Liv and Susie are asking questions that relate to many people who restrict. (In response to invitation post) The questions go like this: "How do I change course and start gaining when I am underweight?" "Even if I’m at a weight that’s too low, how can I just maintain instead of losing?" "I’m still losing weight! How can I stop?" "When will I feel that it is okay to eat?"
An approach to stop restricting I’ll give you an approach you can use to help yourself stop restricting. Then I’ll try to help you understand how it works. But please know, you don’t have to understand how this approach works for it to be effective.
For you quick readers: Be your own doctor. Give yourself the authority to take charge of your health.
Give yourself a prescription for medicine that will help you get well and decide on the dosage and timing based on the needs of your patient.
The medicine: nourishing food.
Specifics of the medicine: What your body needs to function well are protein, vegetables, a certain amount of polyunsaturated fat with each meal, and fish oil, fruits, and grains if your body can handle them. In the doctor's role, you do not recommend any medicine that just takes up space and does not provide nourishment. You do not prescribe medicine that creates unnecessary stress to the patient's digestive system.
Dosage: The amounts of food, varying throughout the day, but which total to be what you need to nourish and strengthen your body and contribute to gradual and sustainable weight gain.
Timing of administering medicine: Regular intervals throughout the day with never more than three hours between taking your medication (eating).
How this works: When you suffer from an eating disorder, you can’t distinguish between what your heart and soul cry out for and what your eating disorder demands. Your thinking gets convoluted from poor brain cell nourishment. Your feelings run amuck. Body urgings and emotional cravings get mixed up, and your thinking mind gets confused.
So, who are you going to listen to? Where is the authority you can trust? You don’t know. When you are in this bewildering and frustrating state, you look for answers and authority outside of yourself. That’s fine. That’s part of reaching out for help.
Who's got the authority: The problem comes when you find an authority outside of yourself. That sets up a battle situation where the outside authority stands for your health, and you are left in the position of defending the demands of your eating disorder. You don’t do this on purpose.
This is an unconscious situation that we humans can all fall into. Your challenge is how to turn this authority situation around. You don’t want to give authority to the eating disorder. But you can’t tell when the eating disorder is giving the orders or manipulating your mind, so you believe you can do what you cannot do.
Bring in a new authority: So I suggest that you let it all go. Forget about how you feel about food. Forget about how food tastes or how much you want. And take on the role of being your own prescribing physician. You follow your doctor’s orders, and that doctor is you. You decide, when you are in the doctor's role, what is best for you. Write it down. Doctors still give written prescriptions. Keep a copies of your prescription in your pocket, on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door, on the top right hand corner of your lap top and anywhere else your eyes look on a regular basis.
Follow through: Then, like a good parent to a young child, you say things to yourself like, “It’s time for your medicine.” If the child says, “I don’t want it. I don’t like it. I feel fine, I don't need it. Nobody else has to do it,” the parent sweetly, gently and firmly says, “I understand. But this is the medicine you need to be healthy and grow big and strong.” The adult authority, an authority that is loving, kind, firm, loyal, mature and serene in her knowledge of doing the right thing for this child she loves, administers the medicine, in your case, food.
Rewards: Maybe the child gets a reward afterward, like a walk in the park or extra time on the swings or an extra bedtime story. The doctor prescribes. The loving parent administers. The child benefits.
You can recognize and appreciate these aspects of your own self. You can develop and give more authority to the doctor and loving parent in you. The child has feelings of yes, no, I don’t need it, I don’t like it, I don’t feel like it, and more. You know these feelings. You feel them.
But these feelings are coming from an immature person who does not appreciate the consequences of giving those feelings authority. The solution to your restricting challenge is that you choose to give authority to the decisions you make when you are in the physician role. You back up those decisions by being your own kind, loving and firm parent who gives the medicine (food) to the child (that is also you).
Your sensible mode: Susie wrote about being in her sensible mode while she was typing out her question. Most of us know about what it's like to be in our sensible mode. That's when you know you are thinking clearly and working to address problems during a free breathing space between eating disorder commands.
In this sensible mode, however brief, you can take on the role of being your own good doctor, decide on the medication (specific foods), figure out the best dosage (how much food you need to eat), and decide on the timing (when and how often you eat.)
Once you have your prescription clear, you honor it. The prescription is written in your handwriting. It’s printed based on your computer that prints out what your fingers typed. Deep inside, even when your eating disorder is trying to take charge, you will see that the real authority administering genuine benefits to your life comes from a sensible, healthy and mature part of you.
More rewards: When you follow your doctor’s orders, especially under protest, give yourself a reward. If you restrict food, you may be restricting other things that are nurturing as well. Rewards can take many forms: a movie, time with a friend, a nap, a yoga class, a walk in the park. Or you might go directly to the protesting child in you and take yourself to a Saturday morning storytelling circle in a children’s bookstore or at your local library.
You might be surprised at how nourished and cherished you can feel sitting among laughing or awestruck children being thrilled by a good storyteller telling a good story. And of course, your real reward in following your doctor’s orders is that you are being cherished and nourished. You are becoming a healthy woman.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.
She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder
Appointments are virtual.
For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at