Seeing the Eating Disorder as a Parasite
There are no words that even come close to describing what it’s like to live with an eating disorder. I firmly believe that if one doesn’t have lived experience with the illness, there is NO WAY for them to ever UNDERSTAND the DEPTH at which one’s brain becomes manipulated, and slowly overtaken by the ED.
Because it IS such a complex illness that’s literally the definition of a paradox, the only way I’ve been able to have people at least partially understand what it's like to have an eating disorder is through metaphors…because metaphors give us the power to break down a really complex idea and bring it in parallel with something that we DO understand.
When my mom asked me one day if I could describe what was going on in my mind, I came up with the metaphor that an eating disorder is like a virus or a parasite. In this post, I unpack this metaphor and share how it helped me to fully let go of my eating disorder!
I used to think my eating disorder was my friend. It crept into my life when I was 11 years old, and it gave me a sense of purpose. I would feel so superior at school when I was the only one to have the willpower to turn down the cupcakes when it was someone’s birthday, and I felt so grown-up when people would admire me for running every day at such a young age.
Eating super clean & super healthy just gave me this incredible sense of PRIDE. I don’t think I’ve shared this anywhere before, but I was SUPER judgmental during the time of my ED. When other people would eat so-called “junk-food” I would almost relish in this feeling that I was better than them. I would constantly be comparing what I was eating & how I was exercising, just to make sure that I always ate less food and I exercised more…as that gave me this constant sense of accomplishment.
But was it really ME who felt accomplished, or was it the parasite?
An eating disorder, just like a parasite or a virus, uses our bodies and brains as its host for nesting ground. It then takes all of our strengths; whether this be persistence, intelligence, work ethic–and it uses those traits to its advantage.
Because these traits are parts of our true personality and make us the strong unique person we are, our eating disorder thoughts can become so intertwined with our own thoughts and we reach a point where we think we ARE the eating disorder. We think our ED is our identity! So, when the eating disorder compares or tricks us into thinking we are superior, it’s just a cloaked version of reality because an eating disorder DOESN’T make you superior…it leads to a life that’s inferior.
In reality, an ED doesn’t form your identity; it STRIPS you of one, literally to your bare bones sometimes. Your smile, your laugh, your love for a certain sport or interest in reading fiction novels–it takes that from you and makes you obsessed with cookbooks instead. Or, it takes your love of sports and causes you to dread working out. It replaces YOUR LIFE with an obsession around food, exercise, and numbers. Everything that makes you, you, your eating disorder will steal from you. Just like if you had parasites in your stomach that eat up & steal everything YOU put into your mouth, your ED deprives you of one of the most essential aspects of human survival: food.
I really feel like this metaphor allows not only the sufferer of the ED, but also parents, physicians, and loved ones to understand why it’s the “smart ones” that develop anorexia or any other type of restrictive eating disorder. To give an example: during my own disease, I was often asked:
You’re SO smart! How could you be SO dumb as to not eat when you’re this sick?
You KNOW how damaging overexercise is! How can you be so ignorant as to run all the time?”
The thing about eating disorders is that we KNOW how dangerous they are. We ARE smart people. I was completely aware of how thin I was and that continuing this lifestyle would kill me. But that’s how conniving the illness is. It completely distorts your vision of reality.
YOU are not dumb for not eating. The EATING DISORDER has a smart way of convincing you to not eat.
YOU are not ignorant for overexercising. The EATING DISORDER has a clever way of getting you to move all the time.
As you can see, the eating disorder has hijacked your own qualities of perseverance and commitment and used them to its advantage, allowing the illness to persist for so long.
When you understand that this is what the eating disorder does - that it hijacks you and IS NOT YOU, but a mere PART of you - it opens the doors to taking back the power over YOUR life and YOUR decisions. Because no, an eating disorder wasn’t your decision, but recovery always is. People generally prefer taking on a victim mindset…not only with eating disorders, but everything in life. It’s SO much easier to just sit and be mad and blame your problems on the external world than to get up and take action, right?
If you really want to live without your eating disorder, however, there’s no way around doing the hard work. Making the eating disorder part of your identity is taking on a victim role, as it sets you up to believe that there’s nothing you can do about it. However, separating the eating disorder - seeing it as a parasite or a virus - allows you to remove the illness from your identity which, in turn, allows YOU to take ownership of killing off this parasite for good.
While we’re talking about viruses and separating yourself from the eating disorder, let’s take the very timely example of the Corona virus. If you get Covid, it is not your fault. You just now have Covid. You could piss & moan about it and go out and blame everyone who doesn’t wear a mask or who went to the party and caught covid and passed it onto you, but where will that get you?
Taking on this victim mindset will only make YOU sicker because it drains you of this much needed healing energy and it shields you from taking ownership and taking measures to heal. Here's where surrendering and trusting comes in, because of course, there's only so much in your control when it comes to healing...as it's ultimately your immune system that's going to get rid of the virus.
You don't have control over how your body reacts, but you do have control over how you treat it.
By resting, eating nourishing foods, and doing all the things one does when they have covid, your body WILL heal. Before you know it, you’re recovered. You’re covid-free! You’ve built antibodies that make you stronger, so that next time you come into contact with Covid, your body recognizes the trigger and can fend for itself.
Language DOES matter
Notice my language here: we say that someone has or someone has had covid. No one would ever say you are Covidian or Coronic! Because the virus isn’t part of YOU, it doesn’t make up YOUR true identity. Just like an eating disorder isn’t part of you! So, let’s stop saying someone is anorexic or bulimic or disordered, because YOU are NOT the ILLNESS!
You have the illness…meaning you can also get rid of it.
It’s f*cking hard, but taking ownership of your recovery and honoring your extreme hunger and then TRUSTING that your body will handle the healing, will make you stronger. It’s just like building antibodies against a virus. Constantly challenging your ED thoughts will create new neural networks in your brain and weaken the eating disorder pathways, so that over time, an ED thought has nothing on you!
So, why did I just share all this? Because it helped me immensely in my OWN recovery, and I truly believe that this will help you too. I am so incredibly passionate about this topic because no one deserves to live with this beast of an illness hijacking it and stealing your joy. If this post DID resonate with you and you want to learn more about 1:1 coaching with me, click here!
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