Duality

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In the eating disorder world, we often refer to the sufferer as having separate and distinct sides of the mind – one is the healthy mind and the other is the eating disordered mind. Some people with eating disorders actually give the eating disordered side of their mind a name. Why would this be helpful? It is essential, in recovery, to know which thoughts are coming from which part of the mind in order to know whether the thought is healthy or disordered, and whether to follow it (listen to it) or not. This very often applies in the food arena but also in many other areas of life as well.

For example, Sarah is a 17 year old in recovery from her eating disorder and she often has conflicting thoughts about what types of food she should eat. During the development of her eating disorder, she followed numerous food blogs and began making decisions regarding what to eat and how much to eat, based on the information she read on these blogs. She lost touch with her true food preferences, and began to only follow the rigid guidelines she read about. Then, as she developed an eating disorder and the eating disordered side of her mind “hijacked” these rules, it made them much more rigid, intense, and  made Sarah feel like the decision to follow or not follow them was as consequential as “life or death”. The eating disordered side instilled fear into Sarah each time she veered off the “healthy” eating plan she read about.  The eating disordered side of her mind would tell her things such as “if you don’t eat these particular foods, you will get fat.” “If you eat any food in XXX category, you will never stop eating it, and you will go out of control.” “If you eat these foods and gain weight, your friends will hate you.” The problem was that her eating disorder sounded an awful lot like the blogs she was reading. She became very confused and perhaps even thought these were healthy thoughts and healthy behaviors. Through treatment, Sarah had to first differentiate between her healthy rational voice and her eating disordered voice and then had to challenge the thoughts and subsequent behaviors coming from those disordered thoughts.

Eating disordered thoughts appear initially as helpful, which is why they are so confusing to the sufferer. They seem to have legitimacy since their origins were from the internet, a book, video, parent, friend, or even a heath care provider. It is through the help of an eating disorder professional, that the sufferer can begin to challenge these thoughts and regain their intuitive healthy thoughts and behaviors again.

Some basic ways to differentiate between the healthy side and eating disordered side is that the healthy side is flexible, forgiving, compassionate, curious, and open-minded. The eating disordered side is rigid, stern, critical, and creates guilt and fear. Talk to your treatment team about the thoughts that you have on a daily basis. Then let them help you differentiate between the two sides and strengthen your healthy voice!

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