by Tasha Castor, MSEd., LPC
By now, you’ve probably heard an eating disorder referred to as “Ed.” The term became popular in 2003 when author and eating disorder survivor, Jenni Schaefer, teamed with psychotherapist Thom Rutledge, LCSW to write the book, “Life Without Ed.” Schaefer named her eating disorder (Ed), which gave it a personality, and helped her separate from the disease that could’ve killed her.
Since then, thousands of people have embraced this personalization and expanded it to meet their own needs. When parents and loved ones ask me what is going on in the head of someone with an eating disorder, I often use this personalization of “Ed.” I explain to them that he is noisy, relentless, and verbally abusive.
I tell them that Ed is THAT friend – the one who uses you. He lures you in to restricting or purging, promising thinness, and tells you that he is always here for you. He tells you that no one understands you like he does, and no one can separate the two of you. However, the next thing you know, the malnutrition kicks in, and you must eat in order to survive. Despite the fact that Ed is badgering you (more on this later), you “give in.” You either binge or lose all energy, and Ed tells you that you’re weak and worthless. He ditches you.
What you don’t realize is that Ed was never your friend in the first place, and would’ve ditched you eventually no matter what.
When Ed is screaming in someone’s head, it can wear her out mentally. Ed isn’t just shouting rules like, “Don’t eat this!” He’s also talking in adjectives: “You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re stupid. You’re weak.” Not only are these obviously (inaccurate) judgments; Ed is leaving out two major parts of speech: nouns and verbs. Try telling Ed, “I’m a sister,” or “I can do calculus even though I’m only a junior in high school.” Ed has no logical responses to that. He’ll come back with, “You’re lazy,” or something equally off-topic.
The other way Ed talks is in extremes. In the therapy world, we call it black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking. If you hear the words “always,” “never,” “worst,” or “least,” that’s Ed talking. One of the key components to eating disorders therapy work is challenging this type of thinking. With proper nutrition and an awareness of Ed’s dysfunctional thinking, our clients have the energy and intelligence to fight back against Ed and eventually defeat him.