Disagree, disobey, and disengage

In Jenni Schaefer's book Life Without Ed, she writes about the two main tactics for combatting ED thoughts:

  • Disagree: counter the ED thought that a slice of cake will make you fat with thoughts like Eating cake is normal, one slice of cake won't change my weight, I trust my treatment team and the food plan they gave me.
  • Disobey: the ED thought tells you not to eat that cake and you eat that cake, dammit.
All of which are well and good.  My dad always told me I should have been a lawyer since I can argue anyone into the ground.  Arguing against myself is harder because both sides of my brain are equally skilled in coming up with convoluted statements, odd facts, and seemingly incontrovertible bits of logic.

Even when I do win against the ED thoughts, the previous hours-long pissing match between Healthy Carrie and ED Carrie has left me exhausted and more than a little demoralized. It shouldn't be this hard!

Indeed it shouldn't. File under: Pyrrhic victory, definition of.

So I came up with another "D" strategy to deal with the ED thoughts: Disengage.

So when I start bickering with the voice in my head that tells me I shouldn't eat, that I'm going to get fat, that eating means I'm a pathetic failure, I don't argue back.  I just say "Mmmmm..."  When you're trying to make a decision, it's not like your brain instantly comes up with a unanimous agreement.  Different parts of your brain provide different input, and that input isn't all equally important or relevant.  It's sort of like the vaguely rabid people preaching the End Times on the street corner: I know these people are irrational, so I just kind of ignore it.

ED thoughts are similar; it's not worth my time to argue.  Arguments seem to give the thoughts credibility, that they're work an argument.  The problem is that they're not.  So I've been trying to mentally walk away from the ED craziness in my head.  We'll see whether it works, but hopefully it will leave mw with more energy and sanity.


Jane said...

Carrie, this concept of separating from a thought is reminiscent of mindfulness practice (something I'm learning about right now in an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class). I think for it to be successful one needs to have the ability to be aware of the thoughts as entities that CAN be disengaged from. And "practice" is the operative word - I think it can take some practice to be successful. But undoubtedly worth it.
It would be interesting to know how the brain is affected by - or what is happening when it accomplishes - this kind of disengagement.

Amanda said...

I learned similar "tactics," but by other names.

Catch It, Challenge It, Change It: "catch" the negative thought, challenge it with a positive one, and thereby work on changing it. Actually changing the thought is the hardest part, but it comes with practice!

Act Opposite: is completely self-explanatory. ED tells you to do one thing? You do the opposite. It's hard, and it sucks sometimes, but in the end you can say BOOYA to your ED. ;)

Anonymous said...

i think i was one of those unfortunate or fortunate, depending on the situation, people who was given a mind that seems to question everything. the mental gymnastics can leave me worn slick. it's bad enough it's with food and the ed but it's also with every compliment paid me down to the strength of my faith, which too is perception, yes? any compliment that isn't provable is perception in my mind---see what i mean and what i do??? mindfulness just increased my levels of anxiety by charting every little feeling and nuance alongside every snack and meal. if i could figure out a way to eat mindlessly THAT would actually help. a 3 word mantra is worth a shot, though i'm to the point that i might rename it for emphasis. F no, F it-i'm doing it anyway, and F off-there must be something else i can do/think about. short, direct and directive. my own personal ED drill sergeant minus the screaming. ANYTHING for some relief...

hm said...

"Arguing against myself is harder because both sides of my brain are equally skilled in coming up with convoluted statements, odd facts, and seemingly incontrovertible bits of logic." Laughing my ass off at this. I can soooooo relate.

Even the word "disobey" gives the ed power- as if it is an authority with which you have to contend.

I like "disengage."

I think the whole Stockholm syndrome thing is a deterrent from healthy disengagement- after years and years of abuse by my ed, I feel mentally and emotionally bound to it and indebted to it. I think I need to break that bond before I can disengage. And to break the bond, I need to look the abuse/trauma/damage it has caused square on. That's how I've disengaged from abusive/toxic people anyway- by acknowledging the shit they pulled, grieving the pain from it, then letting it go and letting them go too. Sticking around and trying to prove a point to them or purposely going against their wishes didn't do squat to stop the abuse.

"Disengagement" really is the only way out of an abusive situation. Treating a person who once felt powerful as if they are "nothing" is incredibly empowering.

Disengaging from an ed sounds like an super good solution on so many fronts. But can it be done when the abuser is inside one's own head???

I will be curious to hear further thoughts on this, as you experiment with it. Please keep your readers posted. :)

Breteni said...

I have read that book as well. I love when she said, "From the outside looking in, you can't understand it. From the inside looking out you can't explain it." I am finding it hard to do all three of the D's; I am having a hard time dealing with the anxiety.

Haley said...

I've always read your blog, Carrie, yet I don't think I've ever commented.
Today's post really hits home with me because I know exactly what you mean about the two sides and it sucks cuz I'm always good at arguing both ways.
It is good to know that the ED voice is irrational, though. There's no point in arguing with it cuz it refuses to listen. So you might as well drown it out.
I like the comparison to the man preaching about the end of the world, ha. :)

Katie said...

I was advised to do the same thing by a therapist. She told me that trying to argue with eating disordered thoughts it like trying to stop a toddler from having a tantrum by shouting at it. There's no point using logic on eating disorders because they aren't logical, although they are very good at pretending they are. It's more effective to teach yourself to separate yourself from and ignore those thoughts. When I was younger I thought that this would somehow be ignoring something important, like that voice might hold the answer to why I had an eating disorder. But no, it just talked bollocks :P and I recovered just fine (physically, behaviourally, cognitively and emotionally - I could only deal with my psychological triggers and past traumas once those thoughts had shut up) once I learned to ignore the damn it. I labelled all thoughts like that as symptoms and discarded them.

Katie said...

lol, ignore the damn thing, even. Or ignore it. But the damn it? I don't know what that is. I should really go to bed!

hm said...

From You can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay: (and no, I am not a "fan" nor do I endorse her or her book, as I've never read it nor researched her as an author- perhaps I would be a fan if I did, who knows? but I have not- just was sent this particular quote from a friend and thought it highly relevant)

"There is no need to get angry in order to clean a room.
It is the same thing when we are cleaning our mental house. There is no need to get angry just because some of the old beliefs in it are ready to be tossed out. Let them go as easily as you would scrape bits of food into the trash after a meal. Would you really dig into yesterday's garbage to make tonight's meal? Do you dig into the old mental garbage to create tomorrow's experiences?
If a thought or belief does not serve you, let it go! There is no written law that says that because you once believed something, you have to continue to believe it forever."

PJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cara said...

I suppose I could say I disagree, disengage, and then replace. What I mean by that is that, for example, when ED starts babbling about how I should restrict again to lose the gross weight I gained, I say, "No. It's not gross weight, it's healthy weight. Your weight is okay and YOU are okay." This reassures me, so then I am able to halt the thought in its tracks. After that, if I keep having trouble, I repeat affirmations to myself, affirmations I KNOW are true, so that not only am I saying no to ED, but I have thoughts that COUNTER the eating disorder. Having something to replace the ED with is extremely important for me, because if nothing replaces it, that leaves ED room to come back in and start haunting me and whispering in my ear again. And I do NOT want that.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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