Anorexia recovery and food rules: Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better

Anorexia: You can’t have that bagel for lunch. That would be a breach of Rule #382

Me: Rule #382?

Anorexia: Yes, rule #382: Bagel for breakfast cannot be followed by bagel for lunch. Rule #382

Me: Since when did that rule exist? That wasn’t there before.

Anorexia: You weren’t eating bagels before, therefore Rule #382 was not needed. You started eating bagels now, so I implemented it to save you from eating too many bagels. 

Me: How about bread, I’ll have bread instead of a bagel

Anorexia: NO! That would be a breach of Rule #124. No bread items in the same day as similar bread items. 

Me: Since when was that a rule?

Anorexia: Since you started eating bread 


If you are in recovery from an eating disorder such as Anorexia, this inner thought pattern probably sounds familiar. As you start eating more and different sorts of food, new food and eating rules emerge out of the woodwork.

I often hear things like “but the Anorexia voice is getting stronger the more I eat, not weaker!” as people despair and worry that this means eating has made the eating disorder stronger. It’s okay. It gets worst before it gets better. Oh, unless you listen to the Anorexia voice and follow it’s rules, then it just gets worse.

There is a very simple reason for this. When you start eating more food, the eating disorder has more reason to pipe up and cause a ruckus. If it was quieter before, that was because you were not eating as much so it had less to freak out about. For example, if you are restricting and not eating any bread at all, it has no reason to scream at you for eating bread. It won’t, because you are not eating any! When you get on the recovery path and start eating bread again, it has loads to shout at you about. It is furious with you. It is going to flip out.

While this can be incredibly anxiety provoking, take it as a sign that you are on the right track. If Anorexia is not creaming blue murder then you are likely not eating enough. Take it as a compliment — an indication that you are putting pressure on the eating disorder and it is beginning to squeal.

Whilst it may be a good sign that you are doing the work that you need to to when your eating disorder starts pulling out a ton of rules that weren’t there before, it is still incredibly anxiety provoking. I think that simply knowing this sort of despicable tactic is to be expected from your eating disorder helps, because it lets you know that while things may seem worse, that there is a reason for it. It is not that you are broken or doing things wrong. Quite the opposite actually.

The other thing to know is that it doesn’t continue like this forever. It certainly gets worse before it gets better. But it has to get worse before it gets better because you have to eat more food before you get better. What will happen if you keep pushing is that the Anorexia tantrums will dissipate. The rules will be broken so often that they stop being rules. Oh, but in order for this to work, you know you’ve got to keep breaking those rules, right?

If Anorexia told me at lunchtime that by having a second bagel of the day I was breaching both Rule #382 and Rule #124 and that for doing that I was undoubtedly going to burn a slow and painful death in hell … well, I had no choice but to not only eat another bagel for lunch, but to have two, and then another bagel as an afternoon snack, and another with dinner. In fact I knew that the only way to win this particular fight would be to eat bagels consecutively until that rule was battered past the point of recognition.

Of course doing that created a fireball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach which made me feel nauseous and not want to eat a thing. But I had to eat anyway. I had to win this fight. You do too.

Food rules can pop out of the woodwork and take one by surprise. Something that you were able to eat with relative freedom one day will be forbidden the next. The OCD around food and movement will also often try and expand to other places. This is the Anorexia trying to create more conditions that make eating more food “okay” or justifiable.

You do not need to justify eating more food. You do not have to make it so that your eating disorder is okay with it. Doing this is liberating, but also will create additional anxiety. This is the reason most of us feel more random peaks in anxiety as we move through recovery.

The food rules and OCD behaviors are crutches for the anxiety and stress that the eating disorder generates when we eat food. You may feel wobbly without them for a while, but you don’t need them. You never have to justify or “make okay” a bite of food again. That is the freedom of full recovery.

Break the rules. Be the rebel. Kick the bully in the balls. Eat more food!

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What do you think?

  1. Vorrei dirti grazie per questo messaggio. Tu sai che mi sento le regole ma non posso credere che esistono. É importantíssimo che posso rompere ogni pensamento dell’ED perche ho la voglia d’una vita piena, con liberazione. Non accetto niente di piú. Ogmi giorno, dueci, quindicimille regole nuove, e poi, rompere per vivere. Baci

  2. This may sound weird and I’m not sure if you experienced this during your recovery… Why do I feel like I’m using this recovery process from anorexia as an excuse to eat as much as I want and to exercise less? This really worried me ever sinced I restored my weight I am still eating a lot and I’ve been cutting my exercise as I am afraid that I might be following the ED vpices instead of my own, but I’m really not sure.. then again, I’m also afraid I might gain too much. Please help…

    • Hi Kathy

      The simple answer is that you feel like recovery is an “excuse” to eat a lot and not exercise because your eating disorder is trying to make you feel guilty about it. Fear of weight gain is very normal, you have to let it go. Allow your body rest and food and to do what it needs to do.

  3. This totally speaks to me! There were so many rules I needed to (and still have to) challenge and question. Thanks for this nice reminder to take active steps towards confronting those rules…and breaking them!

  4. Hey Tabs, It feels odd that I’m no longer restricting food (both my mental and physical hunger) for the past few months yet still continuously want to consume a MASSIVE amount of high carb and sugary foods everyday.

    Intially, I thought after allowing my body to consume these foods would make it stop wanting more, but this seems to not work for me, I still end up having major binges. I’m concerned that this is not part of the recovery and that I’m just developing another disorder.

    How would I know for sure? And should I still follow these “hunger” and thoughts of food even though I am no longer underweight? Thank you