Doing Life Together

Doing Life Together

Confronting an Eating Disorder: The Power of Denial

posted by Linda Mintle

Jenna was a sweet girl who was known for her compliance. How was it, then, that this highly responsible teen became so angry when you mentioned her eating problem? Any talk of her dangerously low weight or food restriction was met with vehement denial.

It didn’t seem to matter what people said. Jenna refused to eat more than a couple of bites of salad and rice. Jenna would not admit to having an eating disorder even though she exhibited all the classic signs.

One of the biggest obstacles in helping someone with anorexia is breaking through the denial of the problem. These young women and men do not believe they are harming themselves. Nothing you say convinces them otherwise. This denial is extremely frustrating for family and friends.

The power of denial is so strong that they will risk their lives to stay in control of food. Their extreme need for control results in being out of control. They can no longer eat normally. They are deceived into thinking that what they are doing is not dangerous to their bodies.

Denial can be rooted in spiritual deception. The enemy’s purpose is to deceive and then destroy. You have to be deceived to look at your emaciated body and believe you don’t have a problem. Past hurts and woundings are gateways for the enemy to play on the anorexic’s mind. And we know that a starved mind does not think well. Currently, there is research looking at biological changes related to starvation. So the impact of self-starvation physically impairs a person’s rational thinking.

Unconscious thinking often begins this way. “I don’t want to feel pain. I can control what I eat even though I can’t control other things in my life. If I’m perfect with food, I’ll feel better about myself. I can learn to ignore hunger. This makes me feel superior and in control. I must be thinner than everyone else. Thin is happy. Self-denial is good. I can be perfect if I try hard enough.”

As the  person begins to lose weight, she is often complimented. After significant weight loss, worry replaces compliments. But the person does not see the problem. She is convinced self-control is necessary. Self-denial becomes an idol. She feels self-righteous through restricting food.

Denial pushes away painful feelings. It is a defensive process that allows an anorexic to go on with life pretending nothing is wrong. Denial helps the anorexic avoid painful emotions and experiences. Many anorexics feel that admitting to negative feelings makes them bad. Others are so out of touch with their pain, they can’t bring it to the surface. Food control is a cover up for underlying pain.

Denial keeps pain at bay. It redirects underlying emotional, psychological and spiritual problems to the body. The anorexic creates an illusion of power–the more self-denial, the more special she becomes. Her “specialness” results in people needing to take care of her. But she wants to take care of herself. Admitting she needs help means giving control to someone else. Giving control to others is frightening. In the past, it meant loneliness or pain.

Breaking through the denial is often a slow process, one that develops through trust and relationship with people who care.


For more help understanding and treating Eating Disorders, Click on the book cover, Dr. Linda’s Breaking Free from Anorexia and Bulimia

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