How to get better when it doesn’t feel right
The two arguing voices
If you have an eating disorder, you know what I mean when I say “the two voices in your head”. A part of you, one voice, wants to get better and a part of you, the other voice, wants to stay sick (or get even more sick). If you’re here looking for help, the eating disorder side is probably winning a lot more than the other, and that is OK. Most of the people I help start that way. Still, this is such a painful and confusing place to be. Let me start by saying that there is hope. There are therapeutic ways to strengthen that healthy voice so it wins more often, but before we get there, let’s talk about the differences between the two voices so you can tell them apart.
What the healthy voice sounds like
The healthy voice is the one that talks about wanting to get better and is tired of the constant anxiety, worrying, obsessing about food all the time, hating your body, panic attacks, and depression. That healthy side of the brain wants to break free of the eating disorder and change! It is begging for support, guidance, education, and recovery. If a voice wants anything besides the eating disorder, it is part of that healthy “you”.
What the eating disorder voice says about recovery
The other side to your thinking is the part that warns you about what awful things could happen if you change and break the cycle. If you think a healthy thought, and you hear something chime back with “you shouldn’t do that recovery thing!”, it is probably your eating disorder voice. Here 5 common examples of what an eating disorder voice says to my clients when they are working on their recovery:
- If you get better, you will lose all self-control.
- I want to get better but recovery will cause you to hate yourself even more.
- Dropping your eating disorder will make you more depressed or anxious.
- If you try to recover you will fail at recovery and your eating disorder on top of it.
- You will lose your “best friend” (the eating disorder itself) if you actually get better.
Why your fears about recovery matter
Having talked to hundreds of people with eating disorders, and their loved ones, I know about what the eating disorder voice says to them and why they don’t want to get better. The list I just mentioned is only the tip of the iceberg, but I believe it starts one of the most important discussions I have with my clients in therapy: Why don’t you want to get better? That’s right! I want to know why you don’t want to recover and I want to talk about it with you!. As weird as it might seem to have a therapist asking about what discourages your motivation for change, talking about these concerns is actually very important. In fact, cheerleading you to change without discussing why they don’t want to will lead you to hide your true thoughts.
How I can help you
Together, let’s look at what the eating disorder voice said in example #2: “I want to get better but recovery will cause you to hate yourself even more”. First, it is not a hopeless situation if you think this way. If you shared this thought from your eating disorder voice with me in a session, here is what I would say back:
- Do you think there is any other way to judge yourself besides the way you look?
- When someone in your life gains a pound, do you suddenly love them less?
- When someone in your life loses a pound, do you suddenly love them more?
- If we picked one person in your life that you love and care about, what are the top 3 reasons you care about them? Why isn’t their body on that list?
The start of change
The answers to these questions are usually the start of a powerful discussion in therapy and can lead to a serious change in what you believe about yourself.
- Maybe your body isn’t the most important thing about you.
- Maybe you are more than the way you look.
- Maybe you can be the person you really want to be.
No more shame about back-and-forth motivation
Let’s rewind the discussion back to the start: what if we never talked about why you didn’t want to get better because you thought it wasn’t OK to bring those thoughts up in therapy? What if you felt that the only place to start in therapy was to lie and make it sound like you only wanted recovery? Think about it! We would never have discussed any of the important things your eating disorder voice said.
Walking a mile in my client’s shoes
I always try to take my client’s perspective in therapy. If I went to a therapist’s office and was given advice, I would have to believe in what they’re telling me to do or I won’t change. It’s just that simple. This is especially true if this advice giver is asking me to do something difficult or extremely painful! If I have concerns about their guidance, but I am trying to be polite, I may act like I am going to listen to them on the outside, but once the conversation with them is over I am going to do whatever I really believe in.
This is why it is so important to discuss what you really think about the recovery process in therapy. If I know where your head really is because I know what your eating disorder voice is saying, I can help your healthy voice come up with stronger responses to challenge the other side.