Over the last few weeks, I've been doing some reading online about eating disorder recovery. I've looked into many, many inpatient and outpatient programs for bulimia and binge eating disorder. Even though I no longer binge, and have never vomited/purged, I still relate on so many levels to people who do suffer from those issues. I remember what BED feels like, and I certainly (and more recently) know obsessive food thoughts and compulsive eating. I've been trying to recover from my disordered eating on my own, mainly because I don't have the freedom to go inpatient or travel for hours to be part of an intensive outpatient program. My insurance won't cover any "distance" (Skype) sessions with an ED therapist, either. So I have done a lot of reading to find out what those programs look like. That way I can incorporate some of their methods and techniques into my own self-healing.
Some of the components I have found to be common to most of the ED programs out there are the following:
- Focus on rebuilding your sense of self and restoring your self worth (not based on physical attributes or dietary goals)
- Heal your body and restore your nutritional status through proper hydration, nutrition, and supplementation, replacing depleted nutrients from improper eating
- Learn how to handle strong emotions and stress without turning to food
- Change your beliefs about "good" and "bad" foods
- Step away from perfectionist thinking in both diet and body
- Stop the obsessive checking of your body on the scale and in the mirror
- Focus on what makes you valuable and find ways to evaluate yourself that are not based on weight, size, measurements, or diet
Programs vary in how they handle the dietary aspect of things. Some programs, mainly for bulimics, do include a written daily diet to follow. The purpose of that is to get a person used to regular, controlled meal times and away from long periods without food or days of grazing and eating constantly. Other programs ask a person to let go of the diet mindset. I found some interesting advice from "eating disorder experts" in an article on recovery from binge eating disorder. One answer to "How many calories a day are enough?" is:
That’s a hard question to answer because talking about calories isn’t helpful. It just feeds the eating disorder. Many binge eaters think they should be dieting. But with dieting usually comes calorie counting. You don’t want to do this. The important thing to do is structure meals and snacks and get in some protein and fiber and healthy fat.
When asked "Are any foods forbidden?" this expert answers:
It’s important to allow all foods. If you never allow yourself a certain food, you’ll want it more. This can lead to a binge. You don’t want the food to be in control. When you start toward recovery, you might feel more empowered and confident by keeping binge trigger foods out of sight. But know that’s your choice and that it’s important to know you can have them in moderation.
Meals plans, they say, should not be restrictive but just a general structure of nutritious, balanced foods for 3 meals and 2 or 3 snacks per day. What I read on many of these ED treatment websites backed up something I already believed: that eating disorders usually begin with "an ordinary calorie-restricted diet that turns into a compulsive condition." This is why I refuse to count calories, weigh, measure, and track my food intake: I do not want to resurrect the eating disorder.
So I ask myself, what are my next steps? Now that I have stopped binge eating, stopped eating compulsively, and stopped obsessive food thoughts, how do I continue to heal and recover from the effects of my past eating behaviors? I can follow the steps of the ED treatment centers that I listed above, and I can gently reintroduce a structured "meal plan" that is not restrictive, but just guides me to eat in a healthier way. For me, that does mean 3 meals and the availability of 2-3 snacks a day if I am hungry. This is not much different from what I am already doing, except I do sometimes find myself grazing more often than is good for me. I don't even think I "need" 2-3 snacks each day, either. I have just been very, very relaxed about my eating and almost never saying "no" to anything I feel like having, because my goal has been to normalize food and eliminate the anxiety I had about food and eating. I think I've done that very well. I can happily eat a piece of cheesecake with absolutely zero guilt or regret, anytime I want it. So the next step is instead of always saying "yes," to say "later." I can still enjoy what I'd like, but will move that food into my breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I am going to make a list of snacks and choose from that list when I am hungry between meals or at night, with a limit of 3 snacks a day. I don't think that is restrictive at all... and I can still have whatever I want at regular meal times.
Snack ideas I have are: string cheese, protein shake, protein bar, nuts, yogurt, hard boiled egg, jerky, piece of fruit, or serving of a vegetable. If I want something else at snack time... say, a cookie or some chips or cheese and crackers... I will tell myself "later" and have that food as part of my next meal, if I still want it.
No restricting, just adjusting.
These steps may seem small, but that's the point. Rushing into big changes can be triggering and start up those old disordered, restrictive-eating thoughts. This time I am doing it the right way... even if it takes longer in the short term. I want this recovery to be permanent.
If any of you readers have been through ED treatment and would be willing to share your steps to recovery, I'd love to hear from you in the comments or via email. You can be anonymous if you wish. Thank you for reading and sharing my journey!
I am 38 years old, female, a degree-holding stay-at-home-mom, and I weigh 278 pounds. I have been obese for ten years now. Time to get out of this fat prison I have made for myself.
--This is the original introduction I wrote when I first started this blog in 2007. I leave it as a reminder to myself of where I came from. Currently, I am 46 years old and weigh significantly less...see the blog for details. I lost 103 pounds, then had a partial regain, and am once again working at weight loss and better health.
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