The Many Voices of ED
By Tara Redepenning
Reprinted from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Winter 2008 Volume 6, Number 1
©2008 Gürze Books
My ED (eating disorder) voice started yelling at me again this week. Even though I've gotten better at drowning it out, it persists in trying different ways to sneak up on me. I yell back affirmations and goals and that quiets it down. When I fear it's getting really loud, I reach out to people—my friends, family, and especially the staff at the Bella Vita (BHC) where I have been in treatment.
This week my ED voice changed tactics and got clever. While I'd been "gaining" my own weapons to fight back, it had retreated only to reattack in a way and at a time I didn't expect. This time it snuck up on me and instead of yelling, "You're fat," it whispered, "You just need to lose a couple pounds, nothing drastic." The voice told me it wanted to keep me safe, that losing a couple pounds wasn't a big deal, and that my pants would feel less tight. Come to think of it, my pants did feel a little tight. I'd been trying not to fixate on it, but my clothes didn't fall off me anymore.
Now ED had my attention. I had opened the door a crack, thinking it was not ED at all. The voice was reasonable, so I hadn't thought to argue with it. It wasn't suggesting laxatives or diet pills. It didn't want me to miss full meals, just lose a little weight. Once the ED voice gained confidence, it got louder, saying things like, "By the way, you're ugly."
"Excuse me?" I said. "That's kind of mean."
"Is it mean or is it true?" ED asked. "With my help you can be a little trimmer. Be a little prettier. Also, you're not really that special."
"Sure I'm special. The people at my job like me and that has nothing to do with my appearance."
Again, ED quietly questioned me. "Really? They loved you last year when you were listening to me. We haven't done anything together since then. Now you're not pretty, you're not successful, and you've gotten fat."
The voice got bigger, "Hey, don't worry. I'm here. We can fix this." The voice was so different from before, I worried that maybe it was right. Maybe it wasn't ED after all; maybe it was my healthy voice trying to warn me.
I had a couple of choices. I could either act based on what the voice was telling me, or I could do a little investigating. My individual therapist, as always, took it seriously. "That voice sounds really mean," she said. "I want you to yell at your ED voice and say ‘stop trying to trick me.'" Those words helped and put things into perspective. The voice was mean and it was doing a good job of trying to trick me. Even in that moment of confirmation it chimed in: "How recovered are you if you couldn't even tell it was me without going to your therapist? What'll you do when you can't go to her anymore?"
That really hurt, but it made me think. I reminded myself of what my therapist said in our sessions. I reminded myself of what my friends said. I reviewed all the tools I'd gathered from all the brilliant and insightful people I had encountered in my months in recovery.
I would fight back—and it would be a fight. Those people who think we recover from an eating disorder the way we recover from the chicken pox (now immune to it and can never get it again), well, they just don't get it. Recovery isn't a destination you arrive at when you're discharged from treatment or you've reached a healthy weight. It's a way of life.
This week I learned that if I'm asking, "Is this my ED voice?" it probably is. Your ED voice doesn't have to yell at you to be unhealthy. We get so used to ED beating us up when it says, "You just need to lose a few pounds," we think it's being helpful. But would a real friend to say that to you? Would a real friend tell you to lose weight if your doctors and dieticians were saying the opposite?
You see, my ED voice isn't just the voice that yells, "You're fat," it's any and all voices that tell me I'm not enough. Which isn't to say my healthy voice thinks I'm perfect. The difference is the perspective: my ED voice tells me I haven't yet done enough; my healthy voice says I've just begun to see all that I can do. Knowing that difference is now one of my tools. I'm ready to fight back now. I wish the same for all of you. Believe me when I say we're all worth it.