Restriction is what started your eating disorder, and it is what is keeping it going!
Eating disorders usually begin through a diet or illness in which the sufferer gets very little nutrition. Your brain isn’t getting nourished so you can’t think rationally to make good decisions for yourself and your eating choices.
Perhaps at one stage you felt in control but now your eating disorder is controlling you. Maybe you began to engage in binging and/or purging behaviours, or perhaps you just began to eat less and less until gradually there were hardly any foods on your ‘safe list’. No matter what form your eating disorder currently takes, it’s important to become aware of the connection that restricting your intake has with how your eating disorder developed, and how restriction is keeping it going.
If you have a genetic predisposition to an eating disorder, your brain is wired differently due to genetic and biological factors. This is why sometimes you may feel calm and positive when you restrict your food, when people without these genetic differences might feel stressed and irritable if they don’t eat regularly. Your genetic make up also means you probably have perfectionist tendencies, anxiety, a driven personality, and a high level of emotional sensitivity. It seems to make sense then for you to restrict your food if you are going through a difficult time as you may feel it is helping you cope with your anxiety and emotions. Or perhaps you starve yourself and then binge/purge to help you deal with negative emotions. Perhaps this method worked for you at the very beginning of your unhealthy relationship with food, and then your eating got out of control.
Restricting is incredibly dangerous – especially in people who are predisposed to eating disorders, and even in people who aren’t. Restriction sets unhealthy cycles going which are incredibly difficult to get out of without a lot of support and help. To repeat from my previous blog post :
innocent weight loss can change the chemicals in the brain, and in individuals which are genetically predisposed to an eating disorder, this can have catastrophic effects;
starvation and weight loss have powerful effects on the brain and other organ systems, causing neuro-chemical disturbances that could exaggerate pre-existing traits, adding symptoms that maintain or accelerate the disease process
Walter H. Kaye MD Ursula F. Bailer MD Megan Klabunde MS Harriet Brown, 2010
When your weight drops OR you enter a state of malnutrition caused by binging/purging behaviours, this effect on the brain intensifies because your body is using all it’s energy to perform necessary functions. Your brain has less energy to make decisions – have you noticed that you find yourself very indecisive?
The Minnesota Experiment
I’m going to keep referring to this study as it gives such valuable insight! These men, none of whom had a history of weight or eating problems, voluntarily starved as an alternative to military duties during the Korean war – they had half of their usual intake, and the period was 3 months of reduced food and 3 months of increasing food intake back to normal. The effect:
Their personality changed, their cognitive abilities were impaired, and they showed all the typical eating disorder symptoms. They became preoccupied with food and cooking. Some ate in secret and experienced guilt and shame. They became withdrawn and unsociable. They experienced body image distortions and obsessions. Many of them had continued mental health problems and eating difficulties even after the experiment had ended.
Most people with eating disorders struggle a lot longer than 6 months by the time they get a diagnosis, and the effects on mental and physical health is catastrophic, however it is important to be aware that most of these effects can be reversed with continued full nutrition! Two of the men in this experiment suffered emotional breakdowns, and one actually cut his finger off in order to be excused from the rest of the experiment. It is important that we never underestimate the result of reduced food intake for a sustained period of time.
Read more about this experiment by clicking HERE
So, we can see how continued restriction keeps the eating disorder going. The only way out of this cycle is recovery with the nutrition – It is about the food, as well as the feelings. The only way your mind is going to stop all the negative thoughts is when your brain is healed. To do this you need full nutrition, on a regular basis, for a long period of time! And along with that you will need to find new ways of coping, new ways of dealing with anxiety and depression, and coping strategies. As you know, none of this is an easy process, but it is well worth the fight. You need as much support as you can get in this process – from trusted and reliable sources. Don’t hesitate – reach out for support and take that first step to recovery for your health and yourself this day.
A Journey of A thousand miles begins with a single step. Confucius
Note: Malnutrition can occur at any weight! Restriction can occur even if you are normal or over weight. If you suffer from bulimia and are purging your food, you are getting rid of the nutrition that your body so desperately craves. Then, you may feel guilty and restrict before another binge. This starve/binge cycle has a very negative impact on your mind and body, and will just cause you crave more. Your body is depleted from nutrition that it needs to function at its full potential. Until your body is given full nutrition on a regular basis and you abstain from purging you will continue in this unhealthy cycle.