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What Makes You Special

I occasionally hear people discussing their eating problems by throwing around terms like disorder or dysfunction with a sly kind of pride, as if having a medical condition makes them special or unique. To be sure, these people are in the minority; the majority of troubled eaters minimize their condition rather than flaunt it. Most are filled with shame about their abusive relationship with food and want to keep it a secret.

Sadly, however, some people use their eating dysfunction to get attention when they feel there’s very little else about them that is outstanding or compelling. After all, tell people you have an eating disorder and most of them want to hear all the gory details or at least cluck in sympathy and offer advice. As a culture, we’re riveted by the eating malfunctions of celebrities, their revolving-door stays in rehab, and their no-holds-barred memoirs. Ironically, these days, it’s almost “in” to be food-challenged.

Many people develop an unhealthy relationship with food because their self-confidence and self-esteem are so low that they believe they deserve to abuse their bodies. They view themselves as not fitting in, as family or social outcasts—inadequate, incompetent, and unlovable. They fail to recognize their worth or their talents, their brains or their beauty, and unconsciously use an eating disorder to get the attention for which they yearn. The problem is not that they don’t have issues with food; they do. It’s the way they spin their eating troubles as a magnet to get their emotional needs met, rather than using their unacknowledged or undervalued natural strengths and abilities.

Emotional health means neither denying, minimizing, or aggrandizing your eating problems. It means focusing on them enough to get support and help, while continuing to develop other aspects of yourself. You are not your eating disorder. It is a part of you, a mindset and a mode of behaving, but only one piece of who you are. If you find yourself talking about your eating dysfunction to the exclusion of other things, telling everyone you meet about it, or sharing about it in a way that makes you seem special and unique, you are doing yourself a disservice.

If you believe that the only thing you’re good at is having a bad relationship with food, it’s time to inventory yourself. Unearth those unrecognized or unappreciated capabilities and talents that you’ve been ignoring. Dust them off and display them. Flaunt your strengths and show off your skills. Work on enhancing your self-esteem so that people can see you’re special in spite of, not because of, your eating problems.