An eating disorder can cause more issues than weight-gain or excessive weight-loss; it can create a significant amount of stress in a person’s life. In addition to this, since eating disorders are the result of stress, it can become a vicious circle. Addressing these conditions using traditional methods such as will-power and traditional therapy and counselling is only addressing the symptoms. The cause of all eating disorders goes much deeper than food and dietary choices.
The Link between Eating Disorders and Stress
Stress and trauma are linked to eating disorders in more ways than one. The physiological effects of stress on the body cause the body to shut down – or reduce – digestion and appetite. Since the physical state of stress is the body’s “fight-or-flight” state, digestion and appetite are minimised since they’re not necessary in the moment, for running away or fighting. Whenever you’re feeling stress or any other negative emotion, the body is in a level of fight-freeze-flight; and while you are in that emergency state, blood is being pumped away from the organs to the extremities (for fighting or running away), and all processes connected to ingesting and digesting food are reduced. This, in turn, affects the appetite and ability to digest one or more types of food.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
We’ve ascertained that the fight-or-flight emergency state of the body affects appetite and digestion, now let’s look at what causes that fight-or-flight state. The organs of the body receive the signal to produce stress chemicals from the brain; and the subconscious controls the brain. It is the subconscious, referring to the records it holds, that determines which chemicals the brain will trigger the organs to produce. There are three main ways in which the subconscious is programmed to initiate the stress state in relationship to food and eating:
A past trauma or stressful event has led to an overall stressed state, which is constantly causing varying levels of fight-freeze-flight. This will mean that most of the person’s life is spent with the digestive system “offline”.
The subconscious holds a specific connection between food (or certain types of food) and stress, trauma, or other “danger and threat” links.
The subconscious has made a positive link between a particular food, and love, or a specific person or event. For example, a person whose grandfather was the only person who was kind to them in childhood, and who always shared chocolate with them may find that their subconscious, having connected chocolate with the love of their grandfather, prompts their body to produce chemicals that make them crave chocolate. This will be overwhelming – even though they may try to cut down or cut out sugar or chocolate in their diet. This will be particularly difficult to resist when the person is feeling a negative emotion.
Changing the stress and trauma memories will result in an automatic resolution since the subconscious will no longer be referring to the data that causes it to trigger the fight-freeze-fight response in the body, or the connection between love and a specific food in order to relieve stress.
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