5 Intense Emotions Connected to Eating Disorders

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Intense emotions can be experienced as uncomfortable and inconvenient, at the same time, emotions themselves do not cause problems. It is our attempt to not feel our emotions that do.

Intense Emotions

According to author and eating disorder expert Dr. Anita Johnston, “We’ve bought into the idea that we’re capable of controlling our emotions. We are not not any more than we can swim up a mountain. Emotions are a form of energy, they’re a wave. And so they can’t be controlled anymore then you can go to the ocean and hold the waves back. But you don’t have to. You can learn to ride the waves of emotion that flow through you.”

An intense emotion is just like a wave. It will peak and then it will pass.

Our emotions provide us powerful keys to self-awareness they serve as a way to help us understand our needs, boundaries, and desires better.

So let’s identify five intense emotions connected to eating disorders so you can get to a place where you embrace their intensity without turning to eating disorder behaviors as a way to cope.

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Emotion #1: Anxiety

If you could compare anxiety to a waves in the ocean, anxiety is like having one wave after another with no break in-between. One anxious thought after another, after another. Living in the head with an overactive imagination spinning out worst case scenarios, calculating errors, and trying to control others perceptions.

It feels like the spinning thoughts will never steps. However, anxiety researcher and eating disorder expert, Dr. Norman Kim explains, “No matter what, at some point, anxiety is going to plateau. And then at some point, even if you do nothing about it, anxiety is always going to go away. It’s just the way that our nerves are designed. They can’t just keep firing indefinitely, because at some point they have to fatigue.”

But what happens if you are somebody who is used to engaging in eating disorder compensatory behaviors for relief? You start to feel anxiety go up, and then you do your behavior.

According to Dr. Norman Kim, “all you have ever experienced is that anxiety just goes up, you’ve never experienced a plateau. Ultimately, without you doing anything, anxiety goes down. Over time, and through the exposure, you learn that anxiety, or the distress or the urge doesn’t last forever, it’s eventually going to decrease without you engaging in any kind of behavior. And most importantly, whatever the feared consequences, the big feared consequence does not occur.”

Over time, and through the exposure, you learn that anxiety, or the distress or the urge doesn’t last forever, it’s eventually going to decrease without you engaging in any kind of behavior.

Anxiety just like fear holds valuable information as to what you really need to feel safe. This is why so many people with eating disorders have “safe foods” that they feel less anxious around. However, the real safety you’re looking for isn’t in your food choices. It’s meeting deeper human needs like love, belonging, and connection. Which brings us to our next emotion.

Emotion #2: Disconnection

Disconnection is a common experience in eating disorders and takes on many forms. Disconnection from our body, disconnection from a sense of purpose or meaning, and disconnection from other people. You may experience this as loneliness, isolation, depression, or a general state of dissatisfaction.

According to Dr. Norman Kim, “at the most basic level, everyone who’s struggling with an eating disorder, is struggling with a profound sense of disconnection. And disconnection operates on a number of levels. It’s disconnection in terms of relationships. This doesn’t mean that people with eating disorders aren’t in relationships or can’t have relationships. But when you’re struggling with that long standing feeling of I’m not good enough, it’s going to impact on how honest or how vulnerable you feel like you can be. And without honesty and vulnerability, it’s really difficult for any of us to maintain healthy reciprocal relationships with people.”

Connection is key. We don’t become our strongest selves, by ourselves. Which need connection to not only survive, but thrive.

Dr. Norman Kim further explains, an eating disorder “disconnects you from the full experience of existence. It robs you of a connection to a larger sense of purpose or meaning. And it disconnects you from yourself at the level of basic sensations, you become disconnected from hunger signals, other needs signals, as well as spiritual needs, an eating disorder disconnects your body from your mind and your spirit.”

An eating disorder disconnects your body from your mind and your spirit.”

And then finally, an eating disorder disconnects you from a sense of curiosity and meaning. Dr. Norman Kim explains that, “it’s very difficult to exist in a hyper vigilant, threat based state all of the time and maintain a sense of curiosity. Because if you think about it from a survival standpoint, you know, curiosity isn’t terribly important if all you’re trying to do is survive.

When we allow ourselves to look deeper into the ways we are disconnected in our body, heart, and soul, we bring in greater self-awareness. We create connection when we look deeper within ourselves to see how we keep others and our own self at a distance and why we do it.

Emotion #3: Shame

Shame is an emotion that affects all of us and profoundly shapes the way we interact in the world. Researcher and New York Times Best-Selling author, Dr. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” She goes on to say that “shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”

Shame is so woven into eating disorders that Dr. Norman Kim describes eating disorders as disorders of shame.

He explains, “Some people experience what’s called the shame of existence. Where shame is linked to the self. It’s shame about the fact that you exist, the fact that you are. This results in a really significant urge to hide, to conceal, to disappear, and to take up as little room as possible. There’s an entire body of research that tells us that the same parts of our brain that get activated with physical pain get activated when we experience shame. So in a very literal sense, when we feel shame, it is painful.

