Your Eating Disorder Voice is communicating something. Your Healthy Voice is communicating something. Often, these “Voices” are competing with each other, but what are they really trying to say?
I often talk to clients about the “Eating Disorder Voice” and the “Healthy Voice.” Part of the treatment for an eating disorder is to make the Healthy Voice louder (bigger) while decreasing the Eating Disorder Voice.
The Eating Disorder Voice yells, “You are fat”; “You’ll get fat if you eat that”; “You don’t fit in with others because you are fat”; “You can’t eat that, you need to lose weight”; “You don’t look good in those clothes”; and on and on. What are some of the things your Eating Disorder Voice says?
This Voice can become quite loud and obnoxious and drives you to diet, to obsess about food and your body, and to engage in eating disorder behaviors such as:
• Comparing your body to others
• Comparing what you eat with what others are eating
• Keeping clothes in your closet that don’t fit with the goal that one day they will again
• Exercising too much or resisting exercise
• Dressing to hide your body
• Negative self talk when thinking about your body or about food
• Obsessing about food, weight, exercise
• Paying more attention to your body, food, etc than your relationships with yourself or others
• Chronic Dieting or thinking about dieting
• Talking about being fat
• Eating too much or not enough
• Thinking life will be better if you lose weight
• Perfectionist thinking
• Black and white thinking
The “Healthy Voice” is the part of you that doesn’t want to do the above behaviors or believe the things the Eating Disorder Voice says. However, this Voice is usually very small. My guess is it is much more difficult to recognize.
The part of you that wants to binge is the Healthy Voice. I know this is hard to grasp, but think about it like this: when you binge, you are basically telling that Eating Disorder Voice, “I will not let you starve me again. I need food and if you won’t let me eat it in peace, I will demand it!” Thus, you binge.
I know it isn’t communicating very clearly and it may be difficult to get this, especially as you are bringing that chocolate cake to your mouth with the intent to eat it all and maybe more. However, whenever you can (even if hours after the binge), try to acknowledge that this is what happened. Go further and give it kudos for doing so; this is the healthy part of you.
Keep in mind that this sequence does not need to be exclusive to those with anorexia (literal starving) but holds true for dieting or even thinking with diet mentality. Dieting is very similar to starving, as far as your body and emotions are concerned. Dieting is restriction. When foods are restricted, you crave them more because in essence, you are starving yourself of these foods. After years of dieting or even feeling bad about eating something “bad”, your emotional response is that of starvation. As far as the binge part of you is concerned, “this is the LAST time I can eat this because it is going to go away tomorrow. I better eat it all up and more before that happens.” It is the Last Meal before the diet. If you have been on this rollercoaster for years, this can be pretty intense.
Therefore, your Healthy Voice is the part of you that is binging, because it knows that dieting doesn’t work and wants you to stop.
Labeling these two parts helps you to understand what is going on. Learning to really hear what is being communicated can help you free yourself from the torture.
How about the Eating Disorder Voice; what is it trying to communicate?
To help you find out, answer these questions: What does being fat mean to you? If you get fat or if you are fat, what does that mean about you? What might happen? What if that does happen? Imagine that happening to you right now. What feelings come up?
If you lead yourself through these questions, my guess is you will come to realize that at the core is a fear of not being loved, accepted; a fear of being alone, completely without anyone.
This may stem from being told, directly or indirectly, that this was true. Imagine a mother putting her child on a diet while telling her how important it is to be thin so she will have friends. To a child, this translates to “I won’t be accepted if I am fat.” Imagine a boy/girl you liked in school telling you that you eat a lot (even indirectly). You decide no one will want you/love you if you are fat. These are just some examples I have heard from others. What is your story?
So, your Eating Disorder Voice develops to help you out! It is trying with all its might to help you be loved, accepted, in relationship with others. It wants you to be happy and it truly believes that being thin is the way to do it.
But, it isn’t.
It only drives you further from relationships, especially with yourself. After time, it can totally absorb you and keep you focused on all that isn’t important. Really feeling alone, rather than just fearing it.
Learning to hear what this part of you is trying to communicate will help you respond to what it really wants and needs. What if you knew it was saying “I am scared no one will love me.” How would you respond? What if a child said that to you? I think that Eating Disorder Voice probably is a child voice, terrified that she will never be loved, liked, and cared for.
If you only respond to the Eating Disorder Voice with what you hear “you’ll get fat if you eat that,” you won’t be giving it what it really needs. Often times, it is comfort. That part of you is scared. She just wants to be loved and is afraid she won’t be.
This week, try to identify and explore the Eating Disorder Voice and the Healthy Voice, opening up to what they are really trying to communicate. It might be easiest to do this when you are not feeling them strongly; in other words, when you are not engaged in acting out an eating disorder behavior. Write it down, journal, do art, and/or close your eyes and breathe, while asking yourself these questions: If it isn’t about food, what might it be about? What might have been happening before the eating disorder behavior happened? Imagine you feel afraid you won’t be loved. What does that part of you want to say? Let yourself feel any feelings that surface. Write them down or acknowledge them in some way.
Working with your Eating Disorder and Healthy Voice in this way will help you to respond more appropriately, with less criticism. As well, it will help the healthy part of you grow, while shrinking the eating disorder part.