This is the premise of Jenni Schaefer’s book Life Without Ed. After years seeking treatment for her eating disorder, Jenni finally found a successful approach when viewing her disorder as an abusive spouse—a man who constantly told her she was fat, she was eating too much, she wasn’t working out enough, she wasn’t trying hard enough, she wasn’t good enough, skinny enough, determined enough, etc.
As an eating disorder survivor, that really resonated with me. I’ve often described my eating disorder in my book as a monster that I constantly caved to and also a voice in my head which was a mean-spirited, venomous, skinny, horrid thing who consistently did what Jenni says her “husband Ed” (a nickname for her eating disorder) did to her.
So, what is Jenni’s best form of advice?
Divorce that bastard! Leave him in the dust! Rediscover yourself, the YOU that’s been cowering to him all these years and slap that dirtbag in the face with a Declaration of Independence. I can see why she found it so liberating.
Eating disorders destroy so much more than our skin and teeth.
I believe the exercises in the book that Jenni recommends could be really helpful to someone who is struggling to differentiate between the voice in their head and their actual desires and goals. The brain is such a smart, sneaky critter. Once it learns there is something that douses you with dopamine and gives you such rich pleasure, it takes note. Then it finds many ways (often in the form of a voice in your head, a nagging logic, that is making every effort to make you do that thing again, whatever it was that brought you such extreme pleasure) to try and trick you into thinking that is the only thing you should pursue, and nothing else can give you such a satisfying “high.” The brain does not care that this thing (which for many of us suffering is either extreme deprivation or extreme indulgence) is extremely harmful to your body, your relationships, your self-esteem, your development, your … well just about anything. Eating disorders destroy so much more than our skin and teeth.
The dialogue that Jenni consistently had with her rotten “husband,” Ed, while she was recovering, showcases this in a very powerful way. You can see the eating disorder (which is not the person) constantly trying to trick her. I envision him laying a trap in front of her. One of those old-fashioned loops on the ground that if she steps into will cinch tight on her ankle and swoop her fast and hard up into the air, upside down. At which point she will likely empty her contents because that’s exactly what her eating disorder wanted her to do.
If you can envision that voice in your own head in some manner like that—as a thing other than you that is trying to harm you—it can help to tell him (or her or it or whatever you want to view your eating disorder as) to “Back off Bozo!” Or anything else you want to scream at him as you sit down to a healthy meal, as you enjoy a leisurely, necessary day off from working out, as you curl up with a wonderful, delicious treat to watch a movie at night.
Invest in you. Keep trying. Keep getting up. Keep dusting yourself off. That’s what will really piss “Ed” off. That’s what you should commit to.
One of the most powerful takeaways from Jenni’s book, for me, was the observation she made, as I have, that often people with eating disorders are those that are perfectionists. We are usually extremely hard workers. We are dedicated, determined, disciplined. All kinds of things that make us incredibly good at hoarding, hiding, and succeeding at starving, binging, and purging.
But, this is only because we are desperately trying to obtain something we believe possible: that if we become skinny, everything will be perfect. We’ll be perfect. We’ll have perfect lives. We’ll be loved (envied if that’s what we crave), successful, happy, etc. While I’ve written many times about how hard this is to give up because it feels like giving up, Jenni finally gave me a very effective tool to fight this “give up” stigma. Jenni recommended:
Don’t try to be perfect. Strive to be persistent.
Meaning, perfection is unattainable. You will only destroy yourself trying. But, persistence—the will power to continually keep trying, keep getting up when you fall down, and keep committing to yourself—is what will really bring you all of those things you wanted: love, success, happiness. It really will. Invest in you. Keep trying. Keep getting up. Keep dusting yourself off. That’s what will really piss “Ed” off. That’s what you should commit to.
I loved that. Doesn’t that feel empowering? You can thank Jenni Schaefer for that. Thank you, Jenni, for divorcing that bastard and telling us all we can do the same. Life Without Ed is like a long talk with a good friend that finally helps you turn the corner.