Body Awareness in Its Many Forms with Eating Disorders

College positive body image hat

People with eating disorders often lack connection with their bodies. There are a few reasons this can happen. These are:

Trauma

Trauma is a common co-occurring disorder that people with eating disorders struggle with [1]. Someone has a co-occurring disorder when they have two disorders at the same time.

In fact, 25% of people with eating disorders have post-traumatic stress disorder [1]. One of the symptoms of trauma is dissociation. Dissociation is when someone is disconnected from their body or reality.

There are a few ways that dissociation can present itself. One of the ways is depersonalization. Depersonalization is basically when someone feels that their body isn’t theirs or they are watching themselves from outside their body.

Another form of dissociation is derealization. This is when someone’s surroundings don’t feel real. Both of these forms of dissociation are a way for someone to numb out when things feel overwhelming or too scary.

This is essentially the core wound of trauma—an experience is so scary that it is beyond that person’s ability to cope. Staying disconnected from their bodies is a way people cope with trauma and carry on with their life.

Eating Disorders Perpetuate Lack of Body Awareness

Eating disorders essentially require people to remain disconnected from their bodies. For many people to engage in eating disorder behaviors, they have to disconnect from their bodies.

This is because disordered eating behaviors aren’t natural, so they go against normal physical impulses. For example, someone with Anorexia nervosa who is restricting calories to a point where they are underweight has to ignore their hunger cues.

Man struggling with bodies and eating disorderThis is clearly going against their physical cues. Eventually, these hunger cues will turn off. All disordered behaviors go against what human bodies need.

This includes compulsive exercise, purging, and binging. None of these behaviors are safe to engage in and require someone to ignore their body’s cues.

Social Factors

American culture is obsessed with being thin. Thin bodies are seen as the ideal body shape and size. Despite this shape being unattainable for most people, people strive for it.

The fact is that there is a variety of body shapes that are healthy. Body shape can vary depending on race, ethnicity, or gender. However, the media doesn’t account for this.

This pressure to be a certain size or shape can lead people to ignore their unique physical needs in order to achieve the “right” body. Regardless of the reason, bodily disconnection can make recovery from an eating disorder extremely difficult.

Thankfully, therapeutic approaches have been developed to help people reestablish their mind-body connection. One of these therapy approaches is called somatic experiencing (SE).

Somatic Experiencing

SE focuses on helping someone regain awareness of how their body feels, but in a safe and controlled way. It can be overwhelming for people to reconnect with their bodies if they’ve been disconnected for some time due to eating disorder. SE can be a gentle way for people to reconnect with themselves.

Health at Every Size

Another approach that can be helpful is the body positive approach called Health At Every Size (HAES) [2]. HAES helps people to make peace with their body and practice self-care from a place of compassion.

This can help people with eating disorders make peace with their appearance and also honor their appetite and other internal cues [2].


Resources:

[1] National Eating Disorders Association. (2018). Statistics & Research On Eating Disorders. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders

[2] Health At Every Size. (2021). HAES Community. https://haescommunity.com


About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published January 28, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on January 28, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.