Author: Jenni Schaefer

My motto these days seems to be, “It gets better.” Even though my struggle with food and weight actually got worse before it got better, it did get better. Recovery is very difficult and oftentimes excruciatingly painful, but it does get better. I am definitely starting to sound like a broken record about this point, and people are now beginning to ask me, “What is ‘better’?”

Some of us in recovery from an eating disorder have been told that ‘better’ is the point where we will merely be able to manage the disease. In other words, we have been informed that we will never experience any real freedom from food and weight obsessions. We have been warned that while our eating disordered behaviors might not totally consume us in our normal day-to-day lives, the disease will frequently take over during stressful times. Ultimately, this form of ‘better’ does not really seem better at all.

When I say that it gets better, I mean really better. I can honestly say that I experience true freedom from my eating disorder. To explain this feeling to the fullest, I need to introduce my eating disorder appropriately. His name is ‘Ed,’ which is an acronym for ‘eating disorder.’ I was taught by psychotherapist and author Thom Rutledge to treat my eating disorder as a relationship — rather than an illness or a condition. Today Ed does not control my mind or my body like he did in the past. Years ago, if Ed said run, I ran. If Ed said eat, I ate. Whatever Ed said, I did.

My relationship with Ed is absolutely, in no uncertain terms, changed for the better. There is that word again. For most of my life, Ed was the decision maker. Today, Jenni makes the decisions. I decide when to eat and what to eat, what to say, what to do, and so on. All decisions are my responsibility. The other day I had the opportunity to eat in a school for the first time since I had actually been a student myself. It was great to walk through the noise-filled cafeteria and make food choices in the lunch line without Ed whispering in my ear. So when making my milk selection — for the first time in all my years of schooling — I was able to choose the little brown box labeled ‘chocolate’! I was so thrilled that I called a woman also in recovery to let her know how wonderful it felt to have the freedom to choose.

After reading a brochure discussing normal-eating the other day, I can honestly say that I eat like a normal person. (I am not saying that I am normal, just that I eat normally!) Normal eating, among many other things, is about trusting your body, having flexibility at mealtimes, and choosing foods that you really like to eat. I am still very grateful today when I realize that I am just eating like a normal person, including drinking chocolate milk out of a box. Because I had such a complicated, love-hate relationship with food for so long, each and every bite I put into my mouth today is done with a sense of awareness and deep gratitude for where I have been and where I am now. Surprising to even myself, I actually have moments of thankfulness for imperfections with my body. Surprising to even myself, I actually have moments of thankfulness for imperfections with my body. (That is not a typo — I wrote that sentence a second time because it felt so good the first time.) As corny as it may sound, I have experienced so much gratitude that I have actually become grateful for my gratitude. Now that is better. Better does not mean that Ed has been magically exorcised from my body. Not yet anyway. I still sometimes hear his voice creeping in to make wisecracks about my body. The good news is that his remarks get further and further apart as time goes by. While it is possible that one day I will not hear him anymore, the even better news is that does not have to happen. Thom always taught me that the goal of eating disorder recovery is not to get rid of Ed but instead to change my relationship with Ed, to not be controlled by Ed. Whether or not Ed eventually goes away does not matter. My relationship with Ed is absolutely changed today. Agreeing with Ed is not an option. Obeying Ed is not an option. Negotiating with Ed is not an option even during very stressful times. More often than not, I have actually found that I do not even think about turning to Ed during times of crisis. I am not managing my disorder. I am experiencing freedom.

Ed even provides some humor in my life today. His occasional comments can be quite funny. For instance, I laugh out loud these days when he sporadically tells me that I gained 20 pounds overnight, which is an absolutely unreasonable and irrational remark. Then I follow up these chuckles with an even louder, “Shut up, Ed!” I am not sure what my upstairs neighbors think, but I will do anything to keep myself better.

So what is ‘better’? It is deep understanding. It is drastic change. It is deep appreciation. And it is absolute freedom.

Jenni Schaefer is a singer/songwriter, speaker, and the author of Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too (McGraw-Hill).  For more information, visit www.jennischaefer.com or email [email protected].

Written in 2008