When I was living with an eating disorder most of my days could be typified by a journal entry like this. The excerpt above describes the way an eating disorder can have full power and control over your feelings, emotions and thoughts. It fuels your brain systematically with false information about who you are and what you should be, resulting in negative feelings, compulsive and destructive behaviors, depression, self-hate and a low self-esteem. I remember how I was constantly feeling out of control and completely lost in desperation. I was totally dependent on that inner-voice and actually believing that I would feel better and more relaxed if I did what the eating disorder voice was telling me.
However, no matter how many weeks of vacation you have, an eating disorder will make sure you do not have a single day off.
The feeling of being free is not dependent on formal days off or being on a vacation. Feelings of being free are constructed by your brain, which is exactly the part an eating disorder manipulates. I remember I was sitting on the beach looking to the blue color of the water and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. An experience which would typically be classified as peaceful, was actually an extremely stressing one for me. Instead of unwinding I was only hearing that critical voice saying I had to do all kinds of ‘tasks’ and make myself useful by going to the gym. But no matter how hard I tried to satisfy that voice, it never was.
The problem is, an eating disorder voice will never be satisfied! It will always convince you of the opposite and by continuing to listen and act on it, you will never reach the peaceful state of mind you wish for. It is important to see that your eating disorder will always use words like have to, should do or must do. “You should skip dinner”, “You should go to the gym every day”, “You must be and live like….”. You have to believe what it tells you.
The longer the eating disorder voice is manipulating you, the more you will start to believe it and the lower your self-confidence and self-esteem will be. It will literally change the way your brain functions and getting out of this negative cycle will be harder and harder. Acting upon everything it tells you to do or not to do will become a defense mechanism. You start using it in order to protect yourself from more harm and in order to feel better. The problem, you won’t. How do you get out of this downward spiral of a stressed mind and negative feelings? How do you learn to be free?
By introducing the words not, can, will and want. “I don’t need to work-out every day”, “I can and shall be the person I want to be”, “I will eat dinner because it’s good for my health”. This is extremely challenging for people with an eating disorder, since it is completely against everything that critical voice tells you. To make it easier, I came up with 5 tips that will help walk you through the process I used to free my mind.
Getting back power over your thoughts and emotions is not something which happens overnight. By forcing yourself to think more positive you will only feel more stressed and lost in your mind, since you are starting a battle against your own thoughts. One you will not win at this stage. So the first step is to separate yourself from your thoughts and acknowledge that it is not YOU that tells you all these things you must do or be. It is your eating disorder voice who’s fueling your thoughts and feelings and they are not necessarily true. It is a paradox, but by acknowledging and accepting this as status-quo you will instantly start to feel more peaceful. Imagine you are a pilot of a helicopter. When you take off and get higher and higher you will see all these thoughts and emotions being just tiny little dots in a much wider landscape. However, accepting it does not mean that you will not be able to change your thoughts.
2. Write down your thoughts and ‘tasks’
Take a moment to write out all the ‘tasks’ you believe you must do in order to deserve something. Now go over them one by one and ask yourself if you really must do it or you think you must do it. This is a really important step to take in order for you to see the difference. For example, when I was living with an eating disorder a typical thought would be “I must go to the gym in order to deserve lunch”. You can imagine how much stress a thought like this gave me, since most of the times I hated to go to that gym. Instead, I would rather have done nothing or watch a movie.
3. Refuse to do one thing your eating disorder voice is telling you
Allow yourself to not follow up on one of the thoughts (tasks) you wrote down in step 2. This will probably cause a lot of tensions. Consider my example described in step 2. The answer would be “No, I don’t need to go to the gym in order to deserve lunch”. Then I would ask myself “Do I want to go?” The answer was straightforward: “No”. So far, it sounds simple, but now I had to actually kick the ED’s ass.
Is this simple? No, I won’t lie. At the beginning, you will probably feel even more negative about yourself. However, the way the eating disorder voice sneaked into your life can also be used to get him out, by using his own resources against himself. Thank you, eating disorder! You will see that the more often you commit yourself to do this, its power will slowly and gradually diminish. At the same time, your strength, courage, and motivation will gradually grow which is going to give you the support and confidence you need to keep moving forward in your recovery process and personal growth.
4. Seek help and support
At this point, you need to rely on your inner strength to keep moving. The inner voice will still try to fight its way back in, so we advise you to connect with people you trust and who can really support you in committing to your goals. Use ConnectED, Recovery Warriors’ eating disorders treatment directory to find someone you can trust, in your area. You can access ConnectED online or simply use the ‘Find Help’ button within the Rise Up + Recover app, our free available for Android and iPhone, which provides you with tools that can help you to stay on track.
5. Are we there yet?
No, but you are one day closer than you were yesterday. It is all about making progress. It is very important to be consistent in using the skills you learned. Keep taking off in your helicopter, keep writing your torturing, negative thoughts and tasks down and ask yourself “Do I have to do this or do I think I have to do this?”. Trust me, your hard work will pay off. Recovery is all about commitment, connection, courage and compassion. If you keep falling back to these four C’s of recovery, it will make you stronger! Every step you take leads to being one step closer to recovery and one step closer to living a life that you want.
After reading these tips, I hope you feel motivated or even renewed to start battling for your happiness. I would really love to hear from you what things your ED voice is telling you the most and how you are going to tackle one of them this week! I wish all you warriors strength for this week in recovery.