We, as a culture of 21st century human beings, are relentlessly exposed to, what I think of as, a societal eating disorder. Now, that is not to say that all seven billion people on our planet suffer from the disease or engage in patterns of disordered eating. What I am saying is this: our world culture ingrains in us many thoughts that I see, now that I am in recovery, as eating disordered in nature. These societal opinions, beliefs, behaviors and assumptions on food are very provoking to those of us with an actual eating disorder. The eating-disordered processes of thought and actions we are trying to recover from, are the very same messages we are being inundated with as being “normal”, “acceptable” and “healthy”; the exact messages our eating-disordered mind tries to convince us of as well. To a person in recovery from an eating disorder, the question becomes, “To whom do I listen: society, Ed, my recovery voice, my therapist, my doctor, my friends, my rational mind or something/someone else?” Is your head spinning yet? I know mine is. This is the cycle of thought in which I have been trapped for several weeks: how can I maintain my recovery in a society that seems to be reinforcing of my eating disordered thoughts and behaviors. Furthermore, how can I separate the negative messages received from Ed and society while working towards recovery; for what is right and true and healthy for my mind, body, and, ultimately, my life—because every minute I desperately cling to this disease the farther away life slips from my grasp.
Now, being of a semi-rational, yet well-educated mind, I know I cannot change the opinions of a society or the culture of the societal eating disorder. What I do have the power to change, however, is my internalization and reactions to the messages I receive from the societal Ed; while simultaneously fighting my own Ed in my head. I am very much a proponent of talking out my thoughts as a means to understand them. Yes, I am the girl in the grocery debating aloud over what I should buy (but that is usually me just talking back to Ed as a means to make my voice louder than hers). I have found, through my own journey to recovery, that talking back to Ed is one of the most effective tools I have learned. By countering the negative messages (and subsequent actions) of my own eating disorder using my recovery-oriented, rational mind, I have been able to put health and self-care into practice.
Here is what I mean…in dialogue version as a means to simplify things. This is a real example of an event in my life.
Woman from my family after being asked to try a bit of a dip recipe: I can’t eat that. I will have to walk an extra mile to get rid of those calories.
ED: See Rachel? The thoughts you think are irrational and eating disordered are the same thoughts that she is having. I don’t know why you go whine to your therapist every week about me “controlling” your actions. By the way, even though you didn’t eat any of the dip, you should probably walk a few miles too…just in case.
Rhea: Wow, that is a lot of negative and possibly eating disordered thinking. This woman is telling me she must walk one punitive mile to make up for her indiscretion of consuming one bite of dip. And Ed is not only agreeing with her, but trying to force their mutual viewpoint on me. THAT is the societal Ed meeting my Ed. In the past I may have agreed with them and engaged in behaviors that got me to that sick place where I was. And what good did that give me: losing friends, losing health, losing life. Seems like I lose a lot more than I gain when I chose to follow Ed’s advice.
ED: No, you’ve got me all wrong. I just want you to do what I say. That’s not being controlling, that’s me taking care of you. I’ve taken care of you for fifteen years, just let me do my job. You’re still alive aren’t you?
Rhea: Ok, Ed, if you think you are “taking care” of me, I will never ask you to watch my nephews, or, hell, even a houseplant, if that is your definition of taking care of me. You destroy everything. Where were you when I was getting my MRI because I developed arthritis at age 23 due to bone loss? Were you taking care of me then? Where were you when I was hunched over a toilet in the US Capitol building secretly purging my lunch because you told me it would calm my fears of being in an unfamiliar city? Were you taking care of me then? Ed, I could give you fifteen years of examples of how your taking care of me lead to a slow self-destruction. If this woman wants to walk a mile as her punishment for eating a bite of dip, let her. I am learning to no longer allow the unhealthy, seemingly eating disordered choices of others interfere with my recovery. I am learning to no longer be a slave to your demands.
These “conversations with Ed”, happen with relative frequency in my day to day recovery. The only way to get Ed out of your life is to talk back; she thrives on controlling you and does not anticipate objections to her demands. By talking back to Ed, you are speaking up for yourself, your recovery and your life. Do no let the societal Ed and/or your personal Ed bully you anymore. This may sound cliché, but you, yes you, are worthy of an Ed-free life. You deserve nothing less than the best…and that includes a life over which Ed (in singular or societal form) has no influence.
Stand firm, and you will win life.