Goodbye Ed: Why I Don’t Call My Eating Disorder “Ed” (Anymore)

In 2006, I entered treatment for the first time. I also read Jenni Schaefer’s book Life Without Ed. She externalizes and personifies her eating disorder as, “Ed,” on par to an abusive husband who she has since divorced.

At the time, externalizing my eating disorder was helpful because up until that point, I was convinced that my eating disorder was, actually, me. When I read it, Life Without Ed changed the way I understood my eating disorder. I learned that I could survive the loss of my eating disorder. That was a profound realization for me. When losing my eating disorder felt like part of me had died, and I didn’t know if I could pick up the pieces again, I had this: “Life without Ed is waiting for you/ Be strong keep the faith and you’ll see it coming true/… You can believe in life without Ed.”

I am not the only one who found comfort in Life Without Ed. During both of my stints in residential treatment, conversations were peppered with “Ed” lingo.

“Ed was really chatty today.”

“Ed was driving me crazy. I told him to go home.”

People in treatment would applaud and mmhmmmm. Head shake. Yeah Ed that jackass. He’s the worst. 

I used that language too. I found this from one of my 2010 journal entries: “Ed has been my horrible husband for the last few years, and when I feel so bitter and angry, I come running back to him, abusive as he is, because he’s familiar and comfortable.”

Phrases like, “It’s not you I’m mad at, it’s Ed,” or, “Tell Ed to shut up,” were comforting to me at the time. Besides, to be honest, if you don’t drink the “Ed” Kool Aid, residential treatment can be a menacing nightmare. It is a pseudo-expectation that if you are in treatment, you will call your eating disorder “Ed” at some point. Ed is common treatment vernacular, the metaphorical elephant in the room.

Since I left treatment for the last time, the seasons have come and gone and the roller coast of life has continued. As I morphed and grew, I said goodbye to Ed, but in a different way. I have stopped calling my eating disorder “Ed,” or by any other name, for that matter.

That has been my own personal choice, and I don’t have anything against people calling their eating disorder by a name. Similar to this eloquent blogger, I am just trying to open the conversation up.

I don’t think that “Ed”ing your way through recovery is the only way. 

There are some great reasons to externalize the eating disorder (ED) voice. But I am just going to say it: it is possible to go Ed-less. In this post, I am going to delineate some of the reasons that I have chosen life without the term Ed:

1. Because reducing my eating disorder to something outside of me does not take into effect that eating disorders are complicated diseases. What most worries me about the term “Ed” is that it has the potential for simplicity and reductionism. The whole of something cannot be reduced to the sum of its parts. An eating disorder is more than what the ED voice says. If it was only about telling Ed to shut the hell up, you might think that recovery would be easier. I recently donated my blood to support genetic eating disorder research. Why? Because, research wise, we know relatively little about eating disorders. Externalizing an ED may be helpful to sufferers but it is a shortcut, a heuristic. It may help someone for a period of time, and if it does, great, but “Ed” is a tool, not a solution. Pat answers to complex questions can be harmful if taken at face-value.

2. Because my eating disorder is a part of me. One of my favorite recovery books is Gaining by Aimee Liu (read it, seriously). In it, she interviews people who recovered from eating disorders decades ago, but she notices in them (and in herself) personality characteristics and other similarities to the ED that linger. I may not hear eating disorder thoughts for the rest of my life, nor will I give in to urges, but I believe that my eating disorder will always be a part of me in some capacity. In recovery, I have had to discover the scared, fearful voice inside and honor that voice. If my eating disorder thoughts are loud, I have to ask: Why? What is going on right now? Instead of screaming “ED I’M DIVORCING YOU” at the time of my lungs when an ED thought hits, I am now more likely to listen to what my internal voice is telling me and ask what I’m feeling and why.

3. Because the concept is a little strange. I get why people do it. Like I said, I myself called my eating disorder “Ed” for a while. But… can we for 2 seconds think that there might be down sides to using “Ed”? I mean, to state the obvious, my ED voice is not a person. It’s not like I’m living with this asshole named Ed against whom I can file a restraining order, you know? For me, the idea of an abusive guy (or girl, whatever) in my head is not appealing at this point in my life. I’ve dated enough asshole guys, so why would I make up a nonexistent one and be in a pretend bad relationship with him? I am doing fine on my own, thanks. Also, could the term be demeaning to people who have undergone abuse or domestic violence? Could it be re-traumatizing even?

