peace with the enemy. Their solution is to eliminate the enemy. Your solution is not nearly so simple.

  3. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Rachel, Thank you for sharing your story. I went through a similar experience in college, nearly 12 years ago, and am very grateful to be recovered, and can remember times I doubted it was possible. I hope your sharing can make a difference for all those struggling with this painful addiction; a recognition that they are not alone and hope for a different way, even in the darkest times. Blessings to you

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