ED brain is short for the eating disorder thoughts that permeate the thinking patterns of those who do not like their bodies and want to lose weight.

Essentially the ED brain works like this: it tells you that your body never looks good enough and you should always be losing weight – whether by eating less, exercising more, making different food choices to be healthier, or purging to make up for eating too much.

Some things the ED brain might say are:

  • You look fat today, wear something that hides your (fill in appropriate body part).
  • Your waistband feels tight, you ate too much (fill in appropriate type of food).
  • You missed your workout yesterday; you need to go twice as hard today.
  • You have a big date coming up, you will feel better if you lose some weight.
  • Don’t eat (fill in the blank), you will get fat.
  • You ate too much; you should purge so you don’t gain weight.

In short, your ED brain thinks that the secret to your happiness and success hinges on your body size and shape, which is why it continually pushes you to restrict food to lose weight.

This is dangerous because weight loss is not the answer, and it can cause you to be malnourished.  Even if your weight is within the range for your height and age, you may not be consuming sufficient calories to meet your energy and nutritional requirements. Additionally, food restriction affects your mental health, causing you to become anxious and depressed over time.

Focusing too much on food will cause you to become obsessed with what you eat and whether you are gaining or losing weight. You might get very worried if your scale shows you have gained a couple of pounds or very happy if you have lost. How you feel about yourself is dependent upon a number. That’s not good.

The ED brain can also lead you to lose interest in things that bring you joy because of this excessive focus. Nothing else seems important except losing weight and you will end up putting your life on hold until you feel thin enough.  While this is a sad trap in the first place, it is also a moving target because the ED brain always thinks that thinner is better so you will never lose enough weight for it to be satisfied.

Additionally, with any kind of food restriction, there is a rebound effect. Because the brain does not recognize the distinction between dieting, fasting, clean eating, or any other restrictive eating pattern, a reduction in food intake, especially when it means deprivation, hunger and denial, signals to the brain that you are entering a period of famine or starvation. The part of your brain that is built for survival will cause you to crave high-energy foods and you will binge at certain times of the day (usually when no one is looking) on the foods that you normally deny yourself. While this may feel highly frustrating and cause you guilt and shame, it makes perfect sense when viewed as a survival mechanism aimed at minimizing the effects of diet and deprivation.