4. Because, quite frankly, calling my eating disorder “Ed” can be a cop out. “Ed was talking so loud” is a common sentiment you hear in treatment. Or even, “Ed was getting really worked up when you said x yesterday.” Is saying something like that helpful? What about, “I was feeling really anxious today because I was thinking of x and did y, and I’m having issues coping with my anxiety. My feelings are overwhelming.” Okay then! Now we have something to work with. That is taking the issue to its source. Blaming, sometimes scapegoating, Ed is not helping people to recovery. Eating disorder thoughts don’t come out of a vacuum. I have to place them in their proper context and take responsibility for them.

5. Because, after a while, eating disorder recovery has less and less to do with the behaviors. At the end of the day, the reason I have stopped calling my eating disorder Ed is because the term is no longer relevant for me. I don’t have regular urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors. I am not over my eating disorder completely just yet, but my recovery process has shifted. My therapist specializes in eating disorders. But do you know what we do NOT talk about 95% of the time in therapy? My eating disorder behaviors! Or my eating disorder at all. These topics are not agenda items. In fact, if my therapist made me set up a chair and do an “Ed’s voice- my voice” role play, I’d stare at her and then probably get pissed. Those things might have worked for me at one time, but they no longer do.

 

I met Jenni Schaefer at an event earlier this year. She signed a bumper sticker for me that is pink and has a line through the word Ed. I have placed it on a binder for my school papers. I don’t hate Life Without Ed. I don’t read it anymore, but I don’t hate it. If it works for you, fabulous, keep using the term.

What I get concerned about is the fact that there is an expectation, or to get punny, an EDspectation, that if you have an eating disorder, his name must be Ed. Ed is preferable, Ana or Mia are secondarily accepted.

Externalizing is not the only way of recovering from an eating disorder.  Or, “Ed” may work for you for a reason of your life, and then it may become irrelevant. The “Ed” label no longer fits in my personal recovery journey. And that’s okay.

Like this blog post says, some people may find the term belittling. Some may feel invalidated by it. Some may find it simplistic. Others may find it to be a brilliant way of breaking from of an eating disorder’s tight grip. Great. But let’s at least talk about it.

Foregoing the term “Ed” does not constitute recovery heresy.

Just saying.

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8 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone With An Eating Disorder

In 13 years of having an eating disorder, I have heard it all– the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have heard some “jokes” about my weight or struggles that make me want to chuck a bottle of Ensure at them and then text my therapist with lines of angry emoticons.

Sarcasm aside, the ugly comments sting.

While people are often well-intentioned and lack adequate mental health education about eating disorders, an inappropriate comment can dig deep into the shame, anxiety, and terror that lurks underneath.

Speaking from personal experience of hearing all of these things (many friends have too), I am telling you: please, please, please don’t say these things to someone with an eating disorder. Please.

1. “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.” Okay, there is not a “look” of someone with an eating disorder. Culture glamorizes the ultra thin ideal and focuses on (glamorizes? objectifies?) people who are extremely sick with anorexia. However, emaciation is not the eating disorder norm. In addition to the fact that problems with binge eating and bulimia are more common than anorexia, consider the huge diagnostic crossover between anorexia and bulimia/ binge eating disorder.

Regardless of the fact that this comment doesn’t make sense, when someone says a comment that taps into that stereotyped ideal of how someone with an eating disorder “should” look, my feelings of shame and panic about my body (which are already present) are intensified.  I already have to mourn the loss of my eating disorder identity on a daily basis, and I don’t need any more reminders about how I look.

2. “When are you due?” In general, people shouldn’t say this to a woman in general unless they’re sure. For someone with an eating disorder, they should be SURE. Not sure as in, “It might be a hamburger or it could be a baby.” If in doubt, don’t say anything. When people are in the stage of weight restoration, they often gain weight in their stomach, and it can stay there for a while. Chances are we are sensitive about this noticeable bloating, and a pregnancy oopsie comment is just the worst. Even if weight restoration isn’t a contributing factor to the bloating, it’s possible that we could (gasp) just have a stomach. I know, revolutionary. Side note: our culture’s weird obsession with spotting baby bumps ASAP is strange. Chillax, people. Pregnancy is a beautiful, wonderful thing, and if we’re pregnant you’ll find out when we’re good and ready.

