Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Recovery on Your Terms

I'm not going to address the obvious myths about eating disorders circulating such as the one that claims eating disorders are limited to white, upper-class, females who are vain or the one that suggests eating disorders are primarily about food addiction. These have been addressed and debunked in countless books, articles and talks. The following are myths or ideas on which I would like to focus:

1. Once you have an eating disorder, you will always have one. This, quite frankly, is bullshit. I know too many people who are fully recovered to believe that a person will always be stuck with the same illness or have the same set of symptoms for her entire life. There's no doubt that there's a genetic component and that people can have a predisposition to developing certain disorders, but this does not mean "once an anorexic, always an anorexic". You may have bouts of distress followed by periods of relief, but once you are on a solid recovery path, you always have the tools to deal with the disorder at your disposal. Sometimes learning to manage an illness leads to living life differently. You don't forget what it's like to suffer with it, but you don't have to actually suffer your entire life.

2. Ed. I already addressed Ed once in a blog post, so I won't go into too much detail here. While I understand the idea that it can be good to separate unhealthy and healthy thoughts by naming or identifying the unhealthy ones, I think this kind of strategy can become problematic when one refuses to accept that the disorder is part of the self, an unhealthy coping mechanism that once served a purpose and can be dangerous if continued. Blaming Ed for risky behaviors but refusing to take any action to change won't lead to improved health. It can help separate the person from the illness, but I stand by my words and say that this is a limiting and gimmicky strategy when it comes to dealing with eating disorders.

3. Eating disorders are a choice. No, they're not. No addiction is a choice, but we all make choices in life that either support or inhibit health. The problem with thinking a disorder is a choice is that you discount the physiology and genetic component of an addiction. The fact that they are not a choice doesn't mean those who suffer have no way of changing or overcoming them. It's more complicated that simply they are or they aren't, just like recovery isn't as simple as making a single choice to get well. You must address all aspects of a person and the disorder in order to successfully overcome addiction. Eating disorders are not a choice, and getting well is not as simple as choosing to eat.

4. Focus on who you were in order to overcome the illness. This is not good advice, because so many people never had a healthy relationship with food, even from a young age. Besides, going back in time is impossible, and why would you really want to? Instead, focus on where you are now and where you want to go. Go as far as describing what you want your life in recovery to look like, and then come up with some steps you can take to get there.

5. One diet fits all. This couldn't be further from the truth. Those who claim everyone can thrive on the same diet aren't considering the different dietary requirements for those with PKU, Hereditary hemochromatosis, Cystic Fibrosis or any number of genetic variations individuals have. Contrary to what some people believe, there is no magical diet for everyone. Anyone who claims that everyone, including all diabetics, does well on a high-carb diet hasn't looked into scholarly, peer-reviewed articles on insulin sensitivity or articles on varied diets in general. It's simply not true that everyone in all areas of the globe should eat the same diet.

Going past the physical requirements of diet, there's no doubt that there are psychological and emotional factors involved with eating. Comfort food is different for each person. Memories and scent are closely tied together, so certain feelings can arise when you smell or even see certain foods, but food can also affect brain chemistry. Again, why we eat what we do isn't as simple as feeding the machine. Food as fuel is fine, but it's better when we can learn to enjoy what we consume.

Speaking of diets, I recently bumped into another gimmicky recovery method called the MinnieMaud. It sounds like the "fuck it; I'm eating" way to better health. Honestly, I don't know a lot about it except that at a glance, it looks like someone compiled a lot of existing advice into a "method" that's easy for others to follow. These kinds of practices have pros and definite cons, so my only suggestion is that anyone who is thinking about doing something like this should check with his or her team and doctor and make sure it's safe to try given his or her situation and current state of health. Remember, refeeding for anorexics and other individuals with certain eating disorders can be dangerous and even deadly in some cases and should be monitored in most cases. Just be careful is all I'm saying. If it works for you, great, but don't push it onto others. Any program like this should be used as a guideline only, not something set in stone.

As far as recovery goes, I don't believe there's a magic formula or perfect method, or that you have to do X, Y and Z to regain health and sanity. There are some obvious changes that have to be made, and I believe there are certain issues that must be addressed in order to recover. Each person, however, will have a unique set of needs and issues to address. The path to health that one takes to achieve well-being need not be the same path someone else takes and probably shouldn't be. For example, some alcoholics believe that AA is the only way a person can get sober, but there are plenty of people who have put years of sobriety under their belts without attending meetings. More importantly, everyone who attends AA will have a different experience and will interpret what is being offered differently. The individual makes of it what he or she will. 

I often refer to this post when it comes to what I feel is essential in recovery. Use what works for you and discard the rest. By using your own approach combined with the guidance of those you respect and trusting that somewhere deep inside you are the answers, chances are you will have lasting success in your recovery.


  1. First - Happy to have found your blog, btw! In my life I've had trouble relating to other people, but the memoirs of people who have lived with eating disorders have meant a lot to me.

    I wanted to share a bit about MinnieMaud: I used it as a guideline in my recovery, and it worked, basically. It was designed for adults who did not have the resources (ie money) to pursue professional treatment, which I think is key to understanding it. The gist of it is that the body is physically damaged from the ED, you need to eat more than "basic" calories to heal it, and in doing so you will "switch off" the ED (I'm oversimplifying here).

    Personally I'd been weight-recovered from anorexia for a couple years but couldn't kick the bulimia, and when I started MM I was shocked that I still had severe refeeding symptoms. By eating a steady large amount of calories every day, the wildly uncontrollable binge went away almost immediately. Now, I use the MM concepts to maintain health: if ED-type moods or thoughts surface, it means I didn't get enough calories that day. I'm usually correct. The bulimia is gone and my weight is steady, even though I actually have no idea what calories I eat now. It's been a couple years now, and though I'd say I'm still "in remission" instead of "recovered",I'm totally functional and only occasionally even think of the ED.

    HOWEVER, I don't want that to sound like I'm preaching MinnieMaud. It leaves out some variables that could be affecting people's lives, and maybe relies too much on the individual's capabilities; and it kind of flip-flops on whether it's a "guideline" or should be followed strictly or else. There is that preachy-ness to it. There is a lot of rumor and drama surrounding its creator. I think she comes across as in it for a weird validation rather than actual care (that might just be her writing). I find the community very flawed also, often condescending. But, nothing is perfect, and I don't think these problems dismiss the guidelines as untrue, because I think the science seems quite accurate. The way to stop an ED is to heal the physical body while developing stronger mental habits.

    Comparing MM to AA is absolutely right - I myself get no benefit from AA concepts as applied to EDs, but obviously lots of other people do. I totally agree with "Use what works for you and discard the rest," that's a great way to put it.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on MinnieMaud. I'm glad you are doing what works for you to maintain your health. You put things very nicely here, and I hope people can use the concepts for themselves. It's good to know that some of the concepts can be useful in treatment. Anything that has the potential to help others is worth discussing, in my opinion!


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