How to Break Free of Restrictive Eating and Add More Variety?

By November 20, 2012

I recently came across your website and was encouraged by several of the things I read. Many of the issues mentioned were things I have and do at times still struggle with. In a recent article, an issue that was addressed was being confined to time schedules when eating and then skipping meals if you miss your scheduled time to eat. This is an area I still battle constantly and desire to achieve victory over. What steps would you recommend to overcome this? Also, do you have any recommendations for incorporating variety (of foods) into one’s diet after having struggled with anorexia for several years? For me, I have my “safe foods” and I desire to branch out and try other things. – Jenny

Dear Jenny,

We’re glad to hear that you have found encouragement at our site. Recognizing and acknowledging the areas in which you still struggle is the first step towards overcoming them. I hear you saying that you are still being overly restrictive with your eating, both in terms of food choices and schedule. How wonderful that you desire to break free and incorporate more variety!

Like many other people, it sounds like you have fallen into a pattern of following external cues for eating. You adhere to a set schedule for when you eat (from a list of “safe foods”), with no flexibility regarding meal times. If you can’t eat at the designated time, you skip the meal altogether. Rather than eating later, you just go hungry, ignoring your body’s internal call for fuel. Or perhaps you’ve temporarily lost sensitivity to hunger and fullness, due to chronically tuning those signals out.

Our bodies are designed to require a steady source of fuel throughout the day, which for most people means three meals a day, with healthy snacks as needed. It’s good to incorporate some structure in order to strive to reach these goals, but we also have to be flexible. The amount we need to eat is going to vary day-to-day based on our activity levels.

Our hunger/fullness signals are what help us regulate our intake. Realistically, with our busy lives, schedules get shifted and we can’t adhere to a rigid eating schedule. Sometimes that means eating later—and that’s okay. Or perhaps it means eating part of the meal at the usual time, and finishing the rest later, or having a healthy snack to avoid extreme hunger until the meal can be eaten. The point being, you won’t lose control by making adjustments in your eating when necessary; you are being a good caretaker of your body when you meet its needs.

I would suggest that you read the following articles if you haven’t already: “Understanding Hunger and Fullness Cues,” “False Beliefs: Restrictive Eating,” and “Eating Treat Foods Without Guilt.” Try to uncover the false beliefs playing in your mind that are causing you to approach meal times too rigidly and fear specific foods. I’d also recommend the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, which outlines very specific steps to take to learn to trust your body and eat healthfully without obsession.

I sense from your letter that you are well on your way, so press on! And if you don’t already have professional support to help you in your recovery, don’t hesitate to take advantage of their expertise; See “Finding a Nutritionist” for guidance.