What If It’s Not Food You’re Craving?
This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.
By Katie Teresi, a woman in recovery
When I was battling against my eating disorder, a five-year struggle that faced me first against anorexia nervosa before swinging into binge eating disorder, I constantly craved food. A starving anorexic, my body screamed for the food I denied it. Later, I stayed up late satisfying my body’s want and perceived need for more, more, more food. On both ends of the spectrum, thoughts of food never strayed far from the epicenter of my mind.
Did my paralyzing cravings have roots deeper than food? As it turns out, yes. Much deeper. Doctors and scientists are still learning about the exact causes of eating disorders. What they do know, however, is that illnesses like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder stem from a complicated combination of behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. A person may be grappling psychologically with perfectionism, low self-esteem, or a strong desire to please those around them. In the intrapersonal sphere, they could be experiencing a need to be recognized, discord among friends and family, loneliness, or a history of abuse. Emotionally, their lives might be tinged with fear, anxiety, or lack of compassion.
When one or more of these factors are unfulfilled, a person may compensate with food and control of food. Dieting, bingeing, and purging help them cope with tough emotions and offer a sense of de-facto control. So, while the surface issue revolves around food, in most cases the victim is craving something more substantial.
In my case, besides being biologically more susceptible (my mother also struggled with anorexia), this made a lot of sense. I was a high-achieving, shy, and anxiety-ridden eighth-grader. Against my wishes, my body was changing. I watched my parents struggle financially, wanting to help but not knowing how.
I craved approval. I craved my fading pre-puberty body. I craved stability for my family. I craved peace of mind. I craved control.
You might say my life’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid was crumbling in places. Proposed by Abraham Maslow, this theorizes human’s basic needs. Set on a foundation of psychological needs, the pyramid moves up through safety to love/belonging, then esteem, and finally self-actualization. To fully develop each layer, each one around it must be sound. Together, this builds a person as a whole. The failure to fulfill any of these needs harms the levels around it.
To prop up those areas that were lacking – where I craved friendship, confidence, and security in my body – I turned to food. By regulating what I did, or didn’t, eat, I felt in control. My mind revolved around my diet – which I eventually realized was just a symbol of the things I was really seeking.
Thankfully, with the help of my family and a team of doctors, I recovered from my eating disorder. Those five years were a season of many seasons. As the years since have passed, I’ve realized that what I craved in my fights against anorexia and binge eating disorder was much more than food.