I have always wanted to explain my experience to my loved ones in a way they could understand. So I came up with this eating disorder analogy. I want them to not only know about the behaviors and thoughts, but for them to truly understand what it’s like to spend a day with an eating disorder.
The duality of my mind in the eating disorder is an aspect that isn’t easy to explain. It feels like a constant fight between my healthy, true self and my eating disorder self.
Sometimes the healthy self is in the forefront of my mind. Other times I’m practically a walking and talking eating disorder with no recovery-minded thoughts in sight. There is no “just eat” or “just recover” without a full-on brain battle.
I don’t win every battle. But I plan on winning the war.
The idea that eating disorders are only about food and weight loss is flawed. These are symptoms of the larger struggle. So, when explaining what eating disorders are, it’s important to me to avoid all talk of food and weight. This is why using an eating disorder analogy can help. My goal is to expose the eating disorder mind and what it feels like to have it take over.
Imagine this analogy on what it is like to have an eating disorder…
You are driving a car. Excuse the cliché; but you’re driving down the “road of life.” The music is blasting and the top is down. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and there’s a gentle breeze. The road is yours and the possibilities are endless.
You’re driving a car. The road is long and you are lonely. The weather isn’t as perfect as it used to be. You pass a hitchhiker. Not just any hitchhiker, but the coolest looking guy around. He’s super fashionable and friendly with effortless confidence. You could use a friend. So you pick him up.
The eating disorder analogy continues
You are driving a car and having a great time with your new acquaintance. He’s fun and sweet. And he makes you feel stronger. With him you feel better and more confident.
He is a car expert and he soups up your car. Other drivers look at you with envy. You sing along to the music and share your deepest secrets.
With your eating disorder by your side, you feel you can conquer any potholes or detours along your way.
You are driving a car and things are getting odd. You are exhausted. The eating disorder is getting mean.
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A turn for the worst
When you fall asleep at the wheel, he tells you that you’re lazy. Then you make a left when he wants you to go right. And he calls you a failure. You think you are driving well. Yet he points out all the times you ran a red light or didn’t use your turn signal.
He makes you afraid of other cars. Your driving is fueled by suspicion, fear, and insecurity.
You aren’t driving any more. Your eating disorder took over the wheel a long time ago. You’re too tired to do anything or even think anymore. There’s no energy left for you to navigate. You are too tired to even pay attention to where you’re going.
The eating disorder analogy gets darker
Sometimes your eating disorder hurls abuse your way for no reason. You don’t have the energy to talk back. The cruelty keeps coming: “You don’t deserve to drive and you will never be capable.”
Other times he holds your hand and sings you lullabies until you fall asleep. You yearn only for his kindness and acceptance. Yet you never know what side of him you’ll get, and it keeps you constantly on edge.
The clouds are rolling in and there is distant thunder. You forget what it was like to feel the cool breeze and not to have a care in the world.
He moved you from the passenger seat
Sometimes you are in the back, timidly asking if we could turn around and move towards better weather. Other times you’re bound, gagged and thrown in the trunk.
Occasionally, when your eating disorder is feeling particularly dangerous, you are attached to the front of the car. Screaming at the top of your lungs while your eating disorder drives headfirst into oncoming traffic.
You forget that life without your eating disorder existed. When he threatens to leave the car you beg him to stay. You’d be stranded without him.
Even though you love him, you secretly pray he crashes. You wish the car would explode. Even if you die along with it.
It might have taken several speeding tickets or crashes. But you finally realize you can’t control this car by yourself. That you can’t trust your eating disorder.
You get some help and regain control of the driver’s seat. But now you’re car is falling apart.
You see a mechanic and it starts running again. But you forgot how to drive. And of course, your eating disorder is right next to you. He becomes the driving instructor you never wanted. He can put on the brakes when you least expect it. and send you rocketing towards the windshield.
Your support is outside the car yelling in tips and tricks to help you relearn how to function.
Sometimes the windows are open and it’s easy to tune out your eating disorder’s constant criticisms. Other times the windows are closed, the music is loud, and your damn eating disorder won’t stop yelling: “This is pointless. You are a disgusting failure and you need me. I make you special. It’s me who make you whole. Who makes you successful.”
You want to trust your support but your eating disorder makes sure that he is the only thing you can focus on. He makes himself the only option.
You just keep trying to drive
You piece together fragments of your support’s suggestions. And slowly you relearn the rules of the road. Your eating disorder moves to the back seat.
He can be as loud or soft as he pleases. Sometimes he’s affectionate; other times he’s angry. He’s persuasive and reminds you often how easy it was to just let him drive.
One day you’ll be able to kick him out and get back on the road on your own.
The weather might not always be perfect but you’ll never forget how to drive again. And you’ll sure as hell never let in another hitchhiker.
Alison, your insightful article about coping with a disorder really hit home with me…I have a 33 year old daughter who has battled trichotillamania since her adolescence…she kept it hidden for a long time, but ultimately was able to discuss it and share the fear and shame she felt for being so “out of control” over her body…I plan to share your article with her…I wish you all the best as you continue your battle, and know that you are helping others by bringing a perplexing and often misunderstood condition to public awareness…
Your courageous article certainly has shed light on eating disorders. Thank you for sharing and know that we love you and are always here for you!