By Jenni Schaefer, Senior Fellow
Ed is that unwelcome guest at holiday occasions. He inevitably shows up at each festivity, and he ruins everything. At least, that was my victim thinking many years ago. I blamed Ed, because it was easier and less scary than being accountable for myself.
Ed is not a crazy ex-boyfriend but my ex-eating disorder. In therapy, I learned to treat anorexia nervosa, which I named Ed (an acronym for “eating disorder”), like a relationship — rather than an illness or a condition. Personifying my eating disorder helped me to separate from it and to make room for the real me.
Eating Disorders are Real
No one chooses to have an eating disorder — a real, life-threatening illness — but we can make decisions along the way to get better. A key component to my healing was stepping into a place of accountability instead of blaming Ed. We can’t change Ed, but I have learned that we can change ourselves. This recovery concept is particularly helpful during the holiday season when food and weight — from Halloween candy to the Thanksgiving smorgasbord to New Year’s dieting resolutions—gain an even larger focus in our already image-obsessed culture.
Years ago, I learned that if I binged at a holiday party, I needed to stop complaining that “Ed made me do it.” Instead, I needed to gain the strength to say, “Ed told me to binge, and I agreed. I obeyed him.”
Sure, Ed tosses out deleterious suggestions, and if we agree, misery results — time and time again. But if we stop agreeing and start disobeying, we can begin to taste freedom. (No pun intended.)
Society’s Eating Disorder
Sadly, many people never achieve the level of peace with food and weight that individuals who have fully recovered from an eating disorder can ultimately experience. We live in a world that has an eating disorder — I call it “Societal Ed” — that tells us to abuse food and to loathe our bodies. Societal Ed says to eat this, not that. He says that if we just lose a few more pounds, we will get that dream job, find the perfect relationship, and most of all, finally be happy.
At my lowest weight, I had none of these things. It is a lie.
Countless “normal” eaters battle the number on the scale and struggle with some level of dysfunction related to food throughout their entire lives. This holiday season, it is time for all of us to start asking questions: What messages do we hear on television, social media, and elsewhere about our appearance? What does the billion-dollar dieting industry tell us day-to-day and especially around the New Year? Why is this industry so successful in spite of the fact that diets have a 95-98% failure rate? (We wouldn’t buy the latest iPhone with those numbers.)
Let’s stop stressing out about the milk and cookies and start thinking about the real meaning behind the season. Many of us might choose to turn to religious or spiritual perspectives. We can focus on gratitude for the year that is passing. Even if we have had one of those can’t-wait-for-this-one-to-be-over kind of years, we can still search for at least one thing to appreciate. If we can’t find anything to be grateful for, we can lower the bar: that cup of coffee this morning was really great.
Ironically, if we can shift our focus away from the food, we can begin to embrace the tasty delights of the season in a more balanced way. To be clear, “balanced” means that it is perfectly okay to have that second helping of mashed potatoes from time to time simply because they taste so good. If we fulfill our food cravings in the moment, we won’t get the urge to binge uncontrollably in the kitchen later.
Listen to Your Body This Holiday Season
Our bodies are intuitive if we listen. They tell us when and what to eat in order to maintain our ideal weight. This is the weight at which we can think clearly, have lots of energy, and experience happiness. (Note that our ideal weight has nothing to do with a clothing size.) Our bodies even tell us how much to eat by providing us with hunger and fullness cues. Young children eat intuitively like this. As we grow older, we stop listening to internal signals and turn to external ones. We eat because it is a certain time of the day or as a result of seeing an enticing image of French fries on a billboard. We binge because it is Thanksgiving and then restrict several weeks later when the ball drops in New York City.
If we choose to respond differently to Societal Ed, we don’t have to fall into this cycle time and time again. We can disagree with cultural lies and speak the truth. Instead of listening to dieting rules, we can trust our bodies. Whether we have struggled with an eating disorder or not, we can become an example to others of a positive relationship with food and weight.
When our body tells us to have a second slice of mom’s famous apple pie just because it tastes so good, we can go ahead and enjoy! If we do, we will not only find joy in the homemade pie crust (thanks, Mom), but more importantly, we will find it in the peace of the holiday season. Yes, “peace” and “holiday” can go together.
Take that, Ed.
Important note: If you are currently in recovery from an eating disorder, don’t worry about distinguishing between your own personal Ed and Societal Ed. At this point, the voices may seem to blend together. What is essential is finding your own authentic, healthy voice. Ed will try to disguise himself as this voice. Be on guard, and get the support that you need to make the separation. Never give up — it gets better!
Kick Ed out of 2020 at our Life Without Ed® Weekend Workshop January 31-February 2! Like many who have attended before, you can leave “him” in the desert!
About Senior Fellow Jenni Schaefer
A Senior Fellow with Meadows Behavioral Healthcare and an advocate for its specialty eating disorders program, The Meadows Ranch, Jenni Schaefer is a bestselling author and sought-after speaker. For more information, visit https://jennischaefer.com/