Rethinking "extras"

When I went on vacation last week, I knew there was a lot of activities I would want to do.  I spoke with my therapist about being more active than usual, which she said was fine, as long as I ate more to compensate.  So I ate a bit off the meal plan, and all worked out well.

We've discussed this in the past, the idea of eating "extra."  That is, eating outside of scheduled snacks and meals, or eating more food than "required" at those times.  Not surprisingly, this freaks me out.  I've never been a rule-breaker.  The very idea terrifies me.  Part of it is the sense that the rules are the rules, and you don't break the rules.  If I do think a rule is silly, I often am too anxious to go outside the prescribed letter of the law anyway.  I rely on rules (many of them self-imposed, but rules nonetheless) to help me cope with anxiety. Breaking a rule is anxiety-provoking in and of itself.  Breaking an ED rule is even more so.

But my therapist raised a really good point.

It's not "extra" if you're hungry or you've been more active.  That food is necessary.

I've often complained to her about how horrible I feel when I eat food that isn't on my meal plan*.  And almost every time, my therapist said that my weight stayed the same and so my body needed every calorie.  This meant that those "extras" weren't extra at all--they were more like little "necessaries."


An extra is eating some dessert because it looks good, even though you've just had dinner and aren't all that hungry.  It's finishing all of your favorite entree at your favorite restaurant because you love it, even though you started feeling full near the end.  That sort of thing.  Eating in response to hunger is never "extra," even though the food may not appear on any piece of paper.

The obvious solution would be a new rule to "eat when hungry."  Except implementing this rule means changing the old rule of "eat what's on the plan," which means facing the anxiety of rule-breaking AND change, neither of which I do well at.  I also mistrust hunger signals and never quite know (unless I'm ready to gnaw on my neighbor's arm) if I'm really hungry or just think I am or if what I think might be hunger means I should eat something or get something to drink or just suck it up.

Quite a quandry.

*I'm guessing right now that I'm going to get comments saying I should ditch the meal plan.  The problem is that I would likely undereat without the guidelines. My instincts on what I "need" to eat aren't the greatest. A meal plan can be a double-edged sword, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives at this point.


hm said...

Ugh. Trying to interpret body signals is the worst. Am I hungry? Am I anxious? Am I sad? Am I hot? Perhaps you could discuss a new rule- like, for every x min. of extra activity, eat y amt. of extra calories. Or something. Perhaps I'll discuss that w/my dietitian too.

Jessie said...

It seems we have many of the same problems. I adamantly refuse to eat anything out of meal and snack time, even a pea. I barely even let myself have a glass of water. It is an extra in my mind so I should not eat it. I don`t have to. I`m not sure which post it was, but a couple back you said when you were having trouble sleeping because you were still hungry you would go and get something extra to eat. I thought to myself `Holy ****, she`s really strong. I can`t do that.` I know you may not want to, but you are doing the right thing. I know what it`s like to have so many rules that your forcing on yourself. For a while I only allowed myself three pleasures a day, which could be leaning back against something, putting on a sweater, watching a movie, hanging out with a friend, ect. I finally told my parents and therapist, and I haven`t counted pleasures since. Life without those rules is so much better. I know it can be scary, but so is love, and it`s worth it. So is eating, but eating has made us warm again, and not dizzy, and strong again, and given us healthy hair, and turned our skin back to it`s normal colour, not gray-purple, like a giant bruise. You can do it Carrie. I know you can. Lots of things are scary.
Lots of those things are also worth it.

Anonymous said...

The "follow-the-meal-plan-but-eat-extra-when-necessary" model works best for me right now, too. I'm not sure if it will ever be a good idea, for me at least, to throw the meal plan to the winds, but I have noticed that it has become more internalized and flexible over time. If you can be relaxed enough to handle (should I say enjoy?) social situations, eat extra when hungry, incorporate extra exercise, and not be too nervous, then I'm not sure there's anything wrong with it, at least for the time being.

Sarah at Journeying With Him said...

Great post, Carrie. I have never really thought of it this way, but this reframing makes so much sense! Eating my meal plan (which is very loose at this point) is not a struggle for me anymore at all but I sometimes do struggle with "extra," so I will definitely use this tool--it's not really extra! Love it!

CJ @ said...

I totally needed this post today. I am the same way...some days I am really hungry but have already eaten what is written on my plan for ill wait impatiently for dinner...which my dietician informed me, as if i didnt know, this is restricting and essentially the same behavior I did when I was sick. but some days people require more fuel than others and i am definitely working on accepting that. Thanks for another awesome post! I always enjoy your insight!

AJ said...

"Oh" is right. (Or at least it was for me when I read it.)

I am currently out of the country and much, much more active than usual, yet feel incredibly guilty and panicked every time I so much as think about touching more food than my eating disorder is used to. The thoughts start racing -- I start feeling like a disgusting glutton, worrying about gaining weight (which I'm not ready to do yet), not falling asleep hungry (I can't sleep if I'm not hungry; it makes me too anxious thanks to the ED -- how insane is that?) -- and so on.

Sounds crazy, but until I read this post, it didn't even "click" in my head that my body genuinely needed more calories to function and allow me to perform the high-energy activities that I am here. (Not to mention, have fun doing them!)

It's frustrating, because if I don't eat these "extras-that-are-more-like-necessaries," I don't have the energy and focus to do what I love and get everything I can out of my time abroad. However, if I DO "give in" to my body's demands, I doubt I'll have any better of a time because I'll be so wracked with panic and self-hatred.

Anonymous said...

Another excellent post- I really hope I can use this as a prompt to rethink "extras" myself.

On a different note, have you heard about the article on decision fatigue in the New York Times yesterday? I can definitely see how decision fatigue could be a factor in eating disorder recovery. I'm think you've written about this in some form or another, like how tempting it can be to just skip a meal instead of deciding what to eat. Quite a thought-provoking article, I think!

HikerRD said...

While i reject using numbers such as calories, I find it helpful for patients to remind themselves that it takes 3500 surplus calories to increase a single pound.That's 3,500 extra, over and above whatever is needed for maintenance of your weight. So if you start getting anxious about the "extra", consider this--how much of an impact is this really going to make on my weight? Generally, the answer is none.
Plus, if you are more intuitively eating, and have added more food, you might find that you are not as hungry at your next eating time and may find you need less. This of course doesn't fly for meal plan followers, or you'd be cutting corners and overcompensating.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that ED is rigid and uni-directional (if such a word exists); Ed dislikes eating "extra"/more but has no concerns about eating a bit less/under "just in case." Ed has no qualms about doing a bit more or "extra" activity but dislikes doing any less. Recovery is about balance, being in the moment, finding the middle ground. The meal plan is a guide and over time as you and your body begin to trust a bit more there will be more room for flexibility but in the meantime it sounds like it provides an effective road map for you and allowed you to enjoy a vacation which is great to hear and well deserved. S

Anonymous said...

Have you ever been off a meal plan (intuitive eating)?

Melfy said...

I am completely in the same boat. If only "ditching the meal plan" was just that easy! As for me, fresh out of recovery, I'll take the meal plan and take whatever comfort I can get over stressing about what I should eat, what I'm going to eat, etc. etc. etc...

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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