The thoughts associated with an eating disorder (ED) tend to be intrusive, obsessive, and rigid. These thoughts can even develop a whole separate identity.
Viewing an ED through this lens can help people separate themselves from their disorder. But, not all ED identities or relationships manifest in the same way. They can take on various traits.
In working with individuals who experience EDs, the idea of the disorder as its own entity is common. However, each identity and relationship with an ED is different.
When exploring the eating disorder as its own entity, individuals reflect on the tone and presentation of their distorted thoughts and can start to imagine a personality and even an image to match their disorder. With each person having their own unique relationship with this other entity, there have been several examples reported.
One individual described her ED as a “ghost.” This spirit would come and go and seemed to float around her. At times the “ghost” would be haunting and could even become possessive.
Another example is envisioning an ED as a friend/enemy, or “frenemy.” As a friend, the disorder can be comforting, and during hard times, it is someone to count on. At other times, this friend becomes an individual’s worst enemy through betrayal and ultimately working toward causing death.
The entity can take on the voice and mannerisms of an authoritative parent. It may even reflect one’s experience with their own parent figure(s). ED as a parent has been described as controlling and demeaning with strict rules and punishments.
Contrary to this manifestation, the entity has also been experienced as a toddler in a tantrum. This toddler has been reported to have an attitude and throws fits when the individual does not give in to its demands.
By identifying these entities, one can discover how they relate to them, and how they want to change this relationship through their recovery. If you connect to experiencing your ED as a ghost, perhaps it’s time to shine a light on that ghost to bring it out of the darkness.
If the ED acts like a frenemy, it may be time to reconsider this “friendship” which may include tattling on that “friend” for lying and not playing fair.
With ED being an authoritative parent, one might try to rebel and find independence by breaking the rules and taking responsibility for themselves. If you are experiencing ED as a toddler, you don’t have to give in to its cries. Reinforcing the toddler’s behaviors will only make them stronger, so instead put it in a “time out.”
Ultimately, you can utilize awareness about how you experience your ED in order to find an effective way to respond to it in recovery.