Most of us long for a way to make sense of the chaos and pain experienced throughout life. It is part of human nature to look for ways to feed our human spirits regardless of an individual’s level of spirituality or institutionalized faith. Without a connection to our inner self or to something greater than ourselves- we are often led to the most restrictive form of religion- the “religion of thinness”.
What is the religion of thinness?
The religion of thinness has become endemic in our advanced and commercial society. Contemporary ideas about dieting, thinness, and food have led to a cultural preoccupation that allows a short-term escape from unmanageable distress. It provides a false distraction from the natural and harsh reality of being human.
The desire to control and change our bodies masks a greater need for something far more meaningful and fulfilling.
It is used as a way to regain control. It is our quest for something to make us feel alive or to feel like we are wanted. However, clinging our attention to our size completely disconnects us from ourselves. The “process of tightening our bodies, hardens our hearts”.
“If I can’t be _____”
One of the most common statements I hear from working with clients who struggle with eating disorders is, “well, if I cannot be __, at least I can be thin.” If I cannot be the top of my class at least I can be thin. Or if I cannot be the prettiest one in the room, at least I can be thin… The list goes on. Consider the parallel in religion, “if I cannot be rich, at least I will have eternal salvation”.
Regardless of struggling with an eating disorder or not- it sometimes seems as though the best way to be seen as “someone” in the world or to achieve “eternal salvation”, is to have a “good body”. Our sense of purpose is fulfilled when we lose weight. While gaining weight seems to be linked to a personal failure or a sin. That purpose is continually confirmed through the external validation we receive from society. And from that sense of community with others who are also trying to lose weight.
The search for connection
Similar to the sense of community that religion provides, we are all sinners trying to reach the same thing. Religion is derived from a Latin verb meaning “to link, or to bind.” Which can have either a restricting or connecting context. Religion and the culture can be a tool for oppression, authority, or restriction (much like an eating disorder), while having spiritual awareness is a source of peace, power, and comfort.
I grew up in a religious home, within a religious community. I was fortunate to have predominantly positive experiences within that context. However, through other experiences I’ve come to recognize the difference between my religion and my culture. As imperfect humans we often take something good and poison it. We alter truth, judge unfairly, and certain beliefs become lost in translation. When I think of my religion, I recognize the source of empowerment and purpose it has brought into my life. When I think about the culture, I think about perfectionism and the external pressure to “appear” or “act” a certain way, out of fear. Fear of what others will think. Fear of how I will be perceived. When I fall under the influence of a culture led by man, the personal fulfillment within my own spirituality becomes overlooked.
The pursuit of “health”
Becoming “healthy” is something that often starts out well. Unfortunately it often becomes obsessive and attached to moral worth and meaning.
Society alters the truth of eating balanced diets and changes that into restriction.
It causes shame by haranguing us about eating “too much” or becoming “too fat.” Taking something like eating a piece of cake, it translates that into “I am a pig, this is bad, or this makes me unworthy.” It has even turns exercise into punishment, not allowing for rest or flexibility. We become indebted to the thin ideal image for fear of how we will be perceived.
Spiritual growth is empowering, long lasting, and more comforting than the religion of thinness will ever be.
It is intuitive rather than limiting. Remembering what matters most in life empowers us to be able to do the inner work necessary to recover our bodies and spirits.
When our spirits are well fed and when we can connect with something outside of ourselves- we can find other ways to attend to our passions and our pain.
Food and the body start to take proper perspective in our lives and no longer serve as a main purpose.
Spiritual awareness is fundamental to recovery
This does not have to be an established religion or a traditional belief system. Spiritual awareness is finding your purpose and meaning. I started to rely exclusively on my eating disorder as I lost my ability to connect with friends, family, and God. It started to replace my unmet spiritual needs. My recovery required me to look inside myself and identify what I know to be true for me.
My spirituality ultimately is what helped me to find something bigger than my eating disorder.
These truths can help you to recognize who you are as a soul, your purpose, and your desires. It will enable you to no longer feel the need to resist your body or to follow these arbitrary rules in order to feel like “someone” in the world. Don’t fall victim to restrictions and to the binding limitations created by society. And don’t fall victim to the limitations our media puts on how you should look.