Cults. Leaving or Joining?

See, here's the strange thing. I always thought my eating disorder was more cult-like than the recovery aspect.

I'm not so sure anymore that this is the case.

Jim Jones or David Koresh don't have anything on Ed. They really, truly don't. He does work in the same way. He isolates you. He convinces you of really wacky things. He starves you.* He demeans you, convinces you that you are nothing without him. He demands you serve only him. He threatens you with all sorts of terrible things if you leave.

Very cult-like.

And here's where the parallels get even stronger. It's the pro-ana phenomenon. I have avoided- quite deliberately- bringing this subject up. I would bet that anyone reading my blog knows what pro-ana is, and if you don't, it's better that way. Trust me.

But so many eating disorder sites are almost...evangelical in nature. Especially pro-ana and the message boards. The confirm what Ed is already saying. And they are a way for him to find more converts. After a while, you pretty much know all the tips and tricks out there. I didn't need a pro-ana site to teach me them, or even to "motivate" me to keep restricting. That was internal, a function of my disease and the malnutrition it caused. What I do see those sites doing is convincing new people to "join" and also to keep those who might be on the verge of leaving to stay. They're not called "ana buddies" for nothing. They are who you associate with, who you can relate to.

Writer Linda Moran has a really good article about the similarities of diets and cults that is well-worth reading (as is the rest of her site).

It makes sense. People in cults tend to form very tight communities, and though you might be able to join, it's much more difficult to leave.

So. The metaphor of my leaving a cult (even though I have never regularly visited pro-ana sites) certainly seems pretty sound.



But then I read the health and wellness articles online, I see the ads for weight loss programs. Hell, I worked in an environment that was a continuous Weight Watchers meeting. Which makes me wonder: is recovery a cult as well?

Think about it: how many people do you know that you can say are honestly intuitive eaters? Seriously. Most people in my family are. Okay, my parents, and I think my brother, but I'm not sure seeing as I don't talk to him. My treatment team. And maybe throw in two others for good measure. But that's it, as far as I know. Some people restrict what kinds or how much food they eat. Others restrict during the day and binge at night. Others eat mindlessly. Etc.

Recovery and having a healthy relationship with food and your body is actually quite uncommon. I wouldn't say that we proselytize or anything, or that we keep people from leaving, but the need for a community is very real.

I have to re-brainwash myself. I have to convince myself that eating is okay, that taking a day (or week or month) off from exercising is okay. That chocolate won't kill me. That coffee is not a food group.

The really ironic part is that getting yourself out of a cult is much harder than getting yourself in, even though the process (brainwashing) is the same. I'm leaving the familiar, the unknown. That sucks. It's hard. It doesn't hold the same promises and certainty that the eating disorder did.

I'm trying to learn how to live with that. Thus far, I'm doing okay.

*Starvation is a common tactic in people who are being brainwashed

posted under , , , |


All Blog Spots said...

nice blog

msempower said...


I was just chatting with my best friend and husband about how 'she who will not be named' ( related alien) was like David Koresh. I went to your post and my jaw dropped. Who knew comparisons to David Koresh were still top of mind???!!!

And, I must say, when I started my blog and titled it "The Eating Disorder Survivors Club" - it was a bit of a small retaliation to the pro-ana army;) If I'm going to want to be a part of anything eating disorder related, it better friggin be about surving it!

Alas, still waiting for Qantas...

With care and smiles,

Katy said...

I think you make a great point about how much eating disordered thinking is ingrained in the drives me nuts, sometimes, watching so many people around me continue their disordered relationship with food while I'm struggling to give up my eating disorder. I look at them and wonder, is that what recovery looks like? Because if it is, I don't want it--I don't want my mood to go up and down based on my pants size or to decide to "be good" and get a salad for dinner when what I really want are some french fries. I don't want food or weight to be about goodness and virtue. But it's all around. I would love for there to be a recovery cult...I don't want to live a life half in my eating disorder, the way so many people seem to. It's not good enough. And maybe that's asking too much, but for all this hard work it better not be.

Anyway, I love your blog--it's a great f-you to the diet-obsessed culture, or as I once heard it called, "thindustry." You're a voice of reason.

wading through recovery said...

I know what you mean about the scarcity of intuitive eating role models.

Really, my old dietician is the only one who I can think of who eats that way.

I feel like a lone freak in the wilderness striving for some archaic ideal. (um...did that make any sense? not sure if the wine is effecting me right now...)

Laura Collins said...

Oh, yes.

One of the hardest parts of supporting my daughter through recovery was my late realization that the rest of us are nuts.

In a world where it is normal to hate your body, eat by fad, and assign merit to appearances - it is hard to keep a straight face when you ask a mentally ill loved one to act "normal."

You've nailed it, Carrie. We all need deprogramming!

carrie said...

all blogs,



Those Qantas people. They really need to get on the ball. And definitely, *definitely* do I only want to be involved in EDs in the "survivor" aspect.

Part of the David Koresh mention was that I just watched a documentary on the 10th anniversary of Waco.


It's so hard when you don't realize whether you're leaving a cult or joining one. I have so much trouble discerning whether it's ED, popular culture, some figment of my imagination, all of the above, or none of the above. A lot of times, I just sit and scratch my head.


Yep. There are very few "normal" eaters and we should be allowed to 'tour' their brains. Just for a little looky looky to see what it's like.


You, my friend, are not nuts. Society is, but you are quite the breath of fresh air. Unlike my feet at the moment. Whoo! Time to Febreeze those bad boys!

Anonymous said...

It is definitely much harder to get out of an eating disordered mentality than to develop it. That's why so many of us are here sharing our struggles and triumphs as we stumble our way to some semblance of normalcy amid a very disordered culture.

Drengler said...

After reading your blog I have discovered that you and I actually have very much in common. You see I am a recovering cult member and my difficulties and feelings about leaving the cult parallel your own, your comparison is spot on.
All the best,

carrie said...


All the best to you, too, my dear. Love the pics on your blog, BTW.


Post a Comment

Newer Post Older Post Home

ED Bites on Facebook!

ED Bites is on Twitter!

Search ED Bites

About Me

My photo
I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

Drop me a line!

Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at

nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


Popular Posts


Recent Comments