People with eating disorders focus relentlessly on body and weight. This focus may be common in today's world, but the level of obsession in these illnesses is significantly more consuming. The thoughts stop reflecting reality and instead become a powerful internal dialogue that goes beyond just the simple wish to lose weight. For instance, how else can an emaciated person still feel she needs to lose weight?
Outside of illness, others often interpret these eating disorder obsessions as they would the normal wish to lose weight. Without considering the overall pressure about body size in our society, it's crucial to realize the stark difference between this common wish and the eating disorder thoughts.
Often the obsessions about body and weight in an eating disorder actually has little to do with one's body. Research reflects this quite clearly. In one study, patients with and without anorexia were asked to reflect on their own self image during an MRI. The results for people with anorexia, unlike the others tested, showed that in processing their own body, they did not activate the visual center of their brain. In other words, self-image for people with anorexia did not reflect the actual, visual representation of themselves.
This information is very helpful in recovery. It's easy to extrapolate from this study that recovery needs to involve connecting with one's body again. An eating disorder separates self-image from the body itself. So recovery means learning to feel, process and experience the feelings in your body. This may not be intuitive about eating disorders but is critical to understand the process of getting well.
Accordingly, inpatient and outpatient programs often include yoga, walks and various other forms of treatment that involve movement. Therapy must regularly recognize how people experience their lives and emotions in their body, not just in their minds. Recovery is not just an intellectual or even an emotional process but also a physical one. Wresting a life back from an eating disorder involves transforming all components of the human existence.