Challenging EDs with Behavioral Experiments
The Eating Disorder (ED) voice in the heads of those with Anorexia Nervosa (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN), Binge Eating Disorder (BED), and Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED) is a dictator with strict rules who yells at people constantly to follow his orders, or else.
ED likes to make drastic (black or white, all or none) predictions about what will happen to you if you disobey him.
For example, if you eat X food item, don’t exercise for X time, etc., then you will immediately (overnight) gain Y pounds. His voice is commanding, scary, and believable, if you don’t have any other frame of reference.
It is easy to go along for years following his rules, not to question him, for fear of the (perceived) negative consequences.
This anxiety can hold us back from pushing ED’s limits, testing his theories, and disobeying his orders. We can live in his cage forever, not knowing if what he says is actually true.
Challenging ED with behavioral experiments, to see if what ED predicts will happen, really does happen, can be very freeing, though.
ED is not a big believer in science; he does like numbers (e.g., calories, pounds), but he manipulates them to his advantage. If we are able to show through objective, rational, data that his catastrophizing will not occur, then that can give us ammunition to fight back against ED. If we chip away at his defenses, we might find that his worldview isn’t ours.
So what are some behavioral experiments that you can design to test ED? It may be helpful to start by outlining some of his rules. Think of a typical day with ED in your head, what he tells you to do, and what will happen if you break them. Then challenge them.
Some examples are:
ED: If you eat X today, you won’t be able to fit into your pants tomorrow.
You: Eat X, try on your pants tomorrow. They fit. ED is wrong.
ED: If you don’t exercise for X time today, then you will gain Y pounds by tomorrow.
You: Rest/exercise for less time. Weigh yourself tomorrow. Scale hasn’t changed. Ed is wrong.
ED: You must only eat at certain times/intervals of the day, otherwise you will lose control.
You: Eat according to hunger, not the clock. Feel satisfied, stop eating when full. Ed is wrong.
ED: You must keep your weight at X pounds, otherwise you will never accomplish anything.
You: Your weight naturally fluctuates. You continue working on your life goals.
Ed is wrong.
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA): https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
Project HEAL: https://www.theprojectheal.org/
Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Relationship with Food a Problem?
About the Author: Heather Hower
Heather, MSW, LICSW, QCSW, ACSW has served on the Board of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) since 2013, and collaborates with her NEDA colleagues on Eating Disorder research studies, papers, and presentations. Through her position at Brown University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, she has also been collaborating with her local Rhode Island Hospital/Hasbro Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Partial Hospital, Outpatient, and Home-Based clinical programs since 2013. Heather had Anorexia Nervosa for 23 years, and has been recovered since 2012.
Her blog posts can be found at: NEDA: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog
Project HEAL: http://theprojectheal.org/blog/ Medium: https://medium.com/libertased
Jenni Schaefer: https://jennischaefer.com/blog/eating-and-body-image/recovered-eating-disorders-professionals-stigma/
You can also follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/heatherhower Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heathermeghower/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hhower
and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-hower-b60/