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What Is The ED Voice and How Do I Shut It Up!

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What Is An ED Voice? 

The ED voice (eating disorder voice) is the toxic inner dialogue we have with ourselves regarding food choices, weight, or body image when we experience an eating disorder.

By separating the ED voice from own identity- we can create alter ego which will help us identify and dismiss the negative self-talk that comes along with an eating disorder.

For the purpose of exploration in this article- we will give the ED voice the alter ego of “ED.”

People with eating disorders often describe a voice which seems separate from their own shouting loudly and clearly when they are making choices about their body. The voice of the eating disorder allows the eating disorders tend to thrive and escalate for several reasons.

These reasons include the fact that: 

  • We take on the eating disorder as an integral part of our own identity
  • We mistake the thoughts in our head that are poured onto us from diet culture and systemic oppression as being our own original thoughts and ideas
  • We think eating disorder thoughts are unique to us.  And if we are not meeting the standards of the oppressive thinking that constructed the eating disorder thought that we are personally failing. 
  • We don’t want anyone to know that we aren’t meeting the standards of our eating disorder voice (which are ALWAYS impossible).  If our eating disorder voice says we are fat, lazy, have too big of a butt or don’t exercise enough and we tell someone what it says-they might judge us and think that too. 

Is your eating disorder telling you how fat, worthless and unlovable you are?  You are not alone!  

In fact what ED Says is that there are MILLIONS of bodies around the world that do not meet the eating disorders voice’s impossible standards.  

ED does not care what ethnicity, color, gender, body size, or financial status you hold- He makes sure you know you are inadequate. 

The only way to get rid of the eating disorder voice is NOT to try to meet its demands. Note that this will be the most attractive solution in the eyes of the eating disorder because it believes that “solving the problem” will get rid of the stress and anxiety associated with the ED voice.  

However- adhering to the EDs voice’s abusive demands will NOT shut him up! In fact- it will escalate his voice as he gets what he wants and raises the stakes even further!

We will instead explore ways to challenge where ED got his ideas in the first place, fact check EDs statements, and reveal who ED is REALLY serving in his thinking in the strategies outlined in this article. 

What The Eating Disorder Voice In Your Head Says

The eating disorder voice will use many methods of persuasion in its tone.  The eating disorder voice may present as: 

  • Promising: If you just run for 75 minutes you can have that cookie
  • Persuasive: If you’re thinner, things will get better. Life won’t be so difficult and it won’t hurt so much. 
  • Fear: If you don’t watch your calories you will be fat.  Fat people are unhealthy and unworthy of getting the best things.
  • Self-Criticism: you’re lazy and undisciplined. I can’t believe you ate that- no wonder you didn’t get an A in chem class. 
  • Translations:  If they say you look healthy- they really just mean “look how much weight you’ve put on.”
  • Denial: If I feel cold- that’s because my body was built like this.  It won’t matter if I restore my weight. 

What Does The Eating Disorder Voice In Your Head Do?

The eating disorder voice serves a lot of roles.  It’s one of our natural defense mechanisms that is uniquely designed to overshadow emotions such as grief, sadness, embarrassment, loneliness and many others. 

Instead- the eating disorder voice steps in as a one size fits all solution to silence any other type of emotion we might be experiencing.  

Think of talking with your eating disorder like being with an abusive partner- because it is. Here’s a few things you can expect the eating disorder voice to do: 

  • It demands a one on one relationship with you alone-  It tells you if you expose it- someone may try to take away what it can offer you. 
  • It thrives on isolation-It makes you believe you are the only person in the world that has ever experienced a thought like this. 
  • It has high demands- and it makes you believe if you don’t meet them that YOU have failed and are morally inferior. 
  • It will create rational steps to justify its validity. For example: Fat people have all sorts of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and aches and pains. If you eat that doughnut you will get fat.  You will never stop eating doughnuts because you don’t have control.  But if you don’t eat that doughnut right now, you won’t ever have to have chronic diseases like fat people. 
  • It demands you keep secrets- the eating disorder voice tells you that you don’t want anyone else to ever know how fat you are, lazy you are, or the ways in which you are failing. If you don’t point out what the eating disorder voice is saying to you- maybe other people won’t realize all these things about you and judge you. 

Is The Anorexia Voice Different Than The Voice Of Other Eating Disorders? 

The anorexic voice is very similar to the voice of any other type of eating disorder.  However, the dialogue specifics of the voice may be different. 

