The importance of separating yourself from the eating disorder
The idea of being separate from the eating disorder is one that is incredibly helpful in understanding how the disorder works, and in fighting back against it. Jenni Schaefer talks about this concept at length in her book Life without Ed, and many clients can relate to feeling as though the eating disorder is a separate entity, an abusive partner who has taken over their lives and controls everything they do. Their actions don’t feel like their own, their personality is unrecognizable, and the values they pursue do not reflect a satisfying and fulfilling life. To think that the eating disorder and your self are the same thing only adds to feelings of shame, helplessness, and feeling out of control in your life.
As helpful as it is, many people struggle with this concept – they don’t want to fall into using the eating disorder as a scapegoat, blaming it when they act out in ways they are not proud of. However, separation does not mean absolving yourself of responsibility – it means giving credit where credit is due, and recognizing the role the eating disorder plays in one’s actions and thoughts. Think of it like a marionette. You see the doll moving, it looks so real, as if it is alive. But if we were to look up, we would see someone controlling the doll, pulling on strings to make it do their bidding. This is what the eating disorder is like – it is in control, and although you may be living out its will, you are not the one deciding what you do.
Using this tool of separation is incredibly helpful in the recovery process. It helps to alleviate some of the shame that comes from living out the eating disorder’s behaviors, and allows for a new perspective that recognizes that those choices are not coming from your true self. Separating also allows you to label what is actually happening – that’s an ED thought, that’s an ED behavior, that’s an ED value – so that you can get some space from it, and have more opportunity to make your own decisions. It gives you some of the power back, so that you can actively argue against and disobey the eating disorder, rather than feeling as though you are passively going through the motions.
Separating and labelling takes practise and patience, but it is a skill that will be invaluable in your recovery journey. It will help you reclaim yourself from the eating disorder, and minimize the role it plays in your life so that you can start making choices for yourself. You can choose to live life on your terms – you are not the eating disorder!