Eating disorder: Friend or Foe? – Guest Blogger

Our Guest Blogger shares her experience of recognising how the eating disorder was holding her back in life and love. 

Like a lot of people over the last 16 months or so, my holiday plans have fallen into disarray.

For context, I got married in 2019 and my husband and I planned a multi-stop trip around the US as a kind of delayed honeymoon (we got married abroad) that we were meant to take in June 2020. Obviously it wasn’t possible for us to go and we were able to shift all the various bookings to September 2021, after which point we stand to lose them, with no refund, if we can’t go. What does all this have to do with eating disorders?

Well, my thoughts about this trip have, suffice to say, oscillated and led to a recent realisation (or ‘epiphany’, one might say) that my eating disorder really isn’t my friend.

“An insightful therapist once conceptualised the eating disorder voice as representing a part of me that isn’t being heard.”

I’ve been somewhat resistant to the idea of characterising my eating disorder as an external entity or individual (although I recognise that doing so can be helpful for many people). An insightful therapist once conceptualised the eating disorder voice as representing a part of me that isn’t being heard. She explained that it will get louder and more dominant until I understand and listen to whatever that part of me is really trying to say. I have found that helpful for improving my self-knowledge and connection with myself. However, regarding my experience with this US trip, I have found it increasingly valuable to conceive of the eating disorder as somewhat of a ‘friend’ or, as it turns out, ‘foe’.

Prior to the pandemic (and, admittedly, during it), I was pretty terrified of going on this trip. Two weeks with my husband (wonderful) eating copious amounts of food and not being able to do my usual ‘binge’-‘restrict’ cycle (not so wonderful). I have had sleepless nights worrying about how I am going to feel, what I am going to end up looking like after the two weeks, and generally about how I’m going to cope. I’ve had numerous conversations with my husband about what we will eat, how to make sure we stay ‘healthy’ and not ‘overdo’ it, all in the service of that eating disorder voice that keeps telling me that two weeks in the US is the worst thing I could possibly do.

Now, as the pandemic rumbles along and international travel seems ever-more elusive, we face the not unlikely prospect of being unable to go on the trip full-stop. We planned it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, almost a big blow-out before settling down and (hopefully!) starting a family. If we don’t get to go, we will lose money and probably be unable and very reluctant to pick it up again. It’s basically a ‘now-or-never’-type scenario (or at least, a ‘now or maybe sometime in the distant future’-type scenario!).

All this has caused me to have the aforementioned epiphany about my eating disorder. If, for a moment, I conceptualise it as an external entity, then what does this entity represent? I’ve come to the realisation that it represents anything but a friend.

My eating disorder will do a little (perhaps big) dance if we don’t get to go to the US. It doesn’t want me to do anything or go anywhere; it wants me to stay at home – away from anyone who may want to just eat and enjoy life – restrict food and stay ‘skinny’. It definitely doesn’t want me to start a family, given the inevitable impact of pregnancy on my body. When my eating disorder became entrenched, it was because I (subconsciously) experienced it as a friend. In our fat-phobic, thin-obsessed society, it gave me keys to a hitherto inaccessible world. The world of skinny, ‘perfect’ people, always being complimented and being able to wear whatever I liked. For a (short) while, I felt on top of the world. Maybe there was nothing else good about me or anything else I could control in life, but I had this; I had achieved the ‘thin ideal’. Never mind that I was pretty small to begin with or that the restriction was devastating for my health, the compliments kept rolling it and I felt that I’d made it.

Cue over two years down the line and what has it turned into? A terror of taking life by the horns and enjoying every moment in case it means I have to eat ‘normally’ for an extended period of time and lose control over how my body looks and feels. It’s not a life and it’s definitely not a life that any ‘friend’ would want me to have.

I think that what may help is taking the voice to its natural end point and asking yourself,

What does it really want for me?

What kind of life will I have if I follow it down its dark path?

Is it filled with joy, love, honesty and new experiences? Or is it about order, control, deception and isolation?

If the short-lived high of being a member of ‘skinny club’ means the latter, then I’m going to say no, thank you. Eating disorder, whoever and whatever you are, you are definitely not my friend. If, by some miracle, this US trip happens then I’m going to experience it as it should be: a once-in-a-lifetime incredible opportunity that I’m so fortunate to be able to have and share with my husband. And I will tell my eating disorder, you don’t want me to live – literally or figuratively – but I choose life, so screw you.

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