Strengthening Your Recovery Voice
Author: Justine Rickard M.A.
Finding and strengthening your recovery voice is an important strategy in eating disorder recovery. The eating disorder voice speaks in limiting beliefs and distorted thoughts. Challenging the eating disorder requires us to separate from it and see this voice as something distinct from our own. Creating this distance allows us to cultivate and strengthen the wise, intuitive voice underneath. This is our recovery voice. Even if it feels challenging to hear or even access the recovery voice, the more we practice speaking from it, the louder and more resonate it will get. What we practice grows stronger.
Strengthening your recovery voice starts with identifying when the eating disorder is talking in the first place. Here are some tips to help you figure out when the ED might be active:
The thoughts feel urgent or obsessive – they become ruminative and are combined with the feeling of “I must/can’t do this now”
It uses language that leaves you feeling powerless and without choice when faced with the ED’s demands, like “I can’t”, “I should”, “I have to”, etc.
Guilt and/or shame accompanies the thoughts, particularly around having eaten or planning to eat certain foods.
Your thoughts are rigid and black-and-white. They attempt to scare you away from challenging yourself or practicing flexibility. Rules come in around what you are/are not “allowed” to have or do.
Recovery accomplishments become minimized and a feeling of “not doing enough” comes on, feeling discouraged in recovery. Or, recovery accomplishments don’t feel like accomplishments at all due to the ED using guilt and/or fear to try and have you believe they are failures.
Strong negative language makes up the thoughts, usually towards yourself and your worthiness. Name-calling happens (ex: ugly, lazy, stupid).
It often uses strong comparative messages, that you are not sick enough or have to reach a particular ED “goal post” first. Or, it may rely on self-defeating messages, telling you that you are “too sick” and that recovery is not possible, not worth it, or too hard.
Something to keep in mind is that the eating disorder voice doesn’t just say things once – it relies on repetition to pull you in and get you to believe what it is saying. We can use this idea of repetition to strengthen your recovery voice as well. This doesn’t mean that you must reframe every single eating disorder thought that pops into your head. Sometimes simply being aware that it is active and identifying it is enough to depower the thoughts. Here are some tips on how to use and get the most out of your recovery voice:
Create a list of “on the go” reframes that you can pull out when you’re stuck. This is a great strategy if you are just getting started with separating from the ED and challenging it.
Spend more time writing from your recovery mindset than from the eating disorder mindset. When you are journaling, be brief with describing the ED thoughts, and expand on what your recovery voice has to say.
Be mindful of vocalizing the ED thoughts – this gives them power! It is not wrong to talk about what the eating disorder is doing but be careful not to identify with it or frame it as your own thoughts. You can voice what the eating disorder is saying in a recovery-forward way, again giving more power to the recovery side than the eating disorder.
Be gentle with yourself when you catch the ED voice. It is not wrong to have ED thoughts. You can look at having ED thought as an opportunity to strengthen your recovery voice!
Remember that the eating disorder is only concerned with short-term outcomes, and doesn’t actually care about your wellbeing. If you are stuck in coming up with a reframe, consider the idea of workability – does the ED thought work in favour of your life, and what would a more workable thought sound like?
Often the recovery voice operates in the back of your mind passively - you theoretically know what you need to do and say, but the ED voice often overshadows it. Bring those thoughts to the forefront of your mind by saying it out loud or writing it down. Choose to actively listen to the recovery mindset by bringing in actions that align with the recovery voice.
Activate your recovery voice even in the absence of any eating disorder thoughts. Practice using recovery language in your every-day self-talk.
Remember that you likely won’t believe the recovery voice reframes just yet – this is ok! It doesn’t mean that practicing them and intentionally calling on them isn’t working. Our recovery voice might be quiet at first, whereas the eating disorder has had a much louder voice for longer. With strengthening your recovery voice, you are working to balance out the two and make it so that your recovery voice is more noticeable and more accessible. As you continue to work on this, your recovery thoughts will feel more real and will resonate more with you. Be patient with yourself!