The Anorexic Voice: I’ve never heard it

Many people with anorexia speak about having an anorexic voice in their head. They explain that anorexia speaks to them, and it is this anorexic voice that drives their behaviour. For example, anorexia may be telling them that they’ve eaten too much and they are going to gain lots of weight so eating disorder compensation behaviours are needed. Also, it is this anorexic voice that people will often say speaks to them constantly telling them that anorexia will make them feel better, that they are nothing without it, that anorexia is the answer to all the problems.

I don’t doubt that many people with anorexia to experience it as this anorexic voice. But for me, I never experienced it as an anorexic voice. This made me question whether I actually had anorexia. If I didn’t hear this voice that everyone with anorexia talks about, how can I possibly have anorexia? But the reality is that not everyone with anorexia does experience this anorexic voice. But they still have anorexia. So I wanted to share my experiences of not having an anorexic voice in the hope that others with similar experiences know that they aren’t alone. I’d be really interested in hearing about your experiences with this so please do leave a comment.

Whenever anyone has asked me about whether I have this anorexic voice in my head, I always respond with no. I never have. I never had this thing talking to me, saying “you need to do this” or “you are this” for example. The anorexic voice was not something I related to, or identified with. For me, it was always just “my head” and “my thoughts.” There wasn’t a separate entity talking to me. My thoughts would work on the basis of ‘I’, not ‘you.’ So it would be “If I could just lose this bit of weight everything will be better.” It wasn’t “If YOU lose this bit of weight everything will be better.” I could not distinguish between myself and this anorexic voice that people spoke about, it was just me.

When I was very unwell, these anorexic thoughts were very strong. But it still wasn’t an anorexic voice. To me, it was just how I was thinking. It seems like myself and anorexia were all one being, rather than anorexia being this thing that spoke to me. This really did make me confused and believe that I couldn’t have anorexia because I didn’t have an anorexic voice. And this lead to feelings of failure. Like I wasn’t good enough at having anorexia because I didn’t experience the anorexic voice.

It also made me feel like I must be inherently evil. All these other people with anorexia are having this voice speak to them which makes them do what they do and feel how they feel. It forces them into it. But me? I wasn’t being told to these things by this anorexic voice. I was just doing them because that’s how I thought and felt. And that must make me a terrible person.

I did over time learn to accept that it was okay to experience anorexia in this way. That it wasn’t a necessity to experience this anorexic voice and it didn’t make me evil or not good enough for not having this voice. But you never really hear stories of other people without this voice, which meant it took quite a while for me to accept. What did help me to accept it was once I started anorexia recovery. Whilst I still wouldn’t describe it as an anorexic voice, my experience of my eating disorder thoughts did change slightly.

Before, as I described above, my thoughts were just my thoughts. That was how I felt, that was how I thought, so I behaved in accordance with my thoughts. But once I progressed into anorexia recovery, I was able to start to recognise a difference between my own ‘Bex’ thoughts, and my ‘ED’ thoughts. Again, it wasn’t an anorexic voice speaking to me, but I could distinguish when my thought was anorexic. So for example, if I was thinking “I should leave this piece of food because otherwise I will gain weight,” I would be able to identify this as an anorexic thought and pull myself up on it. They were all still my own thoughts, but it was as if I had two parts to my brain. My anorexic brain and my own Bex brain.

It was being able to separate my two brains that helped with my anorexia recovery. Once I could recognise my thought as anorexic, I was then able to start arguing with myself against it. It was like “I should do this, but you shouldn’t really, yeah but it will make me feel better, but it’s not the answer etc etc.” It was through having those conversations with myself that started to enable me to not just do what my anorexic brain was telling me. I could fight it. But I was still talking to and arguing with myself, not an anorexic voice. 

Even now, I’ve been in recovery for a few years, and I still sometimes have these conversations with MYSELF . I may still get eating disorder thoughts, but they are just that…thoughts. There are no voices. When I get an eating disorder thought like “I should eat less of this,” I just say to myself “No, come on, that’s an ED thought and I’m not doing it.” 
Brains think in different ways. These are just my experiences. How you think and how you experience anorexia may be completely different. And that’s totally ok. There is no right or wrong way. Not hearing an anorexic voice does not mean that you don’t have anorexia. So often this anorexic voice is all people hear about in how anorexia is experienced. But it’s not like that for everyone. It hasn’t been like that for me. I think there does need to be more awareness of different experiences of anorexia to highlight this. There is not just one narrative for eating disorders, or how anorexia is experienced. 

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The Anorexic Voice
The Anorexic Voice – Bex Quinlan

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