Saying “No” to ED through Journaling and My Support System
I remember the day I started to see the eating disorder (ED) as separate from myself. I was at an appointment with my therapist, and I was regressing from treatment. What seemed as a last resort, my therapist asked me,
“Do you really want to look like that?” Feeling extremely frustrated, I thought she would know, and should know, that I did not want to look like that, and I did not want to be the way I was, which is why I was in treatment. I responded, “No matter what I want, I still have these self-hating and ridiculing thoughts every time I eat. I can’t shake them off!”
With a deep stare, my doctor said, “That is ED’s voice. Whenever you hear ED’s thoughts telling you not to eat, telling you to feel ugly, telling you that your value is solely equated to how you look, you say ‘no’ and you do the exact opposite. If ED is telling you not to eat the food, you say ‘no’ and you eat the nourishing food. If ED is telling you to feel ugly afterwards, you say ‘No. I am going to feel great and beautiful.’
If ED is telling you that your value is solely based on your appearance, you say ‘no’ and that ‘I am valuable no matter what I look like.’”
Upon hearing my doctor’s words, something clicked; my feelings of frustration and hopelessness stood frozen in time. I wondered if I had internalized stigma around eating disorders, as I now began to see the disorder as something very real, although invisible. Driving home from that appointment with my mom, I felt a sense of hope, that maybe, I can finally get better. To help with the process of identifying ED’s voice and challenging ED by doing the opposite, my doctor told me to write down my thoughts before and after I ate. Initially, I thought the practice to be a hassle; I never really wrote before and usually my journal entries remained the same. One morning before lunch I wrote, “I feel horrible” and after lunch I wrote, “I still feel horrible” Journaling seemed pointless, until my doctor’s words, ‘that is ED’s voice,’ came to mind. I remembered that ED was making me feel horrible, and I remembered how I must say ‘no’ and do the opposite. Seeing my thoughts on paper and being able to clearly point out ED’s voice helped me separate myself from the disorder.
This detachment from ED opened up an infinite space for healing thoughts to grow. By writing self-loving, positive affirmations in opposition to ED’s thoughts, I not only felt motivated to commit to my treatment, but I also felt like I was transforming my identity into who I wanted to be—one who is body-positive, compassionate, and free of ED.
As it became easier to battle ED when I journaled, it was still a process for me to identify ED’s thoughts and reject them when I put my journal away and ate. One day in my recovery, my mom gave me a snack. This was early in my diagnosis, and I didn’t know how to identify ED’s voice yet. I had many conflicting thoughts and anxious feelings when I saw the food as this was strictly a ‘no’ food—as if ED had a designated menu of ‘safe’ foods for me to eat, and eating anything other than those foods would result in an emotional breakdown or panic attack. My mom was waiting for me with the snack my ED forbid. I was absorbed in ED’s swirling thoughts and feeling overwhelmed and stuck. I took a sip and set it back down on the counter, thinking that it would suffice and I could sneak back up to my room, but then my mom just stopped and stared at me. She said, “Angie, say ‘no’ to those voices in your head!” Her voice brought me out of my tunnel-vision and into reality. She kept going, “I could see your tiny fingers shaking and I could tell that you’re hungry, baby, say ‘no’ to those voices!”
I noticed my mom was crying, and time stood still. I never once thought about how ED affected someone besides myself, and for the first time, I saw how ED affected my mother. In her penetrating stare and forceful voice, she knew that ED was dictating my thoughts. She was scared, but ready to fight with me. My mother’s ability to see the disorder when I was too wrapped up in ED’s thoughts, and having her remind me that I can gain back my identity and control if I say ‘no’ just this once and hopefully say ‘no’ again in the future and to keep trying, motivated me to continue drinking and nourish myself. And I remember it tasting so good and thick and velvety and sweet. My mother sat with me for each meal and helped me overcome ED’s thoughts. This meant so much when I was struggling.
As ED robbed me of self-love and self-identity, having someone who truly knew all of me and was able to see me amid this disorder was transformative. Her presence and unconditional love helped me reject ED’s thoughts and navigate a long-lasting recovery.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ANGIE MENEFEE
Angie is a graduate student at North Central College studying Liberal Arts with a concentration in Writing, Editing, and Publishing. She also serves as a Graduate Assistant at the college, working with the department of development to write grant proposals for funding. Combining her joy for writing and her passion for wellness, she hopes to become a grant writer for an organization with a mental health cause after she graduates, as it would be meaningful to help fund projects that support healing and individuals living with a mental illness.