Did People Pleasing Lead to an Eating Disorder

I was sitting in my granny’s floor when I told my mom I wanted to die at around 14 or 15 years old. At this time, I was puking after meals and didn’t really know why except I wanted to lose weight. I wasn’t overweight by any stretch and mostly healthy except for the small bag of M&M’s I ate here and there. Over time I became depressed and obsessed with weight loss, burning calories, and cleanliness. I gave up puking and began restricting my food intake. Food restriction seemed to be a much more effective weight loss strategy in my teenage mind. I was diagnosed with anorexia.

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Deeper into the Mental Illness Abyss

My obsessions became all consuming. I opened cabinets to look at food and closed cabinets without grabbing food to prove self-control. I cleaned baseboards in my bedroom every day, scrubbed the bathroom until early morning hours and cried because it didn’t feel clean enough. I wore ankle weights and exercised on a step for hours each evening after school.

After many months of therapy, my psychologist threatened that if I didn’t at least try a medication, they would send me to a facility in Arizona. I didn’t want that but also didn’t want to gain weight. But… figured I might be able to override the power of the medication. I was wrong. Ultimately, I received psychotherapy and a medication for mental health to treat obsessive behaviors.

A Breakthrough

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My mom remembers the day I came downstairs from my room after having started the psychotropic med. I hung out with the family, and I laughed! That doesn’t sound like much to some but apparently, they hadn’t seen me laugh in months. My mental health took a turn for the better at this time. Some of my high school friends dubbed my psychotropic medication “Jenn’s happy pill”. There was a noticeable difference by many people in my life.

Triggers

I, of course, have analyzed what might’ve led to this dark period that lasted well into adulthood. Several conclusions came to mind between years of therapy, my own analyzing, and my studies. I recall I left middle school very unpopular and weird by some standards. I didn’t know how to fix my curly hair and had the absolute worst style by anyone’s standards. The summer between 8th and 9th grade I guess I had a glow up because people looked at me differently. Numerous boys called me and asked me out.

I didn’t recognize how overwhelming this was at the time. Combine overwhelm with lack of boundaries and a need to please everyone…how could anyone expect a different outcome? I was bound to have a mental health disorder…or 5. The need to make EVERYONE happy was impossible, but my brain didn’t know that, and I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I didn’t pick up on this concept until I was in my 30’s!

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Food restriction gave me a feeling of control I lacked in other areas of my life. One of those areas being I pleased everyone and disappointed no one, because this was way out of control and impossible! I thought if I was pleasing, kind, beautiful and all the things, it validated me.

Anorexia was triggered by numerous factors such as life experiences, genetics, and trauma. But I don’t dismiss a big overarching factor here; I’ve been a habitual people pleaser most of my life. I eventually learned to love myself and learned that validation only comes from within.

The Takeaway

Transparency with you, my readers, is important so please know that I still think about food restriction at times. The lifetime prevalence of anorexia is high. I can’t imagine a life where I don’t think about it. I just have better ways of coping with those intrusive and unhealthy thoughts nowadays.

If you take anything away from this please let it be: if you are true to yourself, you will not be everyone’s favorite, and that’s OKAY. Living life for everyone else’s benefit does you a huge disservice. Your expense could be detrimental or even deadly.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to a local mental health professional. You can read more about eating disorders at Eating Disorders | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness.


Jenn Kemp, PMHNP, is a dedicated psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner with a personal and professional commitment to helping others overcome people-pleasing behaviors. Having navigated her own journey through these habits, Jenn combines clinical expertise with genuine empathy to guide her readers towards healthier, more authentic lives.

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