The Inner Voice of an Eating Disorder
Time and time again, in working with those who have an eating disorder I have found that most of them also have an “inner voice”. This is no ordinary inner voice that one might relate to as being one’s “conscience” to do good and stay away from bad. This is an inner voice that has been described by my clients as “the devil” or “drill sergeant.”
Now let me begin by explaining something very important. In the majority of cases, these voices are not symptoms of a psychotic break or any type of schizophrenia, unless that person has already been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder and the eating disorder is something in addition to that diagnosis. The inner voice which those with eating disorders refer to is what helps play a crucial role in the development of an eating disorder and also what maintains disordered eating and all that comes along with it- much more than just food.
The Inner Voice of an Eating Disorder
I wanted to take some time to educate parents or those concerned about someone who has an eating disorder. In the event that one of you reading this right now is a sufferer of an eating disorder I want to also educate you and let you know one thing- you are not alone in this. Many people with disordered eating have this inner voice, and it starts way before any visible signs.
The voice has many roles in perpetuating an eating disorder. The voice may serve as a coach to help instruct ways in which to restrict food intake or congratulate a job well done to the individual who has purged three times that day. The voice may serve as drill sergeant who is very demanding and unrelenting until the voice is “satisfied”, if you will, by the harmful actions taken by the individual. Some have told me it feels like there is literally a “devil inside” that tells them to do bad things to do and tells them that they are unworthy of life itself….
Research has shown that this self-talk, a.k.a- “voice” of an individual with an eating disorder can predict the severity of the eating disorder itself. The voice is often contradictory and full of broken and misleading promises. For instance, it is common in more severe cases that the self-talk promises to remove pain and suffering but by pushing the eating disorder and ruminating thoughts into high gear making it almost impossible to do anything but cave into the negative thoughts and harming behaviors. Contradictory, right?
Often times the voice can be heard as another identity- not one of her own, but with a different tone of voice all together. Other times the voice can be the individuals voice exactly. When the voices become enmeshed, the severity of an eating can increase. It is no longer “someone else” telling that person what to think, how to act, and what to look like; but it is her own voice and therefore so much more difficult to defend.
There is a fear of being separated from this voice in that there is much direction, instruction and reliance on the voice to determine the person’s self-worth (or lack thereof). The more preoccupation with food, the more negative self-talk. The more negative self-talk, the lower one’s identity becomes and self-worth plummets. The more one’s identity and self-worth plummets, the more preoccupation on food. It comes full circle and each round turns more and more into a cyclone of feeling out of control. This voice essentially is the power behind the eating disorder.
Common Roles of an Inner Voice:
Promises– “If I’m thinner, more people will accept me”
Self-Abuse– “I’m pathetic and useless”- could also include physical acts of self harm like cutting, burning, scratching, picking, and bruising.
Pride– “I can fit into a size 0!” “I am strong enough to skip lunch” “Hearing my stomach growl is a sign of weakness”
Comparisons– “She’s so naturally thin. Why can’t I be like that?”
Self-punishment– “I’ve failed to restrict enough today. I must exercise twice as much.”
So you see, eating disorders are not just about food. Eating disorders are extremely complex and so deeply intertwined in one’s identity. Perceptions are skewed, body image is way beyond distorted, truths are rejected, and the negative self-talk is ruler in this disorder.
I’ve only scratched the surface. I will continue to write more on eating disorders, the various origins, contributions, and treatment interventions. If you can take away anything from this blog, know that you are not alone, and yes, you DO have a choice in how to respond to that voice, and how to cope with and overcome the constant negative self-talk. It just takes acknowledgement and the opportunity to seek professional help to overcome this and reclaim your life.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, whether it be anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating/overeating, I am here to help you. You do not have to do this alone.
Katie Porter, M.A., LPC 832-298-6356