The impact of shame in eating disorders

Shame can invade many areas of our lives, especially for those with disordered eating habits and behaviors. It’s a bit of a “chicken or the egg” scenario – while shame can heavily contribute to the development of eating disorders for many reasons, it can also be pervasive and all-consuming for those stuck in the throes of an eating disorder, making it difficult to break free of disordered patterns and seek support.

Let’s explore the intricate relationship between shame and eating disorders more closely.

What is shame?

Shame can be defined many ways. But it boils down to feelings that are low in self-esteem or self respect, or feeling unworthy of your actions or yourself. Shame can be debilitating and consuming. 

External shame can include shame about how you are perceived by others, such as what your parents or media say about you growing up. Shame can also be internal. It can be triggered by how you view yourself and your ability to live up to your perfectionist expectations.

While both types can influence your chances of developing disordered eating behaviors, studies have shown that externalised and internal shame are more closely linked to anorexia.

No matter the cause of your eating disorder, shame is something many people experience. It is important to deal with it if you want to fully recover.

Shame is often a contributing factor to disordered eat

On the one hand, shame is a contributing factor to eating disorders. In this scenario, shame becomes part of your identity, and the “shame narrative” you create around yourself is repeated and repeated, until you truly believe it to be true. You begin to look at yourself and your life with a perspective tainted by shame, in which you can never be “good enough”. These feelings of inadequacy make you much more vulnerable to eating disorder behaviours, as these seem to offer almost a respite from the shame you’re experiencing.

Eating disorder behavior can also be driven by shame and body shame. These can be internalized or externalised fears about how you and others view your body, eating habits, and body. These types of shame are more likely to contribute to disordered behavior than general shame, according to studies.

In a way, the obsession and focus on food, exercise and health that comes with eating disorders takes up so much of your brain space, it “relieves” those feelings of shame, by leaving you with little ability to focus on anything other than your routines and rigid rules around food and eating. But in reality, this might not be the solution you’re seeking…

Eating disorders can lead to shame

On the other end of the coin, there are those who experience deep shame. ResultThey are often affected by an eating disorder and other associated behaviors.

Many people suffering with eating disorders believe they’ll feel happier and more confident if they just lose a certain amount of weight, or their body looks a certain way. This belief feeds into the notion that your body and appearance determine your worthiness. So naturally, when you reach your “goal weight” and you don’t feel any happier or more satisfied with your body and instead look to lose even more weight, this feels like failure. This breeds shame.

People who have eating disorders experience shame when comparing themselves to others. Looking at other people with healthier, more positive relationships with their body or food can lead to intense feelings of envy… and this breeds yet more shame.

Similarly, many people in the depths of an eating disorder come to feel “special” or “disciplined” when they resist intense hunger pains, or adhere to their strict rules around food and eating. While the consuming thoughts around food can numb your emotions towards other things in your life, this is often accompanied by shame around the disordered behaviours you’re exhibiting. Thoughts like “Why am I like this?” and “Why can’t I have a positive relationship with food like other people?” and “Why do I have to have an eating disorder to look the way I want to look?” are all too common, and lead to deeper experiences of shame. There’s no escape.

This also means many people are reluctant or ashamed to seek help, convincing themselves they chose their eating disorder, and they aren’t sick enough or don’t deserve help or support. The continuing stigma against mental illness doesn’t help here either – it still makes many people less likely or able to ask for help, or recognise their need for it.

It’s important to recognise the influence shame is having on your ability and willingness to seek help on your eating disorder recovery journey. You can. NotYou will need to do this alone. Eating disorders thrive when you are isolated and alone. But remember this: you did. NotChoose to have an eating disorder. It simply offered you a coping strategy in a time which you needed one, and that’s not something to be ashamed of. You are worthy of full recovery and support. It is crucial to feel loved and supported in your recovery process. To overcome the shame you feel, it is important to take the first step towards achieving both.

You need help with your shame and/or progressing on your road to full recovery. Join us in Recovery Club today! You’ll be supported by like-minded recovery warriors, and provided with all the tools and strategies you need to reclaim your life once and for all!

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