Be warned this is possibly my longest post ever! Get ready for some reading!
(In case you missed the my post over the weekend I delved a little in to the comparison trap).
Addictive personalities are commonly associated with those suffering or having gone through an eating disorder and I most definitely have one.
“Although comprehensive theories of addiction recognize the etiological importance of environmental and cognitive factors, it has been widely accepted for many years that addiction is also a brain disease and that individuals differ in their susceptibility to this condition (Leshner, 1997; Wise and Bozarth, 1987).”
I always found the easiest way to describe my experiences with eating disorders is to compare them to addictions. Although also still misunderstood in society, I feel they are more commonly accepted as conditions than eating disorders. It appears to society that a person is outwardly willingly starving themselves and many people still find it incredibly difficult to comprehend how they can’t just stop; likewise those that are suffering from binge eating and bulimia, both of which I think are even more so akin to more common addictions.
Aside from actually comparing the behaviours themselves to eating disorders, I believe my own addictive personality and tendencies supported the development of my eating disorders and caused me to naturally fall in their hold with ease. People often blame the media for the rise in eating disorders and yes I do believe it has it’s part to play though more so as a trigger. We’re all being exposed to the pictures, the diets, the mass encouragement to be thin yet not every man, woman or child ends up with an eating disorder. It’s a mixture of both nature and nurture.
I’ve read some interesting pieces about the improper use of the reward centre; the part of the brain that is normally activated when a person feels well, takes care of the body, behaves sensibly, is praised, is in love, exercises, etc. People that suffer from addictions stimulate the reward centre by artificial means whether it be by drugs, alcohol or food abuse.
If the reward centre is stimulated by drugs, alcohol or abuse of food, they cease to function in the way they should. Abuse is a short cut to false happiness, a happiness which doesn’t come from doing something good. Incorrect usage of the reward centres is especially common with people who have a personality requiring a lot of reward effects in order for them to feel well.
A similarity between eating disorders and drug addiction is that the addiction is compulsively developed into an even stronger form regardless of the effect on the patient’s health. As far as triggers go I believe that the stronger more influential ones are those which arise internally, again commonly associated with addictions. These motivational triggers can be the seeking out of positive sensations, praise, self achievement…or the self medicating/supressing of pain be it physical or emotional.
For me my eating disorder was motivated initially by the desire to receive more praise. Having lost a little bit of weight my family and friends offered continual praise and encouragement for my determination to do so (at the age of 13). This praise obviously wore off as I lost an excessive amount of weight, I began to control food and become noticeably obsessed and preoccupied by it. At this stage my mind and ability to think straight had been turned upside down and my own internal praise for my efforts was enough to goad me to continue on the path to destruction.
The risk of all the medical complications in the world wouldn’t have deterred me; and they didn’t. I had become addicted to the internal happy drug; the happy pill you never actually have to take because the substance is produced inside of our bodies.
“Starving, bingeing and exercise all serve as drug delivery devices since they increase circulating levels of ß-endorphins that are chemically identical to exogenous opiates, and these endorphins are as potentially addictive because of their ability to stimulate DA in the brain’s mesolimbic reward centers.”
The abuse of different substances, alcohol and drugs, doesn’t always lead to an addiction, not everyone gets hooked. Not everyone who makes themselves sick, eats too much on occasion, looses weight or skips a meal becomes addicted to the chemicals the behaviours release in the body.
Aside from addiction to abusing food and my body I’m also aware that with my addictive personality by my nature I can easily develop other addictions. During the years when I suffered from binge eating and subsequently bulimia I used alcohol to suppress my emotions, replacing them with more positive ones though only temporarily. The come down for me, the hungover state always coincided with a bout of depression which only served to support the continuation of the binge, purge, starve cycle.
I’ve learned so much about myself as a result of having suffered from the various different eating disorders and I feel I’m now more in tune with my body and my mind than I could ever have been otherwise. I don’t like the false feelings and emotions that are created when I drink too much, though that’s not to say I’m never going to drink. For me it’s all about balance. We all need a certain amount of those happy endorphins running through our body, I just need to make sure I’m not over indulging in them; or involving myself too heavily in activities which arouse them which ultimately have a negative affect all round.
Eating disorders are one of the hardest addictions to overcome; of course this is just my opinion… With other addictions you can give up substances and behaviours but with eating disorders you can’t just cease eating in order to avoid binging or purging, you can’t completely disregard the nutritional content of your food and give up all self control (for me this only caused me to binge and develop bulimia)…
You need to find that balance, that point were you can enjoy food, it can release happy hormones, it fuels and nourishes your body and leaves you feeling satisfied without it having a negative impact on your health and well being.
Many people have sent me emails as a result of my then and now post asking how I got from then to now. I’ll focus it the ins and outs a bit more in another post but what I will say is that the big difference between then and now is that I decided I wanted to get better for me, I wanted to look after myself, get healthy and strong (and still do as recovery is still on going) for me…
Throughout my years of struggling I battled between my desire to hold on to the eating disorders and the desire to recover in order to appease and please those around me. Time and time again this failed; the key to recovery and continually making progress is doing it because you truly want to, it can’t just be for the greater good, because you feel it’s about time or that you should, because your fed up with people hassling you. You have to find that internal motivation, strength and reason to want to recover.
On a final note….the reason I’m sharing my experiences is in the hope that they help others. Feel free to email me and/or post comments…
Where do you stand on the addiction and eating disorder front in terms of personality traits and similarities between the behaviours themselves?