3. “Wow, you must be hungry today!”/ “Aren’t you hungry?” Please do not comment about what I’m eating when I’m eating about what I’m eating. Whatever you say, chances are I’m going to feel disgusted and panic. Meal/ food comments can be appropriate, but if you must clarify or express concern, do so after a meal… significantly after. Eating can suck when you have an eating disorder anyway, and public shaming just exacerbates the general icky feelings.

4. “Have you lost/ gained weight?” If I’ve lost or gained weight, I will know about it. So will my dietitian and therapist. But do you know who doesn’t have to know? You! Why? Because it’s none of your business. For whatever reason, women just say, “You’ve lost weight,” as a compliment on par with “You just won a million dollars!” That’s just absurd in general. People need to find other ways of amusing themselves besides commenting on weight.

5. “I wish I could be anorexic.” And I wish I could be a unicorn. Just kidding, that would suck. And so does having anorexia. Don’t even go there with me.

6. “It’s just food (or insert specific food).” I know, it’s just food. It’s hard to understand if you haven’t walked a day in the shoes of someone with an ED. Speaking from experience, when I’m deep into my eating disorder, it feels like the world will end if I eat x, y, and z. Getting out of that mental block requires time and intensive treatment. Do you know what does NOT help with getting over that fear? People saying “It’s just food.” I know it is, okay, but my eating disorder can be strong and whisper that I cannot cannot cannot cannot have x, y, or z. Pointing out the obvious here is not helping me.

7. “Is it about control?” (pity glance) Please do not try to guess the reason for my eating disorder. Just because you learned on Dr. Phil that eating disorders are about control doesn’t mean that I want you to ask me, condescendingly, if my eating disorder is about control. I’ve been in therapy for a while. It’s not just about one thing. And to be honest, after some point, it stops being about one thing. My neurobiology has changed and I. cannot. stop. It’s not like I can realize I have control issues and throw pixie dust in the air and I’m better. It is WAY more complicated than that. Don’t mention control to me.

8. “You’re eating 3 meals a day right? So you’re fine.” Not fine. Not. Fine. Three meals includes so much variability. It is not about the number of meals, it is about the quality, quantity, and variety of food consumed. I learned in treatment that I should have at least 2 or 3 snacks in addition to 3 meals each day. So if I’m eating only 3 meals a day, it means I’m headed towards relapse. And you not taking me seriously is adding fuel to my ammunition.

 

Now a few caveats: these comments are not inherently bad, nor are the commenters inherently bad for saying things in innocence. An appropriately placed comment about a hypothesized pregnancy when you know the person has been trying to get pregnant is totally fine. Sometimes meal time comments are social conventions, and most people are fine receiving them. The issue here is saying such a comment when a person has an eating disorder. It has also been my experience that people are often oblivious when they have said something that I find hurtful or insensitive. A lot of times, an eating disorder can be a silent, invisible struggle, so people are not aware when they have been damaging.

You have to think how your comment will be interpreted in light of someone’s eating disorder. I cannot pretend my eating disorder thoughts are nonexistent. A comment about my size/ what I’m eating can send me into a destructive spiral. You don’t know the eating or weight struggles of the people with whom you interact. Think twice about saying something that can be taken the wrong way.

People don’t understand the effect stigmatizing or triggering words can have. Be kind and compassionate, and question your own stigmas about eating, weight, and eating disorders.

Online Dating After Kissing a Few Frogs

Online dating… what even to say. How even to characterize this odd experience. I have been on a few online sites sporadically in the last few years, and it can be fun, but can we all agree that the experience can be a little weird? While I have met a few decent people online, I have also been inundated by far too many cliches (putting it nicely) but more frankly, bullshit.

