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Shame and Eating Disorders



We have all experienced the uncomfortable feeling of shame wash over us. This is experienced all too frequently with those who struggle with eating disorders. Staying in silence evokes more shame and the eating disorder gains more power. We will talk more about what shame is and how you can rise above it.

What is Shame?

Shame and guilt often get mistakenly confused for the same thing. There is a big difference between shame based thoughts and guilt based thoughts. Guilt = I did something bad and Shame = I am bad. Brene Brown describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.” The eating disorder preys on making you feel unworthy; unworthy of love, connection, life and joy. The eating disorder knows that if you are feeling shameful you are less likely to reach out and get the help and support you very much deserve.

Secrecy and Shame:

Shame derives its power from being unspeakable and secretive. The more you keep secretive; the more the feeling of shame grows. You may feel like you are bad or have the belief that if you speak out to someone they will judge you and you will be rejected, so you stay silent…and the shame and the eating disorder strengthen. It is important to remind yourself that your struggle with the eating disorder is not your choice…you did not choose this. An eating disorder is a psychological disorder and nothing you did could have caused this. The eating disorder wants you to blame yourself to increase your fear of judgment and to prevent you from reaching out. You are worthy of love and belonging; you are worthy of connection and worthy of living a life full of meaning and purpose free from the eating disorder.

Shutting down shame by practicing vulnerability: The way to shut down shame and the eating disorder is by making the decision to be open and vulnerable with someone you trust, whether this be a friend, family member, partner, or therapist. When we can share our stories and our struggles with someone who responds with empathy and understanding it shuts down shame. It also is a strategy that facilitates your journey in recovery as it is a form of disobeying the eating disorder.

Telling on the Eating Disorder

When you choose to tell on the eating disorder, you are disobeying it and this is a huge accomplishment in recovery. Choosing to tell on the eating disorder can take many forms. You can tell someone when you are experiencing eating disorder urges or after you have engaged in a behavior; both are recovery accomplishments. Telling on the eating disorder helps to de-shame the struggle and when you are open about the struggles you can then get support from those who can give you empathy and compassion.

Self compassion

Receiving compassion from ones we care about feels good. We can also learn to cultivate self-compassion and empathy with ourselves. In Kristin Neff’s work she asks us to think about what we would say to a good friend who is struggling. What you would say to your friend, is the same thing that you need to be saying to yourself. Learning to be our own friend and source of comfort and support is a huge way to combat both shame and the eating disorder.

The next time you feel shame rise up within you; recognize it as shame and reach out to a friend or someone you care about and talk to them. It is easy to stay in your comfort zone but the eating disorder loves your current comfort zone. Reach out and talk about what is going on for you and you will find that you will then be able to move through the feeling and gain more and more strength against the eating disorder.

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Westwind is a private counselling centre specializing in the treatment of eating disorders through our residental program and online counselling services. We are committed to promoting mindful eating, body acceptance and emotional wellness to women and men around the world.

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