How to Separate Yourself from Your Eating Disorder
Written in partnership with Thom Rutledge
Thom Rutledge, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, author, speaker, and workshop facilitator based in Nashville, Tennessee. He wrote Life without Ed (with co-author Jenni Schaefer), as well as Embracing Fear, The Self-Forgiveness Handbook, The Greater Possibilities, and others. Learn more about Thom and his work at thomrutledge.com, and find him on Facebook and Instagram.
If there were an eating disorder canon, Jenni Schaefer and Thom Rutledge’s Life Without Ed would surely be in it. We see the bestseller often and with praise in reading lists and recovery stories, its lessons evoked whenever we refer to the eating disorder’s “voice.” The book demonstrates how to view your eating disorder, “Ed,” as an entity with its own values, interests, and beliefs. There is Ed, and then there is you.
“Ed,” of course, is a metaphor here, a tool for personifying your disorder and externalizing its urges. Some know it as “Eddie,” “Edith,” or “Edie Disorder,” others as a “demon,” “monster,” “bully,” or “gremlin.” By any such name, the eating disorder is a symbolic other. Conceptualizing it as a distinct being allows you to separate yourself from it. In wedging distance from Ed, you make space to examine its messages in light of your own beliefs, values, and dreams. You distance yourself from the thoughts and urges that feel so automatic, and make clearer the choice you have in recovery. Whose voice will you follow: yours or Ed’s?
Here Thom shares two exercises to help you separate yourself from your eating disorder. Approach them with an open mind, setting aside whatever reservations you (or Ed) may have.
Dialogue with Ed
1. Write down 3-5 “Ed messages,” or messages you “hear” as coming from your eating disorder. Each message must be written in the second person (“you”), with your name preceding each. The pronoun change from “I” to “you” is essential to creating the experience of separation.
- If I hear “I’m silly and selfish to be worried about food when the world has bigger problems,” I’d write “Thom, you’re silly and selfish to be worried about food when the world has bigger problems.”
- If I hear “I better eat all of this food now before it’s gone,” I’d write “Thom, you better eat all of this food now before it’s gone.”
- If I hear “I don’t need to eat because I haven’t exercised in days,” I’d write “Thom, you don’t need to eat because you haven’t exercised in days.”
2. Next, write a counter message for the Ed messages you recorded above. How do you respond to each of Ed’s lines? Address your replies to Ed itself (or “Eddie,” or however you refer to your eating disorder).
- Ed: Thom, you’re silly and selfish to be worried about food when the world has bigger problems.
- Thom: True, there is a lot of pain and unease in the world right now. But why would that erase my struggle? Why are we comparing these things?
- Ed: Thom, you better eat all of this food now before it’s gone.
- Thom: I know you think that’s a good idea—you always think that’s a good idea.
- Ed: Thom, you don’t need to eat because you haven’t exercised in weeks.
- Thom: I need to eat regardless of how active or productive I am.
Your responses to Ed may not be explosive, confident comebacks—that’s fine. At times, in fact, you may actually find yourself agreeing with Ed. The objective of this exercise is simply to separate yourself from that voice. In identifying and labeling Ed’s thoughts and values, you see that you own a part of the dialogue as well.
In case you have not noticed, “Ed” has an entirely different value system than you do. Drastically different.
1. Write down the five (5) most important things to you in life. Just spend a couple of minutes with that short list, considering how you feel about each item.
Then, imagine Ed to be a completely separate entity from you. Ed is not you, but instead someone who lives to control you—to control your behaviors and your thoughts about yourself, especially in regard to food and exercise.
2. Write down what is most important to your eating disorder.
3. Compare your lists.
You have a very important choice to make each day: Am I going to be the best version of myself or am I going to leave the door open for Ed to come back in and be the best version of himself?