When you think of the movie Jurassic Park, you might picture an island in the middle of nowhere. You might picture a group of scientists and kids running for their lives. Or maybe you think of the classic scene where the velociraptor is being fed — it strains against the electric fence holding it in and systematically checks the barrier for any weakness.
In many ways, eating disorders are a lot like that velociraptor. Eating disorders are predators; they take away the lives and mental health of those suffering. But eating disorders are also smart, and instead of listening to logic, they actively try to work against those trying to defeat them.
In Jurassic Park, the velociraptor is furiously searching for any place where it can break through the electric fence and it won’t relax until it finds an escape. With an eating disorder, the illness is furiously searching for any opportunity to work through your loved one’s defenses. The difference is that the eating disorder already knows all the vulnerabilities that it can target.
Unlike the velociraptor, the eating disorder doesn’t have to search for weaknesses at all. Instead, it’s already aware of the times when someone may be more susceptible to worries about weight or when they are more likely to act upon the urges it puts into their heads.
The important thing for your loved one — and for you, as a support — to realize is that getting angry at this dinosaur of an eating disorder is not always the easiest course of action. You do need to continue fighting, of course. When dealing with an eating disorder, you will always need to keep fighting. However, it is also necessary to have compassion for the effort your loved one is putting into recovery. Even if the eating disorder does make its way past their defenses at times, even if they sometimes give into urges and get caught up in the worries in their heads, it is important to remember that they are still trying and that the eating disorder is pernicious — “letting it through the fence” is not their fault.
Ultimately, the compulsion to restrict or binge or purge is driven by the voice of the eating disorder, and your loved one can’t control that. What they can control is their reaction to those compulsions and how they can work to strengthen their electric fence.
You will work with them, too, by always meeting their urges and worries with recovery-supporting behaviors (ensuring eating compliance, behavior extinction, etc.). Through your compassion and support, you and your loved one can strengthen their electric fence together.
Unlike with most velociraptors, an eating disorder can be recaptured. Boundaries and fences can be put back up again and strengthened. Having compassion for your loved ones’ slips will make future battles against the eating disorder easier and will make sure your loved one knows that you are fully on their team and that fighting against you will just delay the inevitability of what they need to do.
With all of you working together, the eating disorder will now know that there are no more weak spots in the electric fence. Boundaries have been tested and have proven to be strong and impenetrable. When the eating disorder knows that it can’t convince your loved one to engage in behaviors anymore, it will stop searching.
Consistency in your response to your loved one’s behaviors and urges will strengthen that fence, inch by once-electrified inch. Together, you will work to stop the velociraptor from escaping again and get closer to a future filled with full recovery (and no dinosaurs at all).