How to Stop Comparing in Eating Disorder Recovery
When I was struggling with an eating disorder, I was always hyper-focused on what everyone else was eating, just to make sure I had less. At the same time, watching others eat my fear foods felt euphoric, and honestly made me feel this sense of superiority over them. Does this sound familiar? If you are currently struggling with comparison and want to learn how to STOP comparing your eating and exercise behaviors to others, keep on reading because this post is for you!
Comparison is one of the most common behaviors among individuals who struggle with an eating disorder. All of my clients tell me about how they so badly want to just eat what they want to eat, but that it’s so difficult to eat more than their family members, friends, or whoever else they regularly spend time with. Not to mention, social media is unfortunately also a breeding ground for comparison. The whole popularity of “What I Eat in a Day” videos is SO problematic, as it sets the stage for comparing your intake to someone who's completely irrelevant to your life! Anyways, I’m not going to go off on a rant about how problematic social media is in general because that’s not what we’re here for.
What you ARE here for is to learn how to stop comparing in recovery from an eating disorder! In this post, I’ll be sharing the science behind why you compare and how you can use this newfound knowledge to stop comparing! In order to understand what I’m about to share, it’s critical you’re familiar with the Adapted to Flee Famine Hypothesis. If you’re thinking WTF, Livia what are you even talking about, please STOP READING this post and go read or watch my 7-part series on the Adapted to Flee Famine Hypothesis! Once you’ve done that, welcome back!
So, as you learned in the Adapted to Flee Famine Hypothesis series, Anorexia can be seen as an evolutionary survival mechanism to food scarcity. Thousands of years ago, when us humans were still hunter-gatherers, we relied on our direct environment for fuel. If resources were scarce, our ancestors would have probably done better by hunting and gathering somewhere else. To migrate efficiently, individuals’ bodies would have to turn OFF the usual adaptations to starvation, such as extreme fatigue and painful hunger pangs. The ability to stop foraging locally and ignore food, to feel restless and energetic, and to deny one’s dangerously thin appearance are proposed by the AFFH to be adaptive mechanisms that would have facilitated migration to abundant lands and in turn, maximize chances of survival.
The reason the AFFH is so relevant here, is because it also explains the biological reason for why you compare. Humor me, and take a moment to just picture yourself thousands of years ago in a tribe of hunter-gatherers. Resources have become scarce, and you now have two options: wait around for food to come falling out of the sky (which most likely won’t happen!) or take action and migrate to the abundant lands.
If you’re the least bit sane, you’ll choose option B. So, you and your tribe are all walking in the direction of the abundant lands, trying to get there as fast as possible…because if you don’t get food soon, you’ll die! So, you become super energized and active and your physical hunger cues will most likely turn off because you don’t have time to get distracted by those. Eyes need to stay on the prize: the feast in the abundant lands!
While you’re trekking towards the lands of abundance, you pass some berry bushes and some of your tribe members stop to eat. But a few berries are far from enough to keep anyone alive, and you know that. You have to keep on moving if you want to maximize your chances of survival, meaning the individuals that stop to eat along the way will most likely get left behind.
From a biological point of view, you’re in a competition with your tribe members in who can get to the abundant lands first, which is why it does feel so rewarding seeing others eat more than you. Like I mentioned earlier in this post, it almost felt euphoric to see others eating high-calorie foods! What’s more, is that researchers have found increased levels of corticosterone in the brain of active anorexia sufferers, which stimulates feelings of euphoria and hyperactivity.
Now, before you think, we're thousands of years further! I’m no longer a hunter-gatherer! This cannot apply to me! Remember that your body’s survival mechanisms are regulated by your brainstem - a part of the brain who's job isn’t to think! So, when you are in energy deficit and your life is being ruled by your survival brain, all your body is doing, is responding to famine! Yes, it may seem manipulative and cruel to feel superior to others eating more than you, but YOU as a being are not manipulative and cruel - your body is simply behaving in a way that it believes will help you survive.
Now that we know the science behind why you compare, the next question is, how do we get OUT of the comparison trap? Well, we’ve established that comparison is the result of your body believing you’re in a famine, which is the result of being in energy deficit. So, you guessed it: the first step to STOP comparing is to get out of energy deficit! How? Well, I’m sure you already know the answer, but in case you need to hear it again: you need to EAT FOOD. And a LOT of it. Although you may wish there’s some shortcut to recovery, some way to achieve a life of freedom without putting in the work, facing your fears around eating and resting is the ONLY way to prove to your body that you are not in a famine environment and that resources already are abundant.
Of course, eating more - especially eating more than others - is a lot easier said than done, but the ONLY way to overcome your fears is by facing them head-on. We often think we need to first change our thoughts before we can change our behaviors, but the opposite is true. Your brain learns from your ACTIONS…meaning that if you want to change your thoughts, you need to change your actions first. The only way for your brain to learn that it’s okay to eat more than others, is to provide your brain with proof that you can eat more than others, and be okay! The only way for your brain to learn that a recovered life is possible, is to behave as a recovered person would! Nothing will change if YOU don’t change.
Just before I wrap this up, I do want to note that when you DO commit to full recovery and give yourself permission to stop comparing, it is completely normal that you will experience extreme hunger - not just in the physical sense, but mentally as well. ALL of this hunger MUST be honored in order to prove abundance to your body, as the very fact that you DO feel increased hunger shows that your body is starting to trust that resources are not really scarce. Now, it’s up to you to support your body in its healing process. If you would like even more support, I want to invite you to enroll in my course Extremely Hungry to Completely Satisfied!
Whether you want to learn how to get rid of mental hunger, heal your digestive issues, accept weight gain, let go of food guilt, or all that and more, my course Extremely Hungry to Completely Satisfied is the all-in-one resource I wish I had during one of the scariest periods of my life.
Full of video presentations, lessons, and worksheets, my course combines scientific research with years of personal experience to yield a step-by-step framework that provides you with tangible action steps. People who have worked through the course have regained their periods, let go of food guilt, and completely shifted their mindset from a place of fear and scarcity to a newfound love for life. All in just 8 weeks.
The best part is, I am so confident that this course is exactly what you need to achieve a life of freedom, that I offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee, meaning, if you go through the course, put in the work, and don’t get ANY results? I’ll give you a FULL REFUND, no questions asked. So truly, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain! Enroll risk-free today by clicking here.