The rules and laws of an eating disorder give order and direction to one's life. Even if the end result is punishing and unpleasant, there is something powerful to ending a day knowing you have done everything correctly.
The sense of purpose to eat less, lose weight and follow the rules solves the existential struggle for many people with eating disorders. It's such a relief to escape the tyranny of judging the value of life and instead rely on food and weight as clear markers of success and failure.
Describing an eating disorder as a calling or set of rules to live by is incredibly confusing for non-believers. How can food and weight replace all the other aspects of life that matter?
Fundamentally, these disorders create an entirely new world to escape to. The rules are clear. The purpose every day is obvious. The reason to live and strive self-evident. There are other people in the world who become so attached to a movement or cause that it justifies their existence so why not an eating disorder?
What the mental health world seems to have trouble seeing is that eating disorders could just as well be a movement. In fact, that component of eating disorders reveals itself in pro-Ana and pro-Mia websites. I don't support them at all as I have written many times in this blog, but the belief system of an eating disorder can be that powerful.
Take away this purpose to live and the existential crisis of recovery is evident. Years of having a clear reason to live cannot just disappear overnight. The sense of loss of a direction and also the thought that this direction has never been as meaningful as it appeared are enormous.
The process of recovery must allow for the breadth and scope of reevaluating the most basic and most potent aspects of life. Relationships, family, love and career all become secondary to the eating disorder when someone is sick. Disobeying the rules by eating and nourishing one's body begs the question of why bother even considering either one? What is the purpose of eating like everyone else and still living each day? Are these other aspects of life worth fighting to get well?
The answers aren't obvious or clear. I don't pretend to know why each of our lives matter. A psychiatrist or clinician can have those conversations but cannot pretend to know the answers.
The next post will delve more deeply into these questions, not for answers but to explain why the conversations are so important.