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Emotions in eating disorders

Emotions in Eating Disorders

The feeling of guilt following stressful events could be connected with tendencies to control things, or even self-harm.

People who are diagnosed with an eating disorder tend to have many emotional issues and are in general prone to being more sensitive. Eating disorders often include emotions such as fear, guilt and shame which are not easy to face, but facing them is essential for true recovery from such problems. People with eating disorders usually try to avoid these negative emotions and therefore engage in various behavior in order to help them cope with difficult situations. These types of behavior lead to short-term satisfaction, but also negative emotional states such as sadness and loneliness in long-term perspective.

It is not uncommon for people with eating disorder to be perfectionists. They often experience fear of abandonment and a feeling disappointment with personal achievements. Members of a person’s family have a significant impact on these expectations and consequences of “fitting” or failing, usually through rewards and punishments. People with eating disorders who can’t raise to the expectations that they have for themselves (or the environment ha for them) and therefore don’t feel accepted can sometimes start controlling their physical appearance to gain respect they deserve. The fear of being rejected can easily become the fear of becoming fat.

As said, guilt is an often felt emotion in this context. Children sometimes blame themselves when there’s a problem inside family, e.g. if parents are divorcing. They start to believe if they feel bad or are in pain, it’s because they did something wrong. In the context of eating disorders this guilt could be connected with the need to control things, or even self-harm. Someone with anorexia could restrict their food intake, while a person suffering from bulimia could purge due to their feeling of guilt.

Furthermore, the destructive behavior people who suffer from an eating disorder do is often unacceptable for their family and even them. So they begin to feel ashamed. This feeling is often a reflection of difficulties in self-control, which are hard to accept. A person is motivated by having a sense of control, but ends up losing it. They strive for unreachable perfection, which usually leads to a feeling of failure. Therefore, self-esteem of a person is shattered and the emotion of shame follows.


In emotion-focused therapy eating disorder patients are challenged with facing painful emotions. With the guidance of a therapist they discover the meaning of these feelings and find out what is important to work on in future sessions. Emotion-focused therapy deals with emotions in a “friendly”, accepting way and patients are guided by a special therapist, who is often called an “emotion coach.” Firstly, the focus is put on emotions that the person is experiencing at the present moment, which are usually shame, self-loathing or rage, after which the focus moves to the process of discovery of what emotions lie beneath, such as sadness or anger. Accepting these emotions as natural and “processing” them is the main goal of a therapist and a patient. Processing emotions demands working on one’s awareness, acceptance and understanding of such feelings. In that sense, these healthy emotions are perceived as the cure for the “bad” ones. Finally, it is also important to discover and develop parts of a patient which provide him or her with comfort and calmness.