Struggling Within: the Eating Disorder Voice

Woman with anorexia

Many people misunderstand anorexia. Some think that it’s a choice or that sufferers can snap out of it and be normal or healthy again. It doesn’t work that way. Others have this idea of the anorexic as a stick-thin girl with bones lining the skin. In reality, though, there are overweight, anorexic patients. But perhaps the most misunderstood struggle of sufferers is the “eating disorder voice.” Family and friends easily dismiss it. Sometimes, society ridicules it.

The Eating Disorder Voice

The “voice” isn’t something that sufferers quickly disclose because they fear being called crazy. But when patients do talk about it, they say, “A voice in my head tells me that I’m fat and ugly.” It continually reminds patients that they’re useless and unlovable because of their weight. Some describe it as a dictator who tells them not to eat this or that. It scolds them during meals or when they feel the urge to fill their plates once more. In other instances, the voice feels like a friend. It convinces them that they can’t live without the eating disorder. When they listen to the voice, it promises acceptance by society, perhaps popularity in school or on social media.

What happens is a negative, destructive inner dialogue. It damages positive self-image. It controls behavior, restricting everything related to food and weight. It spews lies. On one hand, it’s unfortunate that this happens inside the minds of anorexia patients. On the other hand, knowing this can be helpful in recovery.

Distancing from the Voice

Anorexic woman looking at her mealOne important truth that we can get from the eating disorder voice is that the sufferer is separate from their disease. Most doctors frame the illness in most counseling sessions as part of the anorexia treatment plan. Sometimes, medical practitioners tell their patients to personify the voice, even going as far as letting children illustrate and draw it. The exercise helps sufferers see that it’s not a part of them. This eventually helps them talk about their struggles with less restraint, particularly the destructive things that the voice puts in their heads.

You should be very careful with how you deal with a relative or a friend who’s suffering from the disease. For instance, don’t think of your child as willfully disobedient when they skip meals. Or don’t blame your spouse for intentionally ruining your relationship with their obsession with weight and food. Instead, you must give credit where credit is due: the disease. As a result, you extend patience, compassion, or empathy to your loved one who’s already struggling inside.

In many instances, the voice never goes away (even with years of therapy). It only becomes quiet, tucked in a tiny corner. Sometimes, it screams loud but gets drowned by the encouragement and support of family and friends. Remember that you should always be there for your loved one. Don’t give up on them. Instead, you should help them overcome their negative thoughts. If you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, you can seek the help of a professional.