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Understanding Control .... and some little activities you can try for yourself

Understanding Control .... and some little activities you can try for yourself

By Alexandra O'Brien

Control and the desire to be in control is often synonymous with eating disorders. Of course, that's not the case for everyone experiencing eating disorders/disordered eating. However, many find that having some control over something in their life - food and weight and body - helps them feel they have some more control over other things in their life that otherwise feel overwhelming, stressful, difficult to deal with or out-of-control. 

Despite what many who don't really 'get' what eating disorders are, it's important to highlight that  eating disorders are rarely about about beauty, appearance or looking a certain way. In fact, they often have little to do with food, but lots to do with gaining control and finding a way of coping with life. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories and experiences are all controlled through one’s relationship with food. Control or non-control of eating and food provides a way of also coping with often painful, difficult or distressful thoughts, emotions, experiences or memories: by blocking them out, denying them, or dealing with them via one’s relationship with food and eating.

For those with eating disorders, life seems easier to manage through the control or non-control of food. Eating disorders can often develop in response to what is going on inside of us. We can use food, eating, weight and exercise as a way of dealing with these powerful feelings and emotions.

Eating disorders may be caused by a combination of social, psychological, biological, interpersonal, genetic and environmental factors.

Eating disorders can affect anyone and can become life-threatening if not treated appropriately. It is difficult to determine how many people actually experience persistent and debilitating food and eating difficulties.

Of course, the above doesn't apply to everyone with eating disorders/disordered eating, however, it is a common theme expressed by those attending support groups, awareness events, psychotherapy and counselling, in emails and elsewhere.

Here's a couple of exercises that I (Alexandra) have written that you can complete and reflect upon on your own or with another trusted person. Have a go and see if it helps increase your awareness of insight into how 'control' might in fact me controlling you and your life. The exercises can be done my anyone - not just those experiencing eating disorders/disordered eating. 


1. What is your definition of ‘control’?

2.  Please rate on the scale below how important being in control is.

         0       1       2       3       4       5       6       7       8       9       10


not                                                                                               extremely  
important                                                                       important                                        

3.  What areas of life is it important for you to be in control of? (tick all that apply)

Feelings/Emotions  __                          Friendships __

Family Relationships __                        Work __

Education __                                       Sexual Relationships __
Marriage/Partnership __                       Managing Time __

Self-Image __                                     Food and Eating __

Weight and Appearance __                   Religion __

Environment (Work) __                                Environment (home) __

Environment (Other) __                        Children __

What People Think of Me __                  Money/Finances __

What Other People Think __                  What Other People Do __

My Behaviours/Actions __                     Daily Activities/Chores __

Other (please specify) ______               Other (please specify) _____

Other (please specify) ______               Other (please specify) _____

4. Please complete the pros/cons of control.

Pros of Being on Control                           Cons of Being in Control

5.  Please tick any of the following that applies to you personally.

·         Being in control makes me feel better about myself.

·         If I am in control, I am a good person.

·         People will accept and like me more if I am in control.

·         Control helps me to avoid or distract me from thought, feeling, memories or experiences I have or have had that I do not like or have caused my pain or distress.

·         Being in control helps me take my mind off my problems.

·         I feel bad about myself when I cannot keep in control.

·         I should be able to stay in control of things at all times.

·         If I am in control, then I can prevent bad things from happening.

·         I fear being out of control.

·         I feel I can cope with life if I am in control.

6.  Please complete the following sentences by inserting your own personal thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Please complete as many as possible.

·         If I am in control then....

·         If I am in control then....

·         If I am in control then....

·         If I am not in control then....

·         If I am not in control then....

·         If I am not in control then....

If you have discovered that you feel you need to be in control most of the time and it's causing you problems, are afraid of being out-of-control, or are controlling aspects of your life that are then leading to unhelpful behaviours, risky situations, missing it on life, distress etc. please feel free to get in touch and talk to one of our therapists or counsellors. My practices are all based in Glasgow city centre and all therapists and counsellor are experienced, qualified, supportive, understanding and tailor therapy sessions to you and your needs and concerns.

Get in touch for more information, if you have any questions or you would like to book an appointment.

Best wishes,

Talking EDs (Glasgow and West Eating Disorders Support Service)


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