Summary of “Life Without ED”

A book on overcoming eating disorders by Jenni Schaefer. Reviewed and Written by Jane Sylvestre, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Reading the book Life Without Ed has given me great insight into what it must be like to be a person with an eating disorder (ED). I felt like I was in the mind of Jenni Schaefer and was able to understand her tug-of-war with her ED. Anorexia was just starving oneself and bulimia was eating to excess and then purging. I now understand that eating disorders are not so black and white.

I loved how the book offered strategies to help this patient population. For example, Jenni was asked to speak to her ED as if it was sitting in a chair next to her. Jenni referred to her ED as if it were a person named ED throughout the book. She compared her life with ED to an abusive marriage and one she was afraid of leaving. She explained that recovery will occur once that relationship is changed. She found separating herself from the disease was helpful and she learned to disagree with what ED was saying to her. Then, she practiced staying away from him. When she did that, she was able to have her own opinions.

Silhouette of a person with arms raised in a victory gesture at sunset, symbolizing triumph and wellbeing, representing the empowering journey discussed at Nutegra Mental Health and Nutrition.

One additional tool she learned was keeping a journal to write the dialogue she had with her abusive partner. She also wrote a declaration of independence from ED and had her support group sign it. She explained the role that perfectionism played in her life and how she connected it to her self-esteem. She was honest about the number of relapses she had and how she overcame them. Jenni emphasized the importance of support from her therapy team and support group.

Working on her relationship with food came after dealing with ED in her head. She realized she did not have to be perfect and should allow for special foods on occasion. Food was no longer labeled ‘Good” or “bad.” She also emphasized the importance of continued support during challenging times. She learned that challenging times and even setbacks were teaching moments that taught her how to react next time. She learned to listen to her body’s signals and learning when to stop and when to eat more healthy foods.

Sharing was a big part of her recovery such as sharing her food plan and sharing when she has a binge. She learned to identify the small positive changes she made in time. She learned to tattle on herself to her care team when she found herself relapsing. She found interesting methods to motivate herself such as putting a sticker on a Bon Jovi poster every time she had the strength to break one of ED’s negative rules until it was covered. She called it her guilty poster because she felt guilty when disobeying ED.

The scale was eventually thrown out of the picture. Weight gain became a sign of success rather than failure. She learned to look at herself in mirrors and accept what she saw. She kept signals around her house as reminders of what not to react to and to what to react. For example, keeping lists of things ED would say to her was a constant reminder not to fall back into his trap, and posting pictures of herself as a young child was a constant reminder to be kind to herself as she would not treat that young child with verbal abuse. She got rid of clothes that had power over her. She would also tear a piece of tape out of a cassette and stick it in an envelope to eliminate whenever she heard ED’s negative musings in her head. She would also document her ten negative thoughts and replace them with positive messages. When she did have negative conversations, she would document the dialogue and send it to her therapist.

Jenni suggests to make your recovery be what you want it to look like, not anyone else. She suggests including four levels: your purpose, thoughts, feelings, and physical relationship with food and activity. If you make a mistake, you get right back on a good path. Keep support phone numbers handy and use them as needed. Use a baseball bat on the couch, press up against a door frame, or be active to release tension. Compare the good and bad of the relationship with ED. Jenny was encouraged to make a 911 card with all the tips and tricks she had learned in therapy. Add a kind voice to the voices in your head. Do not be afraid to say “NO;” however, one cannot say no until they say “YES” to recovery.

Think about the seriousness and health consequences of an eating disorder including osteoporosis and death.

Final thoughts

  • “We are always a work in progress.”
  • “You can never be too recovered.”
  • “A relapse is like a leaky roof; you have to fix it immediately.”
  • “Do the next right thing.”
    “Never, never, never give up.”