Dare to Not Compare – the Comparative Nature of an Eating Disorder

Occasionally I hear people say that females with eating disorders are very competitive.  However, after twenty-five years of working with those struggling with Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorders, I have come to the conclusion that females, whether they are adolescents or adults, are comparative not competitive.

Women are often comparative by nature and many times tend to compare negatively.  The standards we hold for ourselves are usually far more rigid than for those we hold for others.  For example, have you ever had someone drop in to see you unexpectedly and you immediately began apologizing for your home or room being a “mess”?  Yet, on the other hand, if you made an unexpected visit to a friend and their home was somewhat “lived in” you wouldn’t be so critical.  But it doesn’t stop there!  We can compare everything from our height to our show size, to our grades, the amount of money we make, the length of our hair, the intelligence of our children, our intelligence, the school we attend, the kind of car we drive, and even the home we live in.  We compare, compare, compare!

“So”, you say, “What is so bad about this?”  Well, for starters, since many women tend to be perfectionists, they seem to never win in this comparison game.  Therefore, they may end up with the perception that they are losers.  This label can cause a lot of distress, and often leaves the door open for more negative self evaluations.  Knowing when “enough is enough” is difficult for many females regardless of their age or the presence of Anorexia or Bulimia.   I remember the first time I was challenged with the difficulty of learning this “enough is enough” lesson.  I was given an assignment in a college course to write a paper but was not instructed on the number of pages.  I decided that 25 pages should be sufficient and turned in a paper that I thought was adequate.  The paper was returned with the words “Be more succinct” written across the top.  So, I whittled it down to 19 pages, thinking this would do the trick.  Again I had the paper returned with the words “Be more succinct” written across the top.   Making more of an effort to cut out the words that I had spent so much time creating was hard and frustrating, but, I finally managed to hand in fewer pages.  Still not few enough.  This process continued until the paper was “more succinct” and only 5 pages long.  Learning that more or less is not necessarily better is a valuable lesson but one that is often hard to come by.

In today’s world we are given many messages that less is better when clothing size or weight is being discussed.  We see this in our day to day life in clothing advertisements or displays of clothes.  Have you ever noticed how some shoes that are on display are often a small size and perhaps when you get the size that fits your foot it “doesn’t look as cute”.   A comparative thought may pop in your head that you have big feet, when actually there is nothing wrong with the size of your feet.  Although there is a positive trend towards models being more representative of appropriate weight and size, there remains a societal message that the slim-thin female is the preferred state.  Unfortunately, this is taken to heart by many females and, for some, the pursuit of thin exists at any cost.  This is not to say that the media is responsible for the increasing number of males and females who are developing Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorders.  It is, however, to say that the tendency to be influenced by others, cultural standards. and an inherent critical self can create a climate that lends itself for the development of an eating disorder.  Comparing with the inability to see oneself accurately is one of the diagnostic criteria for eating disorders, and makes the comparison game even more difficult.  The win never occurs in an eating disorder because the distortion of the eating disorder prevails with a never ending message that enough is not enough no matter what.

But please recognize that Recovery IS possible and the ability to again see yourself as you really are can be accomplished. Equally important is the ability to respect and honor one’s self.  Although we may not like everything about our personality, abilities, or looks, this does not affect our worth.  Everyone deserves to live the life that God promised without the interfering threats or lies of an eating disorder.

~Lynda A. Brogdon, Ph.D., C.E.D.S., C.E.A.P.

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Canopy Cove’s Eating Disorder Treatment Programs offer compassionate, comprehensive treatment for females, males, adolescents, and adults, who are struggling with Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorders and Co-Existing Diabetes, Depression, and Anxiety. Equine-Assisted Therapy is an weekly part of the Recovery process at Canopy Cove.