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Avoid Symptom Switching in Your Eating Disorder Recovery

Avoid Symptom Switching in Your Eating Disorder Recovery

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

After nearly three years of being what I considered a “perfect” anorexic, I found myself suddenly stuffing my face with spoonfuls of peanut butter. I knew mentally I was consuming about a hundred calories per swallow. However, I could not stop. The realization came that I had switched from having anorexia to full on binge eating disorder. I could not understand why this was happening. Nearly a decade later, I finally understand why.

A recent article described the phenomenon as symptom switching.  Many people with eating disorders struggle with this in the recovery process.  After years of malnourished eating, binge eating can be an unexpected “solution.” Unfortunately, because of the metabolic damage that can occur due to years of starvation, weight gain inevitably follows.

Symptom switching is a way of replacing one destructive behavior with another equally destructive behavior. For example, a person trying to overcome bulimia may decide to restrict calories severely to avoid the urge to purge. Unfortunately, that does not solve the problem. It results in a person who had bulimia having anorexia instead. In my case, I switched from anorexia to binge eating disorder.

Why This Happens:

The eating disorder mindset works to convince you not to engage in the behavior you are trying to avoid. You may turn to something you believe to be the lesser of the two evils. Perhaps your family and friends are worried about your anorexia symptoms, so you begin to binge instead. Your family may be relieved to see you finally eating, and it may be the “lesser of the two evils,” but you still have not developed a healthy relationship with food. Binge eating disorder can eventually result in drastic weight gain and other side effects. Over time, a person who had anorexia may develop bulimia to rid them of the unhealthy weight gain they experienced from binge eating. This cycle can continue for years with a person switching from one eating disorder to the other.

Symptom switching can happen to many people who are struggling to recovery from their eating disorder.  The important takeaway from this is to recognize the behavior patterns you are exhibiting and ask yourself if you are achieving wellness in your life. If not, it may be time to seek professional help.

Eating disorders are about obtaining control. They are about avoiding or numbing something. Therefore, even if you finally overcome your eating disorder, you may have to monitor your behaviors to make sure you are not doing something more destructive as a replacement. It is important to address the underlying mental health issues that are associated with eating disorders. If not, you may use unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb the emotional pain.

4 Disorders Associated With Eating Disorders

  1. Major Depression: Between 30 and 50 percent of patients with anorexia and approximately 50 percent of patients with bulimia nervosa have major depression.
  2. Bipolar Disorder: Close to 3 percent of patients with anorexia and 18 percent of patients with bulimia have bipolar disorder.
  3. Anxiety Disorders: It is estimated 80 percent of patients with bulimia and 48 percent of patients with anorexia have.
  4. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Up to 25 percent of those with anorexia and 17 percent of those with bulimia have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Clearly, eating disorders have mental health aspects to them that need to be addressed before recovery happens. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help. Helping yourself is not enough, and you may be causing yourself  more harm. You are not alone. Seek help today. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.

Author: Shernide Delva