Several weeks ago, a fight broke out in a small Midwestern town, but chances are you didn’t see a story about it on the evening news or read about it on the Internet. In fact, I wouldn’t have even known about it, but/for the fact that a friend of mine happened to be one of the combatants. Her foe? A strawberry Pop-Tart! Now, most objective observers, especially those unfamiliar with eating disorders and the so-called Eating Disorder Voice would have difficulty believing, let alone understanding how such a thing could happen. After all, we humans are made to eat and Pop-Tarts are made to be eaten. It’s that simple. But, as the early morning text message from my friend, who has spent much of the past several months vacillating in the gray zone between relapse and recovery revealed and those similarly afflicted will readily attest, the dilemma she was facing was far from simple: “What do you do when you want a Pop-Tart, but you can’t have a Pop-Tart?” she asked. I was quick to respond: “You may be talking to the wrong person,” I shot back. “I LOVE Pop-Tarts and would never even consider talking someone out of eating one! I recommend blueberry frosted (winking face).”
At first blush, my response is likely to evoke criticism as being insensitive, if not downright mean-spirited and hurtful. But, there was a method (and a message) to my madness. Just a few days early, I’d had a very “spirited” conversation with my friend about the lies, distortions and general irrationality of her Eating Disorder Voice – the bully that, at times, still insists she weigh herself obsessively, eat meals sporadically, and, most hurtfully, believe that her beauty, sense of self-worth, loveability and ability to belong are tied to her physical appearance – none of which, of course, is true. It had become a common and, candidly, at least from my perspective, tiresome theme in our recent conversations and I’d finally had enough. So, I challenged her with this: “Let me ask you a question: When you were 4 years old, do you think you gave a damn about the number on a scale? Do you think you ever ignored your hunger cues? Do you think a single friend or playmate of yours ever spent even a second thinking about how you looked, let alone deciding whether to play with you based on it?” Silence. “Were you happy when you were 4? Were you healthy? Did you love life?” “Yes,” she whispered.
Believe me, I get that it’s not that easy. I understand that eating disorders are highly complex, multi-faceted, brain-based illnesses that require considerable familial and/or professional intervention to overcome. But, I also understand this: Whether you are in the grip of an eating disorder or firmly rooted on the road to recovery, it’s imperative that you not only recognize the Eating Disorder Voice for what it is (i.e., an unrelenting and unapologetic pathological liar that is hell-bent on your destruction), but that you have a go-to strategy for combating it every time it rears its ugly head. I’m sure those who are expert in the treatment of these disorders have lots of good ones to recommend. I just happen to be fond of WWFYOMD (“What Would Four Year Old Me Do”), especially when it comes to battles over Pop-Tarts! Why? Because, in my mind, it’s always helpful to remind ourselves (and our loved ones) of a time when life was simpler, less encumbered, when we were more free-spirited, healthier and happier. It’s there, after all, where our authentic self, our true identity and, ultimately, hope reside. That’s why I said what I said.
“But, I still feel full from last night’s dinner,” she responded. “Melissa*,” I said. “That dinner has long since done its job of nourishing you. The ‘feeling’ that it’s ‘still there’ is a figment of ED’s lying imagination. That’s all I can tell you. That and enjoy the Pop-Tart. Staring at a blueberry frosted one in my top desk drawer at work as we speak!” “Then, let’s have one together,” she said. And we did across the miles. Actually, I had two! Another battle won. Trust me: The 4 year-old you is a bad ass!