“You’re fat”, “You’re disgusting”,
“You don’t deserve to eat”, “You’re worthless”
The “voices” of an eating disorder are like a never-ending dialogue that plays inside the mind of a person suffering with an eating disorder. Those voices and the cruel words they speak are with a sufferer from the minute they wake up, until the minute they fall asleep. They encourage sufferers to continue eating disorder behaviors: starvation, bingeing, purging and other dangerous methods of weight control. These behaviors can be deadly, but due to the mental aspect of eating disorders, sufferers often believe that they are healthy and essential.
Voices (as written by Colleen Thompson)
When you read about eating disorders or hear people talking about them, you usually hear about the eating disorder behaviors or the emotional issues driving them. It is not very often that you hear people talk about the voices that go along with having an eating disorder. I feel it is very important to talk about those voices because they do play a big role in maintaining the eating disorder. They convince us that we are worthless, unlovable, fat, ugly, disgusting, hopeless, and so much more. They convince us that the world would be better off without us and that we deserve to die.
Most eating disorder sufferers are too afraid to reveal to anyone that they hear voices inside their heads. In the beginning, I was afraid to tell anyone because I thought I was crazy and assumed whoever I told would feel the same way and have me locked up somewhere. I can now see that I am not crazy and many people with eating disorders do hear these voices.
It is perfectly understandable why people with eating disorders have so much trouble developing self-esteem and finding a reason to live. When you hear such negative voices constantly berating you, it is hard not to believe what they say. You can never feel good about yourself or your accomplishments because whatever you do is not good enough for those voices. They will say anything to try and convince you not to eat. They will tell you that someone so horrible does not deserve that food. If you do eat, they are screaming at you to get rid of it. They tell you that you are weak for eating and that if you do not get rid of it, you will surely become fat. They will tell you that no one will love you if you gain weight. These voices are very powerful and their ultimate goal is to destroy you.
Sometimes those voices try to fool you into believing they really are your only friend. They will convince you that you cannot live without them. They will promise you that wonderful things will happen, but only if you listen to them. They convince you that life will be so wonderful, once you have lost enough weight. Those voices will tell you that if you lose just five more pounds, then you will be happy. I used to believe those voices, but no matter how much weight I lost, those promises never came true. I was not happy and my life was not perfect. No matter what the scale said, it was never low enough. Those voices lied to me and they are lying to you.
It sometimes surprises me that we do not hear more discussions about the voices that are constantly playing inside the minds of someone suffering with an eating disorder. Those voices are often present, long before the behavioral symptoms of the eating disorder actually appeared. People need to be made aware of these voices and the power that they have, especially the people that are involved in trying to help someone that is suffering. These voices provide the person with the reasons to continue to abuse themselves in the way that they do. It is impossible for someone to destroy these voices on their own. They need help doing that, before those voices have the chance to destroy them.
How To Help
If you know someone that is suffering with an eating disorder, it is important that you do what you can to help the person free themselves from that negative dialogue they hear constantly. It can be frustrating dealing with someone that is suffering, but you need to be encouraging and supportive, and provide that person with your unconditional love.
Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do not get angry with sufferers.
- Do not assume that child sufferers are intentionally being disobedient or that adult/teen sufferers are intentionally being difficult.
- Do not imply that sufferers behaviors are ruining relationships or causing family problems; this will merely add more pressure and guilt.
- Do not imply that sufferers are intentionally behaving the way that they are behaving.
- Do remember that eating disorders are complicated mental illnesses and are not a choice.
- Do not take anything that sufferers say in a time of stress, personally.
- Do remember that in times of stress it is the eating disorder speaking which is not a rational voice.
- Do stay calm and try not to get angry.
- Do keep your voice checked and try speak clearly and calmly.
In order to help someone that is suffering, it is often necessary to break into that negative dialogue. The sufferer will benefit from hearing positive things about themselves. Attempt to highlight the parts of a sufferer’s personality that are positive and avoid focusing on the eating disorder behaviors.
Especially with younger sufferers and children, it can be beneficial to encourage them to talk about what those voices are saying and help to show them that they are inaccurate. This will also help the sufferer identify these negative voices and associate them with the illness rather than their own will. Once sufferers are able to detect and identify the eating disorder voices and thoughts, they will be better able to fight them.
It takes a long time to destroy those voices, but it can be done. It is also important for everyone suffering to know that they do have a choice about whether or not to listen to those voices. No matter what they say, you do not have to listen to them. Remember that they only lie to you and you can stand up to them. The more you do so, the weaker they become. It is not easy to go against those voices, but you do have the power within yourself to do it. You will not always succeed in standing up to them, but remain determined not to let them win. Recovery takes a long time, but one day you will be able to live the happy, healthy life that you deserve and you will be able to silence those voices forever. Here is more on challenging and changing eating disorder thoughts.
The Emily Program was founded in 1993, and is nationally recognized for their compassionate and personalized approach to eating disorder treatment and lifetime recovery. They use evidence-based treatment, and customize each person’s treatment to their individual needs. Several members of their staff actually have a personal experience with recovery. To learn more about the Emily Program and see if they are right for you, just follow the link to their website.
Eating Disorder Chat Rooms
NEDA: The Voice in Your Head
ED Bites: The Voice of ED
In Life Without Ed, author Jenni Schaefer offers suggestions and strategies for standing up to the eating disorder voices.
Updated by Tabitha Farrar and Dr. Lauren Muhlheim – 2014
Written by Colleen Thompson – 1996