A while ago, I was listening to a client tell me how she cringes at her own voice scolding her for not having overcome her binge-eating. You know the voice, it beats up on you for not “getting it” more quickly, for falling back on old patterns, for not doing what you know you “should” do, for not being able to recover once and for all. It struck me during our conversation how much like an abuser this voice is.

When someone mistreats or abuses us—say, they scoff that we’re stupid, not good enough, or won’t ever amount to anything—the healthy, natural response is to get angry at their insult and defend ourselves. This rational, self-protective response directs our anger outward at them, to make them, not us, wrong. But many people, especially women, have difficulty getting angry at the person abusing them. Instead, they turn anger inward and beat up on themselves for being, to use the above examples, stupid, inadequate, or worthless. They believe that if they only try harder—read become angry enough at themselves for failing or disappointing someone else—they’ll succeed.

This is similar to what disregulated eaters do when they flagellate themselves for their perceived food or weight “transgressions.” Rather than being enraged at a culture that is—I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—the most thin-obsessed, fat phobic in the history of the world, they berate themselves for failing to live up to an unattainable ideal which creates self-abuse. The healthy response to being asked to do the impossible is to say that what is being asked is not possible and to be angry if you are pushed to do it anyway. Regarding food or weight, the rational response is to be up in arms about being pressured to be thin to meet a ridiculous, twisted, fantasy of an ideal.

Instead of becoming infuriated at cultural messages and media images that are created to make them feel badly, too often disregulated eaters take their anger out on themselves, destroying their bodies and their psyches. Rather than confront their abuser—our sick culture—they rage at themselves. My guess is that those of you who do this may not even realize how furious you are at how you’re being told to eat or look. Would you let someone call you names and tear down your self-esteem or would you see that as abuse and confront or walk away from it? If you wouldn’t stand for it—and I really hope that is the case—then why would you let yourself be abused by cultural norms that are dangerous and destructive? It’s time to stop turning your anger inward and start directing it at your abuser, the culture of obsessive thinness, perfection, and beauty in which we live.