Making Peace with Your Own Needs in Eating Disorder Recovery: Part II

March 14th, 2014

In my last post (2/28/14), I went over some of the lines of thinking that commonly interfere with recognizing and honoring personal needs among people with eating disorders. Today I discuss some ways these lines of thinking can continue to make trouble even when you’re not struggling so much anymore with your symptoms.

Lingering effects on the way you deal with food

In recovery, many of you will have left the days of overt eating disorder symptoms behind you. (There are many paths to recovery; it’s just as common to surrender ED symptoms a little bit a time over a long period.)  Yet the reluctance to experience yourself as needful, or to have others witness you meeting your needs, may still show up as a very cautious approach with food; for instance: Are there still foods you will only eat when you’re by yourself? Do you watch your companions to decide how much it’s okay to eat? Are you still more governed by outer markers of what’s the right amount than by internal signals of satiation?

Ways you think about yourself

Most people with eating disorders have internal critics whose fierceness would make the Monster that Devoured Cleveland look tame. The internal critic is that voice that berates you, calls you names, and predicts a miserable future for you whenever you make mistakes or fall short of the mark. It was probably a part of your inner world before you even had an eating disorder, and it made no small contribution to your ED’s development. That same critic is probably still lecturing you or flooding you with unpleasant feelings about yourself not only about indulging food desires, but any place you are confronted with choices about meeting your needs, wants, desires.

Your critic, as I’ve stated in previous posts (Dethroning Your Inner Critic in Eating Disorder Recovery: Part I&II), thinks it’s helping you by shaming and scaring you . It believes this will keep you on the straight and narrow. It wants you to behave in ways that will make others love and admire you. But since it developed very early in your life, it has a child’s view of how to accomplish this. Especially, it’s stuck in black–and-white thinking, where things are all one way or another; for instance, you’re all good, or all bad, you did  things perfectly or you failed completely, you’re either totally lovable or everyone hates you, and so forth.

When it comes to your needs and wishes, your critic brings this black–and-white way of thinking to two particular themes. The first is control: you’re either in complete control or you’re totally out of control.  This applies to obvious issues like consumption (food, alcohol, drugs) and exercise. But it can apply any place internal discipline or time management are concerned, like school work, job assignments, or household tasks. For many people control issues come up around experiencing and expressing emotions: you numb out or you risk being flooded; you stuff it or you risk losing it. If control is an issue that lights up your critic, part of solid recovery for you will involve developing a more reliable inner gage, one that can measure all the nuances in between totally in control and totally out of control.

The second theme your critic has in mind in regard to your needs and wishes is selfishness versus selflessness. Black–and–white thinking is particularly pernicious when it comes to your needs in competition with others. Your critic attacks your very goodness and moral character if you indulge your wishes and needs in even minor ways; heaven forbid you should ever put yourself and your needs first!


Selflessness has a major impact on your relationships, though not just the intended ones. It was devised by many of you long ago as an unconscious security strategy; that is, a way of relating intended to make people want to be with you, to hold onto the relationship with you.  As a security strategy, it makes you a hostage to one-sided relationships in which you do all or most  of the giving. There is only one way for such a relationship to end up: in a heap of resentment. You will sooner or later experience anyone who colludes with you in one-sided needs-meeting as communicating that only they and their needs matter. Selflessness is a good quality only when it’s optional, when sometimes putting yourself first is also an option. The big, scary risk is asking others to treat you as if you and your needs and wishes matter as much as theirs.

Issues of self-care

Many people who are doing a fine job with regulating food intake in eating disorder recovery find that they are repeating their symptom patterns in other areas of self-care, such as:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Getting needed medical or dental services
  • Engaging in therapy as needed
  • Getting and keeping personal finances in order
  • Creating a comfortable living environment
  • Taking time to relax and recharge
  • Nourishing hobbies or passions

Any form of neglect of yourself or your life reads as a message to your unconscious that you don’t deserve attention and care, more basically, that you don’t matter. On the other hand, tending to your needs via self-care reads as a message to yourself that you do matter! Treating yourself as if you matter helps build self-esteem and thus contributes to a stronger recovery.

So here’s what I’d like to invite you to do: Think of one way you can treat yourself as if your needs and wishes matter, ideally something you can do today—and do it! If you think of something but find you experience resistance to actually carrying it out, this can provide a great place to start exploring your relationship with your needs. Either way, you’re net ahead!

Good luck and warmest wishes,


Making Peace with Your Own Needs in Eating Disorder Recovery: Part I

February 28th, 2014

If you are female and have an eating disorder, you almost certainly struggle with the issue of personal needs. Simply put, you’re not supposed to have any. You have played this issue out in the arena of food, experiencing a daily battle over whether and how much you’re allowed to eat, supposed to eat, going to eat. The logic, often-unconscious, is that having needs and seeking to get them met means you are either needy or selfish or both.

In this logic needful = needy. Feeling needful involves feeling vulnerable, which seems intolerable. What’s more you may have learned you can be hurt, judged, and/or rejected when you need from others. These beliefs generate a chronic sense of threat in your relationships, which has a tremendous effect on your self–image and the way you behave with others.

In eating disordered logic, knowing and attempting to meet personal needs is also selfish and self-centered. The culture has long reinforced this line of thinking for women. A good woman, our cultural stereotypes hold, is selfless. She doesn’t concern herself with personal needs, but is focused only on meeting the needs of others.

These beliefs about personal needs pose you with quite a dilemma. Being human includes having needs—physical ones, social ones, psychological ones, emotional ones. So to fear or loathe your needs means denying an aspect of yourself that is fundamental to being human.

To keep your “dangerous” needs in check, you’ve come to feel contempt for neediness, at least when it’s your own. If you have anorexia, it feels like being above your own needs is the only way to be in control and to esteem yourself. If you have bulimia or BED, you enact your struggle over personal needs by veering back and forth between affirming them with a vengeance—the binge—and then being filled with remorse and self-loathing for it which you attempt to repair with purging or the next strict diet and exercise routine. It throws you into an endless cycle between these two extremes.

Even when the overt symptoms of your ED have subsided, many of you continue to do battle with your needs in recovery. In my next post we’ll explore the various ways this battle is evident in your life, including:

  • Lingering effects on the way you deal with food
  • Ways you think about yourself
  • Relationships
  • Issues of self-care

Changing the way you relate to your own needs is an important part of building a strong recovery. Please join me next time to continue exploring this crucial topic.

Warm regards,


Recovering from Bulimia

August 16th, 2013

Recently I contributed to an article on recovery from bulimia posted on Beliefnet. If you’d like to check out what I and several other eating disorder professionals had to say on the subject, just follow this link:

The article was written by by Margarita Tartakovsky who frequently posts on eating disorder issues in her column, Weightless, at Psych Central (

Hope you’re enjoying these last days of summer!

Best regards,