The same parts of our brain that get activated with physical pain get activated when we experience shame. So in a very literal sense, when we feel shame, it is painful.

Shame is like a tar substance that covers our true inherent goodness. The more experiences we have in life that generate shame and the more we judge ourselves and stay silent about these experiences, the thicker the tar becomes and the harder it is to see and feel our true inherent goodness.

Fortunately, there is a shame tar remover and that is self-compassion and speaking up. When you take away secrecy, silence, and judgement you can wash away the shame, layer by layer.

This is why having support can be so helpful in the recovery process because you can voice your shame to others who understand and won’t judge you. These conditions will help you set a strong foundation for a long-lasting eating disorder recovery.

Emotion #4: Depression

Now there are countless ways to talk about depression so please do not take this as the end all be all explanation.

At the same time, let’s tie in wisdom heard by way of comedian Jim Carey that speaks more to the soul than the science behind depression.

Years ago Jim Carey posted a tweet about depression that Ariana Grande re-tweeted and it had the whole twitterverse trending. And it was a quote by the author, poet, and spiritual teacher, Jeff Foster. And it said the following:

“The word ‘depressed’ can be spoken as DEEP REST. We can choose to view depression not as a mental illness but as a state of Deep Rest, a spiritual exhaustion that we enter into when we are de-pressed (pressed down) by the weight of the false self, the mask, the mind-made story of “me”.

We long to stop pretending, and express our raw truth! To give voice to our secret loneliness, our shame, our broken hearts, boredom, and brilliant rage! Depression’s call to truth needs to be listened to and understood. There is no shame in your exhaustion. We are all exhausted, my love. Slow down today. Allow yourself to rest, deeply. And weep. And breathe. And begin again. Now.

I say, our depression is holy. It contains the seeds of new life.”

The word ‘depressed’ can be spoken as DEEP REST.

We can spend our whole lives creating and curating a specific identity for ourselves that is not authentic to who we really are. This creates suffering and leads us away from our own inherent goodness, because we do not feel we enough just as we are right now. We need to allow ourselves space to grieve, to feel helpless, to heal past hurts and cry tears that never felt safe to cry because we were too busy being strong.

While there are many advancements in medicine that help people manage their depression, it is important to also look at it as spiritual exhaustion pushing us to evolve past the mind made story of the ego.

Emotion #5: Anger

Anger is one of those emotions that our culture has a lot of judgements around. Anger gets portrayed as dangerous, crazy, and unacceptable. With the intention of wanting to be liked and loved and to stay safe, it’s common to bury our anger away or ignore its existence completely.

However, this strategy fails because buried anger starts to build up pressure. The unreleased anger and resentment festers within. Like a volcano, anger lies below the surface building up more and more pressure over time until it explodes outwardly at others or inwardly at self in the form of destructive eating disorder behaviors.

Transformational coach, Brandilyn Tebo explains why anger is not a bad thing, but in fact a catalyst of positive change.

According to Brandilyn Tebo, “when we’re in anger, we actually have much more personal power than when we’re in shame or guilt or fear.

When Brandilyn educated herself about the system oppression at work and who’s actually benefiting from the guilt and the shame that we carry about our bodies, she got angry. She realized that there are whole demographics of society that benefit and profit off of our shame and guilt. As soon as Brandilyn was able to get angry about it, she was no longer in her own shame.

Brandilyn remembers, “I moved through this whole period of being enraged. We call it sacred rage. I was able to move through that and then get to the higher states of acceptance, and forgiveness and love and inspiration. But had I not pass through that anger, I would probably still be stuck in shame and guilt and fear.

Anger is actually a really important process in a lot of our healing journeys. There is power in working with our anger. When we let ourselves fully feel anger, we can find clarity, strength, and set healthy boundaries. It helps us stand our ground and draw a line between what is okay and what is not okay. As Brandilyn Tebo mentioned feeling her anger helped her say “this is what bothers me about systemic oppression, this is why, and this is how I need things to be different!”

When we let ourselves fully feel anger, we can find clarity and set healthy boundaries.

Anger moves us to greater clarity and from there we can take action.

In Conclusion…

Healing comes from exploring and bringing curiosity to your emotions rather than trying to control them or rationalize them away. It’s when we try and shut our emotions down that we create strong tension that increases their intensity. If you experienced trauma in childhood or were a highly sensitive child you may find your emotions can be very intense as an adult because they didn’t feel safe to express or were not witnessed with compassion. Working with a support team can help you begin to identify and accept your emotions. As you allow your emotions to move through you and to sit with the discomfort, you will see that they eventually go away. A rise and fall, like the waves of the ocean.

Further Reading:

  1. SURVIVING DIFFICULT EMOTIONS: THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH
  2. HOW TO DEAL WITH LIFE AFTER RECOVERY
  3. HATE UNCOMFORTABLE EMOTIONS? HERE’S WHY YOU NEED TO EMBRACE THE UNCOMFORTABLE
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