Many people have preconceived notions of mental illnesses. There are countless stereotypes that float around grossly oversimplifying what that mental illness is and does. Like, “Depression means so-and-so is always sad,” or “Someone with anxiety is just constantly stressed,” or “Eating disorders aren’t really an illness, they’re a choice that person made.”
All of these are oversimplifications or straight-up lies. People struggling with depression deal with so much more than sadness, anxiety is so much more complicated and difficult than stress and eating disorders are not a choice.
No matter how untrue these perceptions might be, they still exist, making it very difficult for anyone battling through these illnesses to believe otherwise. Sadly, guilt is not an uncommon emotion to encounter during all stages of an eating disorder, and some of this guilt does stem from the belief that an eating disorder is self-inflicted. From this comes the thought process of it not being serious enough to talk about with a professional or to receive treatment for – after all, if it was self-inflicted, it can be handled by yourself, right?
Wrong, because that thought process initially began as a lie – the eating disorder was self-inflicted – the conclusion was also untrue. However, because of the guilt eating disorders commonly inflict, it’s hard to move past these false beliefs in the search for recovery. Hard, but not impossible.
What is guilt?
Guilt is different than shame in that shame is the belief that “I am bad,” whereas guilt is “What I’m doing is bad,” or “This is a bad choice.” Both are experienced when battling an eating disorder and lead to complicated emotions and thought patterns.
Guilt and shame can be present in different ways. They might manifest from the disordered belief that because you struggle with an eating disorder, you are bad/wrong/mistaken, etc. This often comes from the disordered belief that eating disorders are self-inflicted.
Additionally, guilt and shame tend to arise during situations surrounding food or during times that should be focused on self-care. The eating disorder plays some cruel tricks on the mind when the mind is bound by the disorder. So feelings of guilt about eating a particular dish or ingredient, the frequency of eating or even guilt about letting yourself take a nap when you’re exhausted from the demands of the recovery program, might keep you from doing any of the above.
While it is possible to train yourself out of these beliefs such as slowly introducing certain foods back over time, or redirecting your thoughts to self-speak positively (“I am not bad, and eating isn’t bad, it helps me keep up my energy and strength”). It can take time and will likely also require the assistance of a pro.
What are the consequences of eating disorder guilt?
The guilt works on your brain in such a way that you begin to trust the voice of your guilt more than your own body’s needs and requirements. You might, for example, begin to internalize the belief that “Eating carbs is bad,” or “I can’t have any sugar at all,” which, over time, leads to incredible guilt when you do eat a bagel or drink a mocha. But neither eating a bagel nor drinking a mocha is wrong, bad or in any way immoral, so to speak. In fact, if your body needs food and if you feed it a bagel, you’re completing a rightly ordered action.
It’s understandable how this guilt can become a trap. One author wrote about her journey with an ED and said, “The guilt of being healthy and having needs is your eating disorder’s way of attempting to pull you back to it—to what “you deserve” to what is seemingly “comfortable,” what “feels good” or ”safe.””
At the end of the day, this is the disorder speaking, not the truth of who you are.
How can I find help for eating disorder guilt?
While we can say all these things about eating disorder guilt and how it is disordered and not a reflection of you or your choices, it can be one of those “easier said than done” situations. No matter how hard you battle against eating disorder guilt, that nasty voice can still remain. Even if you know that it’s not wrong to nourish your body with food, sticking to your recovery meal plan can feel like a betrayal to yourself.
But it’s not a betrayal to yourself, it’s a refusal to listen to the lies of the eating disorder and it’s the slow re-ordering of your relationship with eating, with food and with proper exercising and self-care.
Rest assured that none of this needs to be done alone. Eating disorder recovery programs, such as those offered by Seeds of Hope, are not only familiar with these concepts of guilt and shame, but they work alongside clients in such a way that you experience healing of both the body and the mind. Certified ED therapists help to break the bonds of guilt and return your mind and heart to a place of rest, free from guilt and ultimately free from the eating disorder.
To reach out to a therapist and begin the recovery journey, call Seeds of Hope today at 610-644-6464.