The Kind Voice
I’m coming off of a mentally tough weekend and felt compelled to write about and reflect on something that often comes up during my therapy sessions. Each therapist I’ve ever had asks me if I picture the voice in my head, the eating disorder voice, in any certain way. Is it a male, or female voice? Do I even picture a person attached to the voice? Does it have a name? I don’t picture a person attached to the voice, nor do I know if it’s male or female. And I’ve never been able to get behind the whole “Call it ED!” thing. Giving the voice the name of a human is helpful for some when talking back, but not to me.
I would honestly just describe the voice as mean, harsh, and strict. It’s controlling and a perfectionist. I find that when I talk back to it, I try to employ another voice that is just the opposite – the kind voice. Lately I’ve realized it’s helpful for me to re-frame shoulds and can’ts as suggestions or ponderings, in that nicer voice. See, I have feared in the past fighting the eating disorder’s voice, because my all-or-nothing mindset told me that would be mean giving up caring about what I put into my body, if I work out, whether or not I gain a bunch of weight. My therapist has been trying to get me to practice encouraging myself to keep caring about myself and treating myself well, but in a nicer way. Some examples…
Eating Disorder Voice: You absolutely should not have another drink. You keep complaining about your body, well this is why you don’t like it. Alcohol just piles on the fat. You’re just going to keep gaining weight if you keep on this way.
Kind Voice: How will having another drink make you feel? Do you really want one right now? Maybe it would be good to have a glass of water, then see how you feel. You have work tomorrow too, so just keep that in mind. But if you really do want another drink and are having a great time, keep it going!
Eating Disorder Voice: You have to go to the gym. You need to burn as many calories as you can. Don’t you remember that cookie you had last night? You should take a spin class too, it’ll burn the most calories.
Kind Voice: How does your body feel? If you’re just a bit sluggish, the gym could perk you right up. Just get there and do what you feel like doing. You may feel better and if not, you can always leave!
Eating Disorder Voice: You have to get a salad, with seafood, and only one roll. I don’t care if you’re craving fried pickles, those are not an option.
Kind Voice: It would sure be nice to not spend all day obsessing over what you’re going to order at dinner later. Just wait and decide when you get there. For all you know you won’t be craving fried food anymore by this evening. And if you are, then maybe you can share something with your friend. You don’t get fried food all the time when you dine out.
Eating Disorder Voice: This friend is smaller than you. This friend has been losing weight. Why aren’t you either of those things? See how much better they are than you?
Kind Voice: No one sees you as harshly as you see yourself. And no one cares as much about what you look like as you do. Appreciate your friends for the great people they are, not for how they look in comparison to you. You are lucky to have such special people in your life!
Eating Disorder Voice: If you were more careful about what you ate and drank, you would be able to fit into these jeans. You’d be able to wear anything and have no “bad angles” like you do now. Remember when you could wear a size 0? It sucks that you can’t now.
Kind Voice: Wear what you feel comfortable in. There’s no sense in trying to squeeze into jeans that feel too tight – you’ll just be miserable all night. If you feel confident in that flowy top and leggings, then wear that. It’s OK to wear what makes you feel good.
These are just a few examples of practicing using my kind voice in a way that is not all-or-nothing. It is possible to tell myself to take care of myself, in a compassionate way. Caring for myself can mean getting movement in somehow, and it can mean taking a day off. It can mean eating a fresh salad that I’m craving, or eating crispy calamari that I’m craving. The kind voice doesn’t say “go crazy and stop caring about what you eat!” It says “try not to overthink it, see how you feel, and do what you think is best”.
What do you call the voice in your head that tells you shoulds and can’ts?
What’s an example of how you used your kind voice lately?