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Starving for Control

imageAnorexia isn’t a diet, although many people seem to think it is.  Anorexia is something girls do to try and look skinny like the models in those fashion magazines, right?  Oh, that’s not it?  Well, then those girls who are anorexic must want attention, it’s just a phase and it will pass, right?  Wrong.  Anorexia is an eating disorder; not a synonym for “thin”, or “skinny bitch”.

I have anorexia and I’m not embarrassed to admit it anymore.  I used to be ashamed that I starved myself to the point that I had to be hospitalized for two weeks when I was a teenager.  I used to be ashamed that I spent half of my teenage years feeling guilty for putting food in my mouth.  And I used to be ashamed to admit that I still struggle with anorexia as an adult.

I stopped being ashamed when I discovered why I was anorexic in the first place.  It had absolutely nothing to do with wanting to be skinny or fit into the latest fashions.  It had nothing to do with going through a phase and wanting attention from my family or peers.  It had everything to do with needing to have control over some part of my chaotic life.

When I was hospitalized for anorexia as a teenager, sat in group therapy and listened to the stories of everyone suffering from anorexia, it became very apparent that we all needed one thing in our lives; control.  I remember a woman who would bring a box of Teddy Grahams to each meeting and chew them up and spit them out into a napkin; her husband was cheating on her.  I remember a man who starved himself because his boss was a bully.  And I remember the young girl my age that starved herself because her dad wouldn’t stop raping her.

Not everyone who is anorexic is getting raped, cheated on, or bullied.  Those of us who suffer from this disorder have very personal reasons as to why anorexia crept into our brain and took over our lives.  I allowed anorexia to take over my life when I was fourteen years old and unable to cope with the constant physical and mental abuse being inflicted on me by my mother.  I remember lying in bed at night and hearing my stomach rumble from a lack of food; I loved that rumble because it took my mind off of the pain from my latest beating.

I may not have been able to control my mother; but I could control those numbers on the scale and I could control what went into my mouth.  It wasn’t about getting skinny; it was about feeling powerful about some part of my life.

Do I still starve myself?  Sometimes; when everything in my life seems to be falling apart, I restrict food because I know it’s my quick fix.  I know that when I feel that familiar rumble in my stomach, I won’t focus on my other pain quite so much.  Some people take a drink to deal with pain; I skip breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Different strokes for different folks I guess.

But that’s not how life works; every time something gets hard, it’s not acceptable to inflict pain on ourselves because of it.  We are shortchanging ourselves and those who love us each time we allow anorexia to creep back into our brain.  We can take control of our lives without punishing our bodies at the same time.

Those of you reading this that are adult anorexics like me; I understand.  I understand that there will always be relapses because anorexia is like a computer virus that infects our brain and we never get the anti-virus.  I understand that the first thing we think of when things are rough is restricting food and starving ourselves.  I understand that many of us have silent battles in our head when we sit down to a meal and feel shame when we put food into our mouth.  I understand that in a world of unknowns; anorexia is a known.  Anorexia was our shelter in our time of need, and continues to provide a roof over our head for us as adults.

But you know what I’ve learned and what has helped me?  If I allow myself to be vulnerable, trusting, and use people to comfort me or help me instead of focusing on food, I can have an easier day and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to eat dinner that night.  If I allow myself to feel and experience every emotion that comes my way, I might be able to look at myself in the mirror the next day.

What helps me may not help you, but please remember this.  Nobody is perfect; we all have bad days, imperfections, and insecurities.  And sometimes it’s ok to not be in control; the universe has a funny way of working things out for all of us.

Starving for Control

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

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APA Reference
, . (2015). Starving for Control. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 7, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 May 2015
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