In her book, Life Without Ed, Jenni Schaefer describes a helpful tool in combating many of the intrusive thoughts that arise when one is navigating the struggle of disordered eating and body image concerns. Jenni, who has struggled with an eating disorder, presents the notion of visualizing the disorder as an external voice, personality, or person – one that is trying to overwhelm you with negative thoughts to keep you in an unhealthy relationship with food and your body. She calls this voice, “Ed” (taken from eating disorder).
You Are Not Your Eating Disorder
Through my treatment of eating disorders, I’ve found that many clients benefit from externalizing the Ed voice as something separate from their true selves. Many individuals stuck in the cycle of their disorder tend to identify very strongly with it – in essence, they become their disorder. Instead, viewing Ed as a voice or another person (i.e. an enemy) designates it as a more tangible, external force that is trying to harm you. Recognizing Ed as an externalized, rather than an all-consuming aspect of the self, can help take its power away. This idea can bring some hope that there is something or someone – YOU – who can challenge your Ed. Thus, taking charge of your true self against Ed becomes a profound part of recovery.
What would you do if someone in your life consistently approached you only to verbally attack you with belittling comments? Imagine this person telling you that your body is unattractive, that you don’t deserve to eat, or that you should feel guilty for eating your favorite dessert.
In such a situation, you have a few options:
- Listen to and internalize the comments until they begin to feel true to you.
- Ignore the comments.
- Talk back to the comments.
As someone develops an eating disorder, this new person in their life, Ed, begins to slowly inculcate them with negative thoughts about themselves, particularly regarding eating habits and body image:
“You need to overeat to handle your negative emotions.”
“You are only lovable if you are thin.”
“You are a failure for gaining weight.”
The thoughts can become so consuming that the only way to temporarily relieve them is to act out in eating disorder behaviors. Thus, the more the person internalizes and listens to these Ed comments, the more likely they will use behaviors – subsequently, the Ed gains power, and continues to berate the person until they feel powerless.
Unfortunately, ignoring the comments is not really a feasible option when someone is in the depths of their eating disorder. Thus, a great strategy to weaken the Ed voice is to talk back to it. A very helpful recovery tool that I often use with clients in therapy is to practice having a dialogue with their Ed voice. For instance, a client recently shared that she doesn’t want to shop for new clothes because she is “too fat.”
Now imagine this comment as part of a dialogue between the client and her Ed voice. The client (aka the recovery voice) can provide a firm rebuttal to Ed’s comment, just as one could to a negative comment from another person.
Ed voice: You are too fat to go shopping for new clothes.
Client/Recovery voice: I can enjoy shopping and buying clothes that make me feel good.
In this situation, the client/recovery voice provides a confident yet compassionate challenge to the Ed voice, thus weakening its intensity and power.
Practicing this exercise with Ed thoughts can be extremely helpful, particularly if you are in the earlier stages of eating disorder recovery. By working with a therapist, you can access and identify various thoughts that the Ed voice serves you regularly, and together, you can create responses that confront the Ed while bolstering the client’s recovery voice.
Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is a clinical psychology doctoral student and registered psychological assistant in Torrance under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali. She offers individual and group counseling to adults and adolescents with eating disorders and body dissatisfaction. Bahar has mentored and facilitated support groups to help individuals develop a more peaceful relationship with food and body image. To help confront your own eating disorder thoughts and behaviors, contact Bahar for a counseling appointment.