unrestricted eating

Recovery Commitments: Unrestricted eating

These recovery commitments posts are outlining some of the most common reasons that people in recovery get anxious and stressed and suggesting some simplifications for those moments.

I believe that one of the fundamental reasons that we feel stressed in recovery is because we forget that we are meant to be pissing our eating disorder brain off!  I will be looking at ways to help you keep your focus when your eating disorder is screaming at you.

One cannot recover from a restrictive eating disorder if one is still restricting. Committing to unrestricted eating is one of the fundamental aspects of recovery.


This post is a continuation of this one here. 

Another way we make things feel more complicated than they need to be, is we try to recover without actually eating more. Or we try to recover without actually eating foods that our eating disorders don’t like. This puts you in an impossible position because you can’t recover and not break your eating disorder rules. Hence, your anxiety increases because you feel like you don’t know how to recover and do things right by your eating disorder rules. Tip: You can’t, so stop trying.

For example, that bag of crisps that you really want with your lunch, but then your brain starts worrying about what you need to reduce in other parts of the day in order to make that “okay.” And it gets all flustered in your head and complicated as you try and work out if you can have less at afternoon snack in order to make up for the crisps but then also worrying that means you will be really hungry in the afternoon and being hungry is horrible so maybe you shouldn’t have the crisps at lunch after all and you should just stick to having them in the afternoon but then you know deep down that you do really want those crisps with lunch and if you are in recovery like you say that you are you should be eating to hunger …

Complicated and stressful, isn’t it? If that sort of thought pattern feels familiar, then it is no wonder you have increased anxiety. You haven’t fully committed to eating without restriction if you are still trying to also work out how not to eat more. You can’t recover AND keep your eating disorder happy.

Unrestricted eating means that you eat what you want, not what you think you should have. It means that you eat what you want when you want it, not when you think you should have it. It means that you eat what you want in the quantity that you want it in, not in the quantity that you think that you should have it it.

If you try and satisfy one of these aspects of unrestricted eating without the others, you are making things more complicated and more stressful than they have to be. For example, if you decide you are going to allow yourself to have that chocolate that you really want but are scared of. Then you start to eat it and you want to eat more than your eating disorder brain is happy with eating, so you start to internally panic and try and convince yourself that you don’t really want that much. And your brain comes up with all these reasons why you shouldn’t eat that much. Yet you healthy brain is like “no, I really want more,” and your eating disorder brain is like “are you kidding? so you start getting all stressed and anxious because you are either going to piss off your healthy brain by not eating really as much chocolate as you wanted or you are going to piss off your eating disorder brain by actually eating as much chocolate as you wanted. 

I know that any of you reading this now will be able to say: Duh, you should eat as much as you actually want and not even try and make your eating disorder brain happy. But when you are in that moment, it can be really hard to tease apart the conflicting sources of those stressed out thoughts. It can be really difficult to see what is going on when you are in it and you are scared. What I want you to understand from this blog post, is that if you are feeling stressed or anxious and like you can’t win, then you are listening to your eating disorder too much.

Committing to unrestricted eating means that is ceases to be an option to do anything other than eat the food that you want, in the quantity that you want, when you want. If you follow thoughts telling you that you shouldn’t have more by not having more, then you are not committing to unrestricted eating in your actions. Your actions inform your brain, so your actions matter. It is your actions that have to reflect your commitment to eating without restriction.

I realized at some point, that if things felt complicated, that I was trying to appease my eating disorder. If I was making calculations in my head as to what I could eat and when, I was allowing fear of weight gain to get the better of me. As soon as I realized that, I was able to step back mentally and look at the bigger picture. If it felt like an unsolvable puzzle in my head, my eating disorder was getting the better of me. Because it is as simple as eating what I want when I want it. No planning needed. I would have the crisps and if I wanted another bag of crisps later I would have one then too. No restrictions on the number of bags of crisps in a day meant no mental calculating.

If I was feeling anxious about what I was eating, or the quantity, or the when, I would take myself back to my commitment to unrestricted eating. When I could remind myself of that, it was as if the anxiety and stress over these silly little arguments going on in my brain would suddenly seem totally irrelevant. Reminding myself of my commitment to unrestricted eating would reduce my anxiety in that moment.

You can eat without restriction, and doing so will ultimately reduce your anxiety, but only if you commit to it. You can’t half-arse this, and doing so leads to bargaining and … stress. Give yourself an easier time, and go all in.

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