The Genetic Superpowers: Another Way to Frame Eating Disorders?

Trauma, stress or abuse unleashes a variety of genetic superpowers that are lying in wait to come out to try to save your life. 

The problem is that these “supergenes” are, well, not terribly attuned to our modern world. Instead of ostensibly swooping in to rescue your sorry self, they end up being a bunch of freaky creatures in strange outfits that mostly cause more damage than help.

Carl Duplessis:

They never seem to know the right time or the right way to activate their superpowers or when to simply change in a phone booth and try to blend in more. And even then, the world has already moved beyond phone booths!

Take celiac disease, as one example. The genotype that causes celiac disease persists in the human population despite its negative impact on human health. Recent studies suggest that certain genes associated with celiac disease also appear to provide more robust responses to bacterial infection than for non-celiac disease genotypes. 

But in a super anti-bacterial world full of gluten, that leaves a celiac disease superhero simply chomping up villi in the intestine and causing all manner of chronic, progressive and life-shortening symptoms and damage instead. 

Then there is the eating disorders genotype(s). Let’s call him Restricto (it can be a “her” if you’d prefer). Standing there in his ridiculous tights and cape he is supposed to create enough of a false sense of calm and appetite suppression so that you can go out and find food for all your famine-inflicted kin.

But in a super food-laden world, that leaves your superhero simply dragging you down the path of life-shortening symptoms and damage too.

For many other Genetic Superheroes, there is plenty of kryptonite (drugs) that can stun them, suppress them, or make you think that they have been neutralized. But we all know you can’t ever really get rid of a superhero. You have to train them.

Training the Super Hero

Think of your journey of recovery as training the superhero to function in the modern world. Your superhero means well, but honestly you can save yourself a lot more effectively if she’d just cut out the special effects.

You have to spend a fair amount of time just convincing her to stand down. You are not in danger and you don’t need her help. There is plenty of food. You don’t need to save all your kin by starving yourself so you can go forage further.

Just like in the movie Toy Story, you’ll have to convince your Buzz Light Year that when the visor goes up he can actually breathe in this atmosphere.

Your superhero may have a superpower or two, but she’s not well rounded, urbane or sophisticated at all. So, you have to remind her (often) when she spins up your anxieties and compulsions that you don’t need to go to amber alert and she can take her hand off the eject button.

If you’ve got Restricto on at you positively screaming that the doughnut will K.I.L.L. Y.O.U. then she has to be told to sit down and watch you eat it. “See Restricto? I’m fine. My loved ones are fine. No one is dying and I enjoyed the doughnut. We're all good.”


Yes, somewhat seriously. I notice that in the process of patients trying to distinguish their true selves from the neural condition that drives them to practice harmful eating behaviors, they sometimes make it out to be an evil villain.

I think the challenge with personifying the restrictive compulsions as though they are driven by an evil entity, is that it gives those compulsions more power than they really should have. You are not possessed by something that you cannot negotiate with or work around.

In framing chronic conditions in a way that does not make co-existence with them the same as giving up or capitulating, therein likely lies the ability to achieve a strong and resilient remission.

It is clear that medicalizing the process as though it is a disease that must be cured is a futile endeavor. It is an inherent part of a genetic legacy you have inherited that once had real survival value for your ancestors. A disease, like small pox, is truly an external evil villain that must be slain.

By the same token, we’re not looking to be friends with these genetically driven behaviors.

You need a lot of patience and persistence to train a Restricto. She has her finger on the backspace key of anxiety punching at it wildly and repetitively whenever you make a move to re-feed and nurture yourself fully.

Her powers can absolutely blow you and everyone else around you flat on the floor. She is definitely not some cute pet and you don’t want to be her friend.

But you have to co-exist and it had better be by your rules, not hers.