For example, the anorexia voice may focus more specifically on: 

  • Achieving the lowest possible body weight
  • Achieving restricted food intake or low body weights with success 
  • Rituals or rules around all foods
  • Appropriateness of mealtime behavior. 

It’s important to consider that while the language the ED voice specifically uses for anorexia may be different than that of binge eating disorder, orthorexia or other types of eating disorders, the translation is the same.  

The translation of the eating disorder messaging for anorexia nervosa is still saying 

  • You’re unlovable if you are not a certain body weight/shape or size
  • If you can’t meet certain standards you lack discipline and aren’t worthy
  • If you can’t restrict appropriately- it’s no wonder you can’t achieve the A grade, the job promotion, or the other task you’re working on. 

In other words- the specific phrases that ED may repeat to someone with anorexia nervosa may be different- but they likely stem from the same environmental discomfort as any other eating disorder.  The anorexic voice is trying to adhere to the same diet culture rules which will always tell us that we are not good enough and our bodies need to change. 

Eating Disorder Voice Versus Recovery Voice

Some of the main differences in the eating disorder voice versus the recovery voice are: 

  • The ED voice keeps you isolated, the recovery voice will reach out to a support network.
  • The ED voice tells you exercise must feel uncomfortable and be progressive, the recovery voice supports joyful movement.
  • The ED voice has very strict food rules, the recovery voice practices food neutrality. 
  • The ED voice is loud, the recovery voice talks with compassion
  • The ED voice is rigid, the recovery voice is fluid

It’s important to have a recovery team help you find your recovery voice! Your support network should include a doctor, a therapist and a HAES dietitian

How To Silence The Eating Disorder Voice

It might surprise you to learn that the goal of reconciling with the eating disorder voice is actually NOT to completely eliminate it altogether (in a perfect world right).  

The goal is instead to learn to recognize the eating disorder voice for what it is, an abusive partner, and reframe the eating disorder thought into something new. 

I like to think of the ED voice like a yappy annoying dog.  An untrained dog is a nuisance to be around, walk, and engage with. But if we train the dog, if we recognize when undesirable behavior is about to erupt, we can challenge it.  

Suddenly, a trained dog becomes tolerable and adaptable.  

While the ED voice is likely here to stay, learning to identify and interrupt the ED voice will: 

  • Reduce the prevalence of the ED voice
  • Give the healthy voice authority over the eating disorder voice
  • Allow us to mock and laugh at the messages the ED voice sends us
  • Gives us power and authority to take our life back from the ED voice

Give your eating disorder voice a name

Personally- I call my ED voice bitch. And sometimes I have to kick bitch out.  Your eating disorder can be Tom, Sally, Ed or whatever other alter ego helps you take the messages of the eating disorder OUT of your own personal identity. 

Giving your ED voice a name helps you identify it as an unhelpful identity outside of yourself. This helps to truly target the messages it’s trying to send you- and choose to accept or reject the messages without connecting it to your own identity.

Draw a picture of what the character of your eating disorder voice looks and feels like 

If you really think about it- your ED voice has a REAL image associated with it. Is it a dragon?  A funky looking spider?  Your childhood fear of a clown from a horror film? 

When your ED gets loud, try envisioning the avatar you have created for it!  Speak to the avatar just like you would a real person. 

Treat The ED Voice The Same As You Would An Abusive Relationship

We’ve all heard it said when it comes to abusive relationships: “why didn’t they just leave! They have all the power in the world to just walk out the door!” 

In order to leave- we have to recognize that what is happening is in fact ABUSE! Your eating disorder voice is abusive because: 

  • It isolates you from your friends and family
  • It tells you lies about how worthless you are
  • It causes you physical harm
  • Its controlling
  • It’s loud, critical and demanding

When your ED gets loud, know that it is trying to control you through abusive behavior. This can help you disconnect from its messaging and break free of its demands. 

What Strategies Have You Used to Shut The ED Voice Up? 

If your once very loud, very obnoxious eating disorder voice is now speaking in hush tones (or not at all) how did you get it this way? 

For me, I have given the eating disorder voice an alter ego, and I speak directly to it when i’m making decisions about food and my body that are uncomfortable! 

This has given me the power to choose what I want to accept or reject when it comes to toxic messages about food or my body that I might get from outside sources.  

What are some strategies you have used in breaking up with your ED voice? Drop them in the comments below!

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!