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  • Writer's pictureBreanna Mills R.D.

Is the ED Sneaking Into Your Recovery?

Author: Breanna Mills R.D.

Woman at a café

Recovery from an eating disorder is an incredibly rewarding experience. During your recovery, you may be working on eliminating or decreasing the ways that the ED keeps you stuck. We encourage our clients to bring awareness to the souvenirs or back-pocket things that the ED likes to hold onto, the things that it promises you can keep while still working on full recovery. This can create an opportunity for the ED to sneak into your recovery and try to sabotage all of the hard work you have done. Here are some ways that the eating disorder could be sneaking into your recovery.

Preferences - it is perfectly normal to have food preferences. Where this can get tricky is when the eating disorder starts to disguise ED-safe foods as being true preferences. You may want to ask yourself whether this was a food you enjoyed without the eating disorder or if it is a food that only came in when the eating disorder was present in your life.

Food freedom (to an extent) - one aspect of recovery is food freedom and the ED may sneak in by allowing food freedom, but only up to a certain point. This may look like permission to eat all foods, but only in certain amounts or at certain times. Ask yourself “could I eat this food every single day for the rest of the week/month/year?” If the answer makes you incredibly uncomfortable, this may indicate that unconditional permission and full food freedom has not yet been reached.

Eating enough but only of ED comfortable foods - a critical part of recovery is eating enough and nourishing the brain and body. The ED unfortunately can sneak in by allowing you to eat enough overall, but only of foods that it deems acceptable. Are you eating the same things that you ate while the eating disorder was at its strongest, just in different amounts? This may be an indication that the ED has snuck in.

Rigidity with portion sizes, amounts and timing - challenging portion sizes and amounts can be hard and there is often distress and uncomfortable feelings associated with increasing portion sizes. Your team may provide you with guidelines for what an adequate portion size may be and this does not mean that this is the only allowable portion of that food. The ED may sneak into your recovery by being overly rigid with portions and not allowing you to take more or less based on cues from your body. In addition, the ED can be very rigid with meal timing. You may have been working on a mechanical eating approach that uses specific meal times to ensure that you are getting what you need. As you progress in your recovery and can work beyond this mechanical approach, the ED may hold onto specific rules around when you are “allowed” to eat.

“That’s not on my meal plan” - meal plans can be a helpful tool, especially in the beginning stages of recovery, to provide structure, variety and adequacy. The meal plan is always a minimum guideline and the ED can sneak in by only allowing you to have what is written or defined on your meal plan. You are allowed to eat outside of what is on your meal plan!

Overconsumption of non-nutritive liquids- many of us enjoy a variety of beverages throughout our day. Non-nutritive beverages can be tricky in recovery, as they may be seen as a perfectly normal behaviour that the ED can take advantage of. Beverages such as coffee, water and diet soda can be used by the ED to make you feel full and mask hunger cues. It may be helpful to look at the timing of when these beverages come in and how they are coming in. It is possible to enjoy these beverages without the ED!

Variety, flexibility and exploration of new foods - variety truly is the spice of life! Many of us often purchase similar items and brands when we go grocery shopping. The ED can sneak into this by causing you to be unwilling to try different brands, flavours or new foods in general. You may be able to eat enough and have some variety, but what happens when your favourite brand is out of stock? The restaurant you are at doesn’t have what you wanted to order? These are all situations that can make the eating disorder uncomfortable. Part of recovery is flexibility.

Exercise - many individuals struggle with their relationship with exercise and many people start to incorporate more movement as they progress in their recovery. While this can be a positive, the ED may also sneak in. Ask yourself what the intention is with movement. Do I truly want to be doing this? Am I wanting to bring in exercise because I am uncomfortable with my body and how it has potentially changed in recovery? Am I bringing in movement to curb or avoid any further potential changes with my body? Am I exercising because it makes me feel better about eating certain foods? The answers to these questions may be a clue as to how the ED may be influencing movement and exercise patterns.

Not allowing additions to meals or snacks - there are many additions that make meals more enjoyable. Some examples could be adding sauces, toppings, cheese, croutons, etc. It is possible to get enough at a meal without adding flavour enhancers, but why eat meals that don’t taste as good as they possibly could? You are allowed to enjoy food and enjoy food that tastes good.

Choosing the “healthiest” option - the ED loves to use this language around food, which further serves to fuel black and white thinking about food. It can be tempting to make swaps in your meals for what the ED deems as the most comfortable option; however, this can be just another form of restriction and restraint. It is possible to make gentle nutrition choices that have nothing to do with the ED and it is important to ensure that you are solid in your recovery and that the ED isn’t just using this as a mask to get what it wants.

The ED can be very sneaky. These are some examples of ways that the ED may be sneaking into your recovery. As you take control over the ED and loosen your grip on it, it is natural for the ED to try and find any way it can to bring you back into its clutches. We are trying to take a permanent vacation from the ED, with no souvenirs to bring back. These back pocket behaviours only make it harder on you, because the closer in reach they are, the easier it is to use them. You have done amazing work in your recovery and it is unfair for the ED to try and take that away from you!


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