Most guys look amazing in writing. I will introduce you to Stereotypical Online Dating Guy #1, Marcus (this person = totally made up, I’m not that mean). The online dating gods matched us together, and I am super pumped. He looks great in pictures (ahem, that were taken 10 years ago, ahem), and he seems like the sweetest. He likes sports and traveling. He is a laid back stud looking for a partner in crime, someone to whom he is attracted. But of course, the most important part of a girl is her character (Christian equivalent: “looking for a Proverbs 31 girl”).

What a cutie.

I finally meet up with Marcus. THE ANTICIPATED FIREWORKS.

Marcus ends up being… eh. Typical. Then I find out he likes John Piper. Dammit. An hour goes by and I keep checking my watch. Oh. my. goodness. could. time. go. slower. No sparks.

No offense to Marcus, he is very nice. Nothing against him. But online dating is a crap shoot. Most of the time it is fluffy meaninglessness and completely random.

I mean, does it even matter what I put on my profile? All I need to do is incorporate enough cliche mannerisms to get the Marcuses of online dating to contact me.

Is it just me, or is there something odd about how superficial the whole system is?

These guys all look the same. They talk of college football, travel, and their faith. And the weather. Oh God, the weather. “Wow, you lived in California, how do you like being in Michigan?” If I could have a dime for the number of times that statement has been uttered…. HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO GET TO KNOW ANYONE BY TALKING ABOUT THE WEATHER?

I don’t know how any of these sites match people together. Personality characteristics, location, attributes desired in a partner– they all use imperfect heuristics that work marginally at best. (Caveat: It is oh so hard to measure compatibility. It’s not like I have a better idea on how to solve the online dating woes of a single 20-something girl. Just let me vent, okay???).

Online dating can work, I have seen it work. BUT it doesn’t work when everyone is so fake. But then to get dates you have to play the fake game. And so the crap shoot cycle of being paired with “travel… football… beer” Marcuses at random continues. How am I supposed to filter out if any of these people are worth my time?

Honestly, I am sick of being fake and censoring myself knowing that others are scrutinizing my words. For once, I want to be REAL on one of these sites. Or at least, if I’m going to make a profile composed of bullshit, it might as well be ridiculous (with a dash of truth).

SO, I have decided to make a (satirical) dating profile that I will never, ever post because to online date, you have to play the games and go through the hoops. Playing games –> not doing what I’m about to do. But I’m just saying, if it was socially acceptable to do this, I would.

Enjoy!

 

About Me:

“Hi, thanks for reading this. I’m sorry if at any point this starts to be stereotypical or cliche, because my goal in life is to be anything but. Let me start with a few exclusionary factors right now. If you are cliche, enjoy puns, bubbly/ positive quotes, you can along to the next profile. Also, I am looking for a guy who likes or can come to like Rachel Held Evans. Similarly, you have to like Rob Bell in some capacity. I have broken up with someone over Rob Bell, I am totally not joking about this. If you’re not on board with Love Wins, that’s fine. Enjoying his early work will suffice. But you and Rob Bell must have some familiarity because I might want him to officiate any hypothetical wedding.

If you’re still reading, welcome. As you might guess, I am a theology nerd and Jesus feminist. If you whisper sweet nothings to me about Rob Bell or Time Keller, you will automatically be granted a second date. If Henri Nouwen is your favorite author, we might be soul mates.

I am like an angsty teenager who loves angsty teenage TV shows such as Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. (If you are angsty, that is a plus. If you like to yell into the abyss during existential crises, that’s also a plus).

If I could eat only one food for the rest of my life, it would be Sour Patch Kids. Every few months, I get an intense spell of wanderlust. I have deep, intense feelings, and sometimes I cannot name them right away. However, my therapist can, so it’s all good. I am subtly hinting that I may have struggled with some mental health stuff in the past, but I’m going to be coy about it until date 6, at which time we shall lay our cards on the table.

I am an anxious perfectionist, which is exacerbated by excessive caffeine consumption. If I could be granted a magic wish, I would wish for unlimited Starbucks holiday drinks for the duration of my days. Or I might wish for the ability to teleport. Dammit why can’t people teleport yet?

If it ever comes to this, know that I want to be proposed two in one of two ways: at a Rob Bell event or at a NEDA walk. So, file that information away.”