As a therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland, specializing in helping teens and adults struggling with eating disorders and body image issues, I help my clients to start to separate out their “eating disorder self,” from their “healthy self.”
For instance, we might start to notice things that the “eating disorder self” is telling them and then practice responding from “the healthy self.”
Eating disorder self: You can’t eat that pizza, it’s so bad for you. You don't deserve to eat it.
Healthy self: I always deserve to nourish myself with food that I enjoy. Food isn’t good or bad. All foods can fit in a healthy diet.
I help clients to recognize what the “eating disorder self” is telling them, and then take actions that are more in alignment with their “healthy self.” This becomes easier with time and practice and over-time the “healthy self” voice and habits can become more automatic. One of the goals of therapy is to strengthen “the healthy self” to take over the job of the “eating disorder self.”
Eating Disorder Sunglasses
The other day I was in a session with a client, when she came up with a brilliant analogy (which she gave me permission to share), called “eating disorder sunglasses.”
When people are struggling more intensely with eating disorder thoughts, their perception of reality (and of their past struggle) may be very skewed by the eating disorder. It’s as if they are viewing things through a pair of “eating disorder sunglasses.” Through therapy we can slowly work to take the sunglasses off, so that they can start to view things in a healthier way.
Sometimes people in recovery may look back on when they were deep in their eating disorder through a pair of “rose colored eating disorder sunglasses.” For instance, “the eating disorder self” may try to convince them that “it wasn’t that bad” or even that things “were a lot better” when they were intensely struggling with their eating disorder.
However, the reality is that generally people who are struggling with eating disorders feel miserable. While eating disorder behaviors, may give people a feeling of temporarily relief, comfort, or a false “sense of control,” in the long-run they only serve to bury the underlying issues and make then feel even worse.
Like an abusive partner, the "eating disorder self" paints this rosy picture to try to regain it's control over you. However, you don't have to listen and agree with what it says.
If you are struggling with taking off your “eating disorder sunglasses,” here are a few brief exercises that you can do.
1. Make a list of what your life could look like 5 years from now if you stay trapped in your eating disorder vs. if you fully recover.
2. Write a pro/con chart of acting on eating disorder behaviors (this is a dialectical behavioral therapy skill).
- People use eating disorder behaviors because they are serving some (very valid) needs.
- Through therapy we work to uncover the function of the behaviors and find some healthier ways to meet those needs.
- Make a list of the “pros” and “cons” of acting on eating disorder behaviors.
- Then next to eat “pro” and “con” write down whether it is short-term or long-term.
- Typically eating disorder behaviors provide temporary relief, and long-term misery.
- This chart will help you to explore this further.
3. Create a list of your true values vs. the values of “the eating disorder self.”
- Explore how the values of “the eating disorder self,” take you away from your true-life values and passions.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or a difficult relationship to food, it’s so important that you seek help from professionals. Seeking help is a sign of true strength, not weakness.
The teens and adults that I work with who are in recovery from eating disorders are some of the strongest, most intelligent, and compassionate people, that I know. People with eating disorders have so many strengths, which they can use to help them along in their recovery process
No one chooses to have an eating disorder; however, you can make the choice to start your recovery journey. With access to treatment and support, full recovery from eating disorders is possible!
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping adolescents and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, and body image issues. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, accessible to individuals in Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Germantown, and Washington D.C. Connect with Jennifer through her website: www.jenniferrollin.com