Eating disorders: The Eating Disorder Voice

Media reports on eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa often put a disproportionate amount of focus on the external behaviours that characterise the disorder – namely, behaviours that involve food, weight, and shape. While these three factors cause a significant amount of distress to sufferers of eating disorders, what is often not discussed are the psychological factors that set up and maintain the sufferer’s dependence on such behaviours. Dealing with this voice is vital for anorexia recovery.

Our Managing Directors, Sarah and Lydia, discuss one particularly damaging aspect of eating disorders: The Eating Disorders Voice. This is their latest clip describing what the ‘voice’ is like inside the mind of many sufferers, and how you too can challenge this ‘voice.’

BodyMatters provide a range of services including anorexia help and bulimia treatment, please contact us on 02 8078 6967

18 responses to “Eating disorders: The Eating Disorder Voice

  1. Wow great work ladies. Having recovered from an eating disorder myself I think you capture the sentiment really well. I also appreciate the strategies that you have listed. Getting rid of the voice is hard work- it takes a long time to get rid of. So the more strategies the better. Good luck, I hope people find it helpful and I hope that it is a helpful forum for other people to share strategies that work.

  2. my niece used to say that because the voice convinced her she was a bad person, she had to punish herself for this and did this through starving herself. so punishing herself became like penance and brought her relief, even though she had not done anything really bad. thanks for this clip i will retweet. i wish i had more insight into the eating disorder mind before we lost her

  3. Great video ladies! 🙂

    I am so blessed & so thankful to be in a position where the voice of my inner wisdom, the voice of my true self, or my “knowing” as i like to call it, is so much stronger than the voice of my eating disorder.

    In the beginning of my illness, the thoughts about restricting food, losing weight etc, were my own, but as my illness progressed, it was as though my mind had been taken over by some other being – the thoughts i was having no longer felt like my own, & had become angry & violent demands.
    I found this voice to be the most horrific & devastating aspect of my illness – it dictated my every move, including what i could eat, when, & how much, as well as non-food related things such as who i was allowed to speak to, what i could say, whether or not i was allowed to leave the house, & even which brand of washing-up liquid i had to use!
    If i did what my ED voice told me to – if i followed all of the rules – then the voice was fairly quiet, but if i broke one of the rules, i would be left to endure hours of torment – it was like there was someone screaming at me, hurling all sorts of vile insults at me, but they were right there inside my head, & there was nowhere for me to run.
    And so in an effort to keep the voice quiet, i continued to follow the rules, but by doing this i was allowing the voice to take over, as my own voice faded into the background.
    Often i felt as if i was cowering in a dark corner of my mind, while my ED voice raged inside of me.

    During the times when i was most entrenched in my eating disorder, & really controlled by this ED voice, i found it really helpful when my partner at the time, began to refer to “Jackie”, & the “eating disorder”.
    He knew me – the real Jackie, without the eating disorder – he knew what my hopes & dreams were, what my values were, my true personality, & he was always able to recognise when i was following an order from my ED rather than listening & acting as my true self.
    It enabled us to have a more open dialogue about my illness – i felt like he could see through my disorder to the real me, cowering in that corner, & that he understood i wan’t behaving in this way because i was selfish, or manipulative, or wanted attention (opinions which i have had directed at me while i was sick, which then only served to reinforce what my ED voice was already telling me). He could see that it was my ED that was causing me to behave in that way, & not because i was a “bad” person.

    Further into my recovery, i read the book “Biting The Hand That Starves You” by Richard Maisel, David Epston, and Ali Borden, & it was after reading that i felt truly empowered to take on my ED voice in battle.
    It again encourages the seperation of the sufferer from their ED voice, & invites family & friends to band together with the sufferer so they may fight the illness together.
    It allows for people to become angry with the disorder itself, rather than the sufferer, to offer love to the sufferer, whilst still being able to express hate for the illness.
    After reading the book, i shared these ideas with my treatment team, who have been working with me in this me VS ‘neg’ (as i came to name my ED voice) format, & it has seen me move ahead in leaps & bounds.
    I definitely reccommend trying to name & seperate the disorder from the sufferer, & reading “Biting The Hand….”.

    I think this is one aspect of the illness that a lot of people just don’t understand (& how could anyone expect them to, if they haven’t experienced it?), but it was definitely the most traumatic aspect of my illness. The physicalities were nothing in comparison to what was going on in my mind – so thankful to be in a different place now!

    Apologies for such a long response, but i feel that learning how to seperate myself from the ED voice, was probably the most powerful technique which i have used in my recovery, so i’m always keen to talk about it!

