Anthropomorphism and Eating Disorders

   anthropomorphism 6 Comments

I’ve always found it interesting that some people refer to their eating disorder as “Ed” and give it human characteristics (anthropomorphism). I’m wondering if “naming” an eating disorder makes it easier for some people to recover, because naming an eating disorder possibly makes it more tangible, and therefore easier to do battle with? I’m interested in hearing people’s experiences with anthropomorphism/naming their eating disorder. If you don’t mind sharing your thoughts/feelings/opinions surrounding this, please leave me a blog comment, message me on facebook, or email me at I’m also looking for any resources or experts that talk about this.

Based on personal experience and far too much reading for my own good, I’d guess that it’s a combination of what you mention (tangibility) and establishing the eating disorder as something separate from one’s own identity (i.e., “this is an illness, not me”).

I can’t think of any articles I’ve read that address this directly, but a number of books do touch on similar themes (the eating disorder is not the patient and vice-versa) – Harriet Brown’s “Brave Girl Eating”, for example. I think Carrie Arnold and Emily Halban may, in their respective memoirs, refer to their EDs as Ed; Shannon Cutts uses “Ana”; Erica Rivera uses, umm, “Ana” and “BB”, I think. Oh, and in the graphic novel “Tyranny” (Lesley Fairfield), the character’s ED is portrayed as a sort of monster. Most of those probably aren’t what you’re looking for, but I thought I’d mention them just in case.

If you find any articles on the subject, I hope you’ll post links.

Thanks, Catriona. This is helpful, and I will look into these books. If I find any articles, I will definitely post! “The eating disorder is not the patient and vice-versa.” Fascinating.

Similar to Catriona, I think it’s helpful to disentangle eating disordered thoughts from non-disordered thoughts, whether someone says, “That’s Ed talking,” or “That’s the eating disorder talking.” Many of the things eating disorder patients say to themselves are normalized by society and so, at times, it can be tricky to figure out what is actually healthy.

Jenni Schaefer wrote a book with Thom Rutledge called, “Life without Ed” and the follow-up, “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me.” Though I haven’t read “Life without Ed” in years, I remember finding it very helpful in identifying disordered thoughts and behaviors. One of the exercises in the book, a goodbye letter to “Ed,” seems to be fairly popular in treatment programs.

Great topic, I look forward to reading what other people think!

Thanks for stopping by, Melissa. I agree that it is often hard (especially in the midst of an ED/beginning of recovery) to separate the eating disorder voice from one’s “true” voice. You bring up an excellent point about society normalizing disordered thinking.

I read “Life Without Ed” a long time ago, and I had a hard time with the cheesiness of it, but I am planning on rereading it, and I’ll check out “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me”, too. Many people I was in treatment with did the goodbye letter and found it helpful.

I’m curious to find out if calling one’s eating disorder “Ed” originated with Jenni Schaefer, or someone else, and if it’s been studied at all.

It seems like calling an ED “Ed” helps some people distinguish their own voice from the ED voice, which is helpful in recovery. On the flipside, I’ve also known people who blame their ED behavior on “Ed” as in, “Ed made me binge and purge.” So I wonder if calling the ED “Ed” sometimes keeps people from taking personal responsibility.

I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

There is an interesting tone in “Life without Ed,” for me I think the no-nonsense-I’m-not-putting-up-with-your-shenanigans treatment team I was working with balanced out the cheesiness. The only other books that weren’t banned tended towards “Love your body,” “Be gentle with yourself,” and “Feel connected to the earth” kinds of floaty, cotton-candy-clouded, unicorn frolicking stuff, which just isn’t what most ED patients are ready to hear. Unfortunately, that kind of prose and therapeutic practice just isn’t my thing so this book was a welcome relief.

I’m not sure where “Ed” originated, in the book I think she talks about her therapist coming up with the device during her treatment. But again, I’m not sure on that one. You can contact him through his website: I seem to remember emailing him with a few questions many years ago; he was kind and generous in responding.

You’re exactly right about taking responsibility versus blaming. This is where calling the eating disorder “Ed” didn’t feel right to me. Personally, I used this strategy to separate the thoughts but never really got on board with the true anthropomorphism. Believing that there was some malevolent invisible being responsible for my maladaptive behaviors felt like a cop-out and ultimately wouldn’t empower me to make the necessary changes. If there was one thing I could have done more of in early recovery, it would have been taking more responsibility for my actions and recovery. It’s a fine line for patients to walk. The “Ed” device can be an effective tool if it empowers a patient, but it can also turn into them just throwing their hands in the air saying, “See, it’s not my fault.”

There is also an odd connection, to me at least, between calling an eating disorder Ed and the terms Ana and Mia. Though it was after my time, I am aware of the “pro-” eating disorder websites and the way they give dangerous behaviors anthropomorphic characteristics in order to become more entrenched in the disorder. This connection is another reason I’m uneasy about fully embracing the Ed device. It’ll be interesting to see if someone can offer an alternative argument. You’ve started a great conversation here, very interesting!


What is banned during eating disorder treatment could be another great conversation. 😉 I know what you mean about certain books being allowed, but others not being allowed. I can definitely see how “Life Without Ed” would be a welcome change from new-agey, fluffy clouds, love yourself books. Your team sounds like they were great, by the way.

I think I’m going to b emailing Thom and Jenni, just to learn more (after I read the books again!). I think it’s so important to take responsibility for ED actions. I had to do a therapeutic exercise (it’s in the beginning of Purge) where I had to write down all my disordered actions and how they affected me, my friends and family, etc, and it was eye-opening to say the least. It forced me to own up to my problems and take responsibility for initiating change. I noticed in treatment, that a lot of women seemed to think recovery would just happen one day, and that it was this ethereal, confusing thing. It isn’t that way. One has to initiate and fight for recovery. One has to OWN their recovery, if that makes sense, and one has to OWN any relapses, not blame it on the eating disorder or “Ed.”

Using anthropomorphism to separate the ED thinking from genuine, personal thinking makes sense. It just irks me when anthro moves into the realm of scapegoating.

That is interesting about the Ana and Mia thing. That is definitely anthro in a negative way, and I think it’s related to using anthro as a scapegoat.

I’m going to keep researching this. I’ll let you guys know what I find…I’m going to hit up some academic journals.

Excellent conversation!


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