Changing the way you do things: experimentation or punishment?

Those of us who have suffered from disordered eating may be able to relate on a habit often used in recovery: a habit of avoiding habits you engaged in when you had an eating disorder. 

For instance, I used to feel like I was “backsliding” if I had an urge to go on a walk after I felt like I ate too much. So I would sit at my desk, in misery, while feeling ever overfull pang of my stomach.

I would feel bad if I caught myself counting calories.

I would beat myself up over everything I thought I was doing that was disordered, in addition to the bashing that is a byproduct of having disordered thoughts!

When I talked to my therapist (at the time, I no longer see one), she told me something very wise. I will paraphrase here but this is basically the idea:

It is not the act of calorie counting (which is just math), or walking after a big meal, or doing a behavior that is the problem. Because by themselves, they are not problems. It is when a negative thought– such as compensating calories with exercise and restricting– comes in to the equation that problems being to happen. Obsessions arise. Disorders weave themselves and corrupt lives.

So when I recently found myself unhappy with the way I was eating, I was suspicious and resisted thinking about changing eating habits. “What if you only have these feelings because you’ve felt insecure about your body lately?” I told myself, “Besides, aren’t I supposed to eat ‘what I crave’, so eating all these nuts and nut butter must be the only way to do it.”

However, when I spoke to my mom about some of my conflicting feelings, I realized that there is no harm in experimenting with your diet. The problem comes in when you use it as a form of punishment (ie, “I ate too much peanut butter this week so I eat totally fat-free now”).

Yes, I shunned all fat in the midst of my eating disorder. But this is a new day now, right?

If experimenting with your diet isn’t driven by a desire to cut calories, but to see if changes would influence your life in a positive way, that’s fine. It’s not forever, and you can always go back to your previous way of doing things.

So I tried my diet experiment. I cut down on nuts and nut butters for a few days. Today is day four, and it’s definitely not the way to go! I think my energy needs are just to high for my poor stomach to take without the concentrated fat sources– as I’ve recently been running most days and doing ab exercises (some other “experiments” lately that I’ve been loving!).  I can’t just stuff my poor tummy to no end to get more calories.

However, this experiment has shown me something—  I don’t have to only rely on only nuts and nut butters for concentrated calorie sources. I think I was scared to branch out– extra oil, avocados, and foods that used nut butter in them (like a cookie or recipe) were out-of-bounds. After some soul-searching yesterday, I realized that is absurd– why should I only eat nut butters and shun other ways of eating concentrated energy?  I run and bike and work my muscles. Kitchen creativity has taken the back burner for too long– I don’t have to be afraid of overeating! Why am I somehow afraid of reworking simple foods into a baked good so delicious that I think eating them a lot would cause me to gain five pounds instantly? I need some credit– I know how to honor my hunger and fullness signals!

So hopefully you can see: experimenting with your diet is not a problem. Examine your thoughts: do you want to eat different, do an extra exercise, cut down on a certain food, etc. because you are truly curious as to what will happen, or because you want to punish yourself? It’s a fine line and you may find part way into your experiment that your motives were not all innocent. No need to beat yourself up– simply adjust accordingly.

It’s a dangerous mindset to avoid something because it reminds you of hard times past. Times and circumstances have changed. It can create as many restrictions to avoid certain behaviors that remind you of other behaviors as when you engaged in those behaviors themselves!  Recovering, to me, is about finding the true “you” again. And my new goal for “me” involves not being afraid to cook up a storm and to eat new foods!

I am loving the feeling of living again. Of being spontaneous– letting go of the meal plans and mileage calculations and workouts and unnecessary fluff and just being me.


Any thoughts or experiences to share?

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2 Responses to Changing the way you do things: experimentation or punishment?

  1. “Recovering,to me, is about finding the true ‘you’ again.” I totally agree. You have to listen to yourself and do what you know you need to do to recover. To do that you have to find yourself. I think a big part of having a eating disorder is not being who you were made to be. You don’t accept the real you. You want to be something else.

    I had problems with eating oatmeal after starting the recover process from my eating disorder because that was all I ate for breakfast. Oatmeal with a sprinkle of berries on top. It took me away to eat oats again because of what you said: I thought it was a “sign” of my eating disorder. But it is not. It is just a food I like. Nothing else.

    You sound like you know what you are talking about and I think it is great that you went out of your comfort zone to experimented with your diet a bit. And you discovered new sources of energy from your experiment and also something you need. It is a sign that you aren’t scared of not being in control anymore Thanks for the inspiring post. 🙂

  2. I experiment with my diet all the time to see how it makes me feel. Usually it’s by adding things that I used to avoid during my ED, but sometimes I’ll cut things out if I think that they might be causing me some stomach problems. Right now I’m cutting out egg yolks for a while because I went kind of egg happy for about a week and I started getting weird breakouts and stomach issues. There’s definitely nothing wrong with experimentation, as long as, like you said, you’re not just doing it to cut calories or avoid something that you’re afraid of. We need to eat in a way that makes out bodies feel good, and sometimes that means avoiding a certain food or eating more of a certain food. Good for you for figuring things out 😀

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