I’ve never been competitive. I’ve played sports my whole life but honestly I think I was always too overcome with anxiety. I had so much doubt in my abilities that time and time again I would psych myself out. To this day, I constantly find myself avoiding competitive situations. Just the thought of some form of competition sends a wave of tightness and strain through my limbs.
My eating disorder however thrives on competition. This competition gives the eating disorder the power to deepen its roots and sink it’s teeth in if you will.
When you talk to most patients, you’ll hear the same thing. In our unhealthy minds, being the “most sick” is the competition of our life.
Now eating disorder or not, I can unfortunately assume many of us at one time or another have felt the pressure to look a certain way. It’s a well known fact our media idolizes thinness and it’s pretty obvious it’s creating a vicious competitive comparison game. So yes, on some level, I think we all have a competitive nature due to our shaming society.
But eating disorders dip into a deeper level of this competitiveness in a pretty sickening way.
The eating disorder is constantly pushing you to “Be the best at having an eating disorder”….what does that even mean? Be the best at having no life, counting calories and nearly dying? Apparently so.
But anytime I do something pro-recovery, like completing my meal plan or not spending 2+ hours at the gym, the competitive eating disorder voice chirps: “You’re not being good enough at your eating disorder. You need to try harder [at having an eating disorder]”
Habitually, this voice then welcomes thoughts of restriction, numbers and body shaming. And just like that, my mind is taken over by the eating disorder and I’m left obsessing over how I can get back to being “so good” at my eating disorder.
Three years into recovery, I can say that this still happens regularly, however I now have the ability to acknowledge the darkness taking over my brain and send a big “Fuck you you’re spitting bullshit I’m not listening” and get back to my healthy mindset.
But three years ago…I was stuck in the competitive trenches of the eating disorder.
In treatment, it’s constantly a game of comparison. It’s a shameful thing to say out loud, because the girls you go through treatment with become such special friends. These girls, who you may have known for only a few weeks, become the closest friends you’ve ever had because for once, you don’t have to hide from them and they just get it.
“They want to bump me up. I’m eating but I’m not gaining any weight” my friend shared in treatment one day.
Immediately I went into caring mother mode. It’ what you do when you love them and you support them and you oh so hope they find health and happiness. But inside, my eating disorder was screaming.
“Well she’s not gaining any weight but you sure are. Why can’t you be like that? She’s so much better at having an eating disorder than you. You probably shouldn’t complete your meals today” my thoughts scream.
Quickly I’m sucked into the competitive manner of the eating disorder. All the therapy and treatment goes out the door, and suddenly being the best at having an eating disorder is back to being my main priority. It makes zero sense. Because logically, I know “winning” at the eating disorder gets you absolutely no where in life except back in the looney bin.
It’s pretty incredible really. That my brain can actively believe two different stories at the same time. To my friend, I’m sharing advice and love and reminding her how terrible the eating disorder is, how her weight must increase for her health and wellbeing and yet at the exact same time my brain is telling me to try harder at achieving the ultimate eating disorder.
It’s even more twisted when it comes to meals.
We all have individualized meal plans in treatment. However, after morning weigh ins if our weight has dropped, we are forced to eat additional snacks and the infamous Boost.
On this morning, my weight was stable. As we filed into the kitchen for breakfast I glanced at the girl next to me. In front of her I saw an additional serving of grains and a Boost. My heart flipped. “Thank god I don’t have an extra saving of grains today” I quickly think.
But my eating disorder voice chirps back “That’s because you’re a fatass and your weight didn’t drop today. You don’t need more food.You’re failing at your eating disorder. Be more like her.”
Of course if I do drop weight, I’m forced to chug a Boost and listen to the eating disorder voice stress about the extra calories I had to eat. And yet if my weight is stable, I’m forced to listen to the eating disorder scold me for not loosing enough weight to need extra calories like the woman next to me, and thus I am losing at my eating disorder.
The eating disorder voice becomes so powerful and convincing that patients don’t see anything else other than the eating disorder and therefore, it’s all they have. Being thin is all that matters. So time and time again they give into this idea that “being the best” at having an eating disorder will bring you happiness, will make your life complete.
Yeah- it’s complete bullshit but I believed it for 8 years too long.
This intense desire to “win” at the eating disorder is what makes treatment and recovery so difficult. It’s part of the reason it’s so hard to just let the eating disorder go and listen to your recovery voice. But the more you work through recovery, the easiesr it Is to soften the eating disorder voice. It took me a solid 3 years and about 10 million hours of therapy to loosen my grip on the need to “win” at having an eating disorder and it’s been life changing.
When the ED voice is super competitive, I like to write down my actual thoughts. Majority of the time once it’s on paper, I’m able to see that it’s an ass backwards thought. Even if every inch my body is still fighting to carry out ED behaviors to combat the ED thought, writing it down at least allows part of my brain to realize how silly it is. And slowly, overtime, through multiple experiences, you will be able to strengthen that part of the brain until one day, you’re able to send a big “fuck you” to the eating disorder voice when it chirps.