*Content Warning: brief mention of disordered eating and specific foods.
Over the last 4 years, I have talked about personifying Eating Disorders as a way to separate the person from the illness. I have talked about Ed as this mean, manipulative, lying jerk. I have used phrases like “kick Ed’s ass”, “break up with Ed”, “Ed is a toxic best friend or a toxic partner”.
I have been looking at recovery through the lens of Ed being an equal; someone you can fight against and win. Recovery is a battle and you are the warrior.
This is a narrative I have heard so often when it comes to recovery and to relapse.
And it occurred to me, if I am questioning the narratives around who struggles with ED, what makes a person sick enough for treatment, and how weight stigma erases lived experience … then I can question the Eating Disorder Warrior Narrative.
What if I have it all backwards? What if fighting against the Eating Disorder only makes things worse?
I recently asked a friend what she was most afraid of as she was heading into treatment. She said:
“Finally giving up ED and not knowing what it is that replaces that. It’s ED that’s terrified.”
My immediate instinct was to wish her well and to remind her that she could totally kick Ed’s ass. I wanted to give some encouragement about Ed not being needed. Screw Ed. Ed is an asshole.
That’s when a light switch went on.
My reply to her was as follows:
“Maybe we’ve been going about it all wrong. Maybe that’s not the right approach. This whole idea that ED is mean and sneaky and lies and is manipulative makes it feel like ED is this grown up monster we can break up from. But maybe it’s not like that … Maybe ED is the small child inside of us who didn’t get what she needed. Who didn’t know how to cope so she developed these maladaptive behaviours. Maybe ED isn’t a separate part of us. Maybe ED is our inner child who continues to perpetuate thoughts and behaviours because that child didn’t learn healthy ways to deal with or to cope with emotions or challenging situations, or thoughts.”
That thought changed the whole way I want to approach recovery.
A great deal of time is spent talking about practicing self-compassion, being kind to your inner child, healing your inner child, listening to your inner child. …. well what if Ed IS that inner child. If so, then Ed needs compassion and kindness in order to heal, not a battle at all. That makes us nurturers. Not warriors.
This idea opens up new ways to engage with the Eating Disorder.
I wouldn’t refuse to feed a child breakfast. I wouldn’t force a child to over-exercise because she had a slice of cake on her birthday. I wouldn’t punish a child for eating until she was so full that she was sick. I wouldn’t allow a child to only live on apples and rice cakes. I wouldn’t allow a child to eat cookies as breakfast every day for a month. And if she did, I wouldn’t tell her that she ruined her entire life because of those cookies.
When a child messes up, we call it a mistake. When it’s an adult, we call it failure.
What if there IS no failure in recovery? What if there is only opportunities for learning and growing? What if the process of recovery is a process of raising your inner child the way you wish you had been raised? Or the way you needed to be raised?
Ed, the child, needs to be held closely during the recovery process. Children need gentle and firm encouragement to do hard and scary things. They need high fives, genuine praise, the right to make mistakes, gentle redirection, and a lot of hugs. Ed the child can learn to have a different relationship with food and eating, because she is just a child and the things she does are just the things she learned.
It’s time for Ed the child to be nurtured, by you, so that she can grow up and learn the healthful skills she needs to move out on her own, separate from us. Or to integrate that child-self into the adult-self.
Maybe recovery isn’t a battle. Maybe we are not warriors at all. Maybe recovery is the process of teaching Ed the child, that she is loved, worthy, deserving, and capable of nourishment in every capacity possible.
Art by Fox Tales Art