Experiencing Emotions in Eating Disorder Recovery

February 02, 2019

It seems like I am experiencing my feelings, now that I am no longer binging and purging my emotions”. This is a common phrase and even more common thought that many eating disorder clients have once they enter recovery. Eating disorders such as binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa are often temporary and unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb or regular intense emotions however overtime these eating disorders result in anxiety, severe distress, physical complications and worsen any intense feelings.

We live in an “emotionally numb” culture meaning that we are often taught to avoid our emotions. When we were children, we were probably told, “don’t cry” or “you don’t need to be sad” and as adults, we often convey these messages to our children. According to society, we should act strong and be resilient and on the surface, this may seem like this can build character however this mindset ultimately portrays the message that we need to suppress our emotions, which can have long-lasting consequences on our emotional and mental health. We cannot selectively suppress certain feelings so when we suppress our negative emotions, we are also suppressing our positive emotions as well. Our emotions serve as essential functions and eventually suppressed emotions will bubble to the surface, and we may not be able to control them when they overflow, which can result in us having low-self esteem, feeling of guilt or constantly feeling unhappy.

The Importance of Emotions

Emotions are important because they signal things that we should be paying attention to. Feelings of jealousy could be a sign of something that you want or would feel value having. Feelings of sadness are most likely a sign that we value something and feel a connection to a certain place, situation or person. Learning to understand and express our emotions can help us thrive in relationships and understand our thoughts and values that are important to us.

Individuals who are struggling with an eating disorder are often disconnected from their emotions and will engage in unhealthy eating behaviors as a way to control and suppress unwanted emotions. Engaging in cycles of binging and purging is usually a temporary way to cover up negative feelings but, within time, they will re-surface. Another consequence of using disordered eating behaviors to numb emotions is that this can result in the over control or under-regulation of feelings. When emotions are over-controlled, individuals can end up feeling that they are unable to express their feelings. They may want to cry but are physically unable. The lack of the ability to express feelings can result in the inability to feel happiness or joy in relationships or successful accomplishments. When emotions are under-regulated, individuals feel as though their feelings are “over the top” and as a result, they are flooded with emotions that they cannot control and may engage in harmful behaviors such as cutting.

Emotional Therapy in Eating Disorder Treatment

As a result, a significant component of eating disorder treatment is centered on coping with emotions. Emotion-Focused Therapy works directly with painful feelings and views them as a source of information and meaning. When we pay attention to our feelings, we can learn what is essential, what we are struggling with and how we can heal. This type of therapy focuses on experiencing both positive and negative emotions (mainly negative emotions) to bring these emotions into awareness so we can work to accept, regulate and alter them as needed. Eventually, the goal is to allow healthy emotions to replace toxic emotions.

Center For Discovery has been providing residential and outpatient treatment for adults and teens for over 20 years. At Center For Discovery, we provide treatment for men and women with eating disorders, teens with eating disorders, teens with mental health disorders, and teens with substance abuse issues. Each of our locations is dedicated solely to one of our specialized treatment programs. By keeping each location specialized to one of our treatment programs, we are able to provide the most effective and efficient treatment. All of our locations provide treatment for only a small number of residents at one time to maintain an intimate setting and a high staff to resident ratio. For more information, please visit them at www.centerfordiscovery.com.