    Once again, great video ladies 🙂

  4. I heart you two! Sage advice from two women who know.

    I challenge the ED voice with ‘reality checks’ – being in a public place is something I find really helps.

    Asking questions in response to the ED voice such as:

    ‘Is that true?’

    ‘How many women can I see here who actually look like the models in magazines?’

    ‘Does my body shape really define my relationships/success in life/self-worth?’

    ‘Is it really possible that only people with a body type that represents a tiny proportion of the amazing diversity in human body shapes can truly be happy and fulfilled?’

    – these questions (if I answer them sensibly and honestly!) really help to keep me on track and level.

    Reminding myself of all the energy, pain, shame and years I’ve devoted to listening to these ‘cons’ (what a great name!) and asking myself whether I want to waste any more time on them (instead of devoting my energy to other things that bring me joy and intrinsic fulfillment) helps too.


  5. @Alex

    Hi Alex, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and support…Sarah & I are so sorry to hear about the loss of your niece.

    We both really appreciate you explaining the link between feelings of worthlessness and the need to punish oneself – we think this is one of the hardest things for carers of sufferers to grasp- that is, how punishing oneself can possibly be the morally ‘right’ thing to do, given all the destruction that accompanies it.

    Sarah and I will be posting more youtube clips soon to try and debunk myths surrounding eating disorders and body shame.

    Thanks again for your feedback – hopefully together we can all contribute to better understanding amongst carers and health professionals so sufferers can get the help and understanding they need, sooner. much love xo

  6. @Jackie@Tania

    Jackie and Tania, thank you so much for your support of the clip- and more importantly for your courageous and invaluable comments in relation to things that you find/found helpful to reduce the intensity of the ED voice.

    Having the names of great resources- such as “Biting the Hand that Starves You”, the reiteration of the importance of externalizing the ED voice, and some skills around questioning and gently challenging that voice is *so* helpful for people who are in the midst of an ED. We really hope (and trust) that people suffering from EDs will read your comments here and be inspired to continue persevering with quieting that constant, tormenting noise that we know as the ED.

    Thank you both, a million times!

  7. great video. 🙂 explained it much better than i’ve ever been able to. i really like how you said that it’s not something that can easily be ‘turned off’, cause so many people don’t understand that you can’t ‘just ignore it’ or ‘switch it off’ especially when someone is in the grasp of an ED.

  8. Well put girls. I am all for empowering and giving tools to those who suffer and educating others and you did that so well. Another tool I have found helpful is questioning the thoughts especially if they are constant and nagging. The one I… have found that personally worked for me and I still use it even though I now dont suffer from E.D is to ask myself what am I getting out of it (the nagging thought),it takes some thinking but usually it gives me the answer and I can then move forward. Ps you both look gorgeous..seems like ages since Ive seen you both :0)

  9. Interesting video – I had heard it said a few times that “voices” were often involved in this condition, but I hadn’t previously heard anyone actually articulate the content of those voices, so thanks for that!

    There seems to me be an… interesting contrast between the first two strategies you describe – (a) seems to externalise the voice in order to limit its authority, whilst (b) seems to internalise the voice in order to limit its authority. Very intriguing …

  10. Hi Lydia and Sarah, I just wanted to say that I just watched this and thought it was so great that you both made this video. You are doing amazing, and much needed work in this field, and education is vital not only for sufferer’s, but also the loved ones who want so desperately to understand. Thank you!

  11. Hi,
    I wanted to respond to what Jackie said last year. I’ve recently read the book ‘Biting the Hand that Starves You’, and found it incredibly helpful too, in trying to separate my own thoughts from the ED voice. I write down what the voice tells me, then I can look at it and try to see if it is a deception and figure out why it would want me to believe that. For example if it tells me that I am weak and pathetic for eating, and that no-one will respect me, then it wants me to feel bad about myself so that I will have to prove myself by becoming thinner and more ‘in control’. I’m also trying to remind myself that it is trying to destroy me, not make me stronger, so I can’t trust the voice. I don’t want to be controlled by this voice – it steals the joy from life.

    I also find it helpful to stop and notice when it is twisting people’s words. It tries to undermine my support team. I’m trying to check if my interpretation of people’s words fits with what I know of them.

    My last tip is to take small steps, and build up from there. I try to sometimes disobey the voice, and it is getting easier over time to disobey more often, although some days are better than others. I don’t think it is helpful to try to be perfect at disobeying, because this leads to feelings of failure. The perfection/failure thing plays into the hands of the ED voice.

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