One thing that continues to surprise people is that an eating disorder is not about the food. It is a mental illness that is about control, not an issue with food itself. The food is just a symptom of a deeper problem. It’s kind of hard for me to write that it is a mental illness because, well, that would mean I am mentally ill, and who wants to be that?! There is something wrong with my mind. Somewhere along the line things went wrong, and this voice popped up and decided to take over the show. My mind decided this was the best way to cope with problems. I personally wish my mind had chosen travel, or photography or mission in order to cope....Nope! It chose eating disorder. I know what went wrong, and that is a topic for another time, but nonetheless my mind was taken over by this nasty voice.
This voice is powerful and has the ability to wreck me with one blow. It has the ability to change my mood, emotions, desire to eat, my sense of worth, my values, my body image and identity. This voice is what I fight in treatment. It’s what I have to constantly challenge. It’s what I am at a war of epic proportions with. It’s fighting little mental battle after little mental battle until it is done. Until I WIN. I’ll be honest, these little battles leave me mentally drained, emotionally exhausted, and believe it or not sometimes even physically wasted.
So what is this little voice? Whenever I talk about it I wonder if people think I’m nuts! You hear voices? Does it sound like a demon? A man? A witch? Is it like another personality? Nope! It’s none of these things. The best way I can describe it is…it’s my own voice. It’s simply my thoughts. It’s what all thoughts sound like, which is why its so hard to even realize there is an eating disorder. I thought it was just myself!
We all have thoughts. Some good. Some bad. Some are thoughts that let us know what we think about things. The little voice that says, “You should not have said that,” after we say something really dumb out loud, or “You look hot today! Good job!” The eating disorder thoughts sound just like those ones, except they are louder, more often, repetitive, nasty, controlling, sneaky and lead to destructive behavior. These thoughts typically try to convince me that my body is the best avenue to cope with issues. It’s the voice that says, “Sara, you had Eggos AND chips in the same day. That was bad. So don’t eat dinner.” “Sara, you really should stop listening to these people, they clearly are wrong, look at you, look at your body. Just go back to the way things were and you will feel SO much better,” or “Sara, yeah, that person was totally inconsiderate and rude. If your body was back to normal this would no longer be a problem. At least THAT would be perfect.” These thoughts, once believed, lead to behaviors. Behaviors (in my case) like restriction, calorie counting, over-exercise and ruminating.
When it comes to the mental aspect of my treatment, one of the first things I needed to realize was that this voice, these specific thoughts, come from my eating disorder, NOT from me. A healthy mind does not make you starve yourself when there is a problem. My mind is not healthy, it is ill. I needed to learn new coping strategies for issues and figure out how to get rid of this one. Learning to decipher which thoughts were mine, and healthy, versus which thoughts were ED(1), and wrong, was a major key to unlocking my ability to fight the ED. AND, I should add, it is also VERY difficult. Why? Ummmm….because we believe our thoughts!
Rarely do we have a thought and step back and say, “Whoa, that thought is totally wrong”. They are our own thoughts, so they can’t be wrong, right? When you think, “This dress looks bad on me,” you don’t slow down and ask yourself, is what I’m thinking correct? We just believe it and move on. I had so many eating disorder thoughts, all of the time, and I just believed them! I could literally be the smallest woman in the room and my E.D. would say, “Wow, you are huge,” and I would believe it. Why not? It’s my own thought. My thoughts aren’t wrong.
Actually….yes they are. When it comes to eating disorders, the E.D. thoughts are wrong, or at the very least they take something true and twist it so much that it turns into something wrong. During recovery it is important that I challenge each and every thought that pops into my head.
For example, the thought, “You will never get your body back eating like this. You should go back to restricting and exercise. Your body was perfect back then. Now it is disgusting.” This is an eating disorder thought. How do I know? I challenge it and find out. Here are the facts: 1-My doctors and every other professional I have worked with has told me that I WILL in fact get my body back eating like this. It will take time, but it will happen. 2-My body was NOT perfect back then. I still felt terrible and insecure in that body, so actually it WOULDN’T make me happier or feel better. 3-If I go back to restricting or excessive exercising I will actually harm the process of recovery and my body might end up staying like this because my body will again just slow down and stop metabolizing. 4-My body right now is actually NOT disgusting, that is a judgment. It is just a little heavier, and it is temporary. So take THAT eating disorder.
In the past 16 months it has become easier and easier to decipher which thoughts are ED thoughts, and the eating disorder voice has become very clear and obvious. It is not, however, so easy to challenge them. I have a long way to go in order to stop believing my eating disorder thoughts. I do, however, have lots of ways that I challenge my ED thoughts. Recently I found a new one and not only does it work, but I’m loving it!
A couple weeks ago I read a book called Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick. (2) Everyone around me knows about this book because I basically won’t shut up about it….sorry…not sorry! This book is basically about how our negative thoughts and inner dialogues can lead to insecurity, discouragement, and how they keep us from experiencing the amazing life we were made to live. The title of chapter four is Who Told You That? Steven discusses how Satan can mess with our minds by creating doubt as well as confusing our understanding through our inner dialogue.(3) I’m not sure if my ED thoughts are Satan, but they behave so eerily similar that I wouldn’t toss the idea out the window! He goes on to state that, “It’s time to locate the lies.” He does this by encouraging us to ask ourselves, when a negative thought pops in our minds, “Who told you that?” Is that thought from God? Is that thought from Satan? In my case I add, is that thought from ED? It helps me to realize where my thought came from. What’s even better is that I also get to challenge it with something God says too!
Here are some examples:
Example 1: Your body will never heal and go back to it’s set point.
Who told you that?
Not God! It’s ED again….
What does God say?
“Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.” Psalm 30:2
“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.” Psalm 103:2-4
Example 2: I should just go back to my E.D., I don’t have the energy or strength to fight this anymore…
Who told you that?
I don’t know????!!!!
Well here is what God says…
“For God did not give us the spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and self-control” 2 Timothy 1:7
“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.” Exodus 14:13-14
“I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13.
When I stop and ask myself, “Who told you that?” and then I challenge those ED thoughts with God’s truth, ED loses. Every time.
If you are someone who isn’t into the whole God thing, asking yourself “who told you that?” will still help you to slow down, take a hard look at your thoughts, and decide if its ED or not. Once we know it’s ED, we then know we can challenge the thought. Whether it’s through scripture or another skill you have learned, it doesn’t matter. Scripture is just one of the ways that works great for me! Either way, it is crucial in recovery to learn to discern which thoughts are ours and which thoughts are the eating disorder’s.
It is time that we take back our minds. It is time to fill them with truth instead of lies. It is time to tell ED to take a hike; we just don’t believe him anymore!
- Sara -
1- ED is short for Eating Disorder. In the eating disorder community we constantly refer to the voice in our heads or our eating disorder thoughts simply as ED.
2-Furtick, Steven. Crash the Chatterbox. Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2014. (I have also listed this book on my resources page!!)
3-Furtick, Steven. Crash the Chatterbox. Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2014. 50-51.