Embodied Counseling logo
v821-ning-13b-scaled 2

Why It’s Not as Simple as “Just Eat It”: 5 Reasons Your Eating Disorder Makes It Hard to Eat (Part 1)

Many of my clients experience high levels of anxiety around snack and mealtimes, leading them to delay eating, consume an amount that is less than satisfying or nourishing, or skip eating entirely.

Loved ones, caregivers, and uninitiated providers may struggle to understand why eating is so challenging for individuals with eating disorders. Often, it may be difficult for individuals with eating disorders to explain their internal experiences due to fear of judgment, misunderstanding, or difficulty putting words to their experiences.

 From the outside looking in, it’s easy to assume that individuals engaging in these behaviors are disinterested in eating or simply choosing not to eat. While that can sometimes be the case, more often than not, my clients express a strong desire to eat and an ongoing preoccupation with food, but a fear of doing so because of the debilitating guilt, discomfort, and anxiety they experience after eating.

You might be wondering why you or someone you love feels this way in the first place. In this post (part 1), I provide a primer on common reasons individuals with eating disorders experience distress related to eating. In part 2, I will offer considerations for learning how to navigate and manage this discomfort.

 5 Common Reasons Your Eating Disorder Makes It Hard to Eat:

  1. Fear of Physical Discomfort/Fear of Fullness

Many of my clients report feeling very uncomfortable after eating and state that feeling physically full is intolerable. The reasons for this vary and may be related to a fear of weight gain, adjusting to increased food intake as part of their eating disorder treatment, somatic symptoms of anxiety, and heightened interoceptive awareness (which, in this case, means an increased sensitivity to the felt sensations of fullness and digestion).

  1. Fear of Weight Gain

Most eating disorders include a fear of weight gain as a symptom. This fear is also symptomatic of a fatphobic culture obsessed with thinness and weight loss. While fear of weight gain makes sense in this context, it continues a cycle of disordered eating and inhibits healing (not to mention perpetuates harm against individuals in larger bodies). Learning to make peace with the possibility or reality of body and weight changes is a crucial part of recovering from an eating disorder and improving one’s body image.

  1. Fear of “Losing Control”

Often, my clients delay eating because they fear “giving in” to their hunger and/or “losing control” once they start eating. These feelings are common for individuals who aren’t consuming enough food, aren’t consuming satisfying foods, and/or are waiting to eat until they are experiencing extreme hunger. One of the most reliable ways to become obsessed with food is to not eat enough of it.

  1. Fear of Painful Emotions Returning

For individuals with eating disorders, restricting their food intake can be a strategy to try and suppress emotions. Ongoing and repeated caloric restriction can create an emotional numbing experience. Additionally, the mental preoccupation with food that occurs when one is chronically hungry can distract from painful or unwanted emotions. Many of my clients fear that when they eat regularly, suppressed emotions will return and they will “feel too much.”

  1. Fear of Bingeing, Purging, and Self-Punishment

Due to the cyclical nature of eating disorders, some individuals fear that feelings of fullness will trigger reactionary or compensatory behaviors such as even more extreme restriction, purging, intensive exercising, bingeing (“I’ve already ruined things, I might as well go all the way”), and/or self-harm.

 I often tell my clients, “If it were as easy as ‘just eating,’ you would be doing that already.” Appreciating the complexity of eating disorders and the impact they have on eating is crucial in building understanding and compassion and creates the foundation for meaningful change to begin.

 If this sounds like you or your loved one, know that change is possible. If you’re interested in discussing how individual therapy or family support sessions may help make mealtimes easier, reach out.

Share the Article:
More to Read: