Eating clean as opposed to eating all things in moderation works because it recognizes the role that food addiction plays in recovery. The reality is that the individual suffering from Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimarexia is often as addicted to processed foods as her over-eating counterparts. In other words it isn’t unusual for an Anorexic or Bulimarexic patient to live on gummy bears, chewing gum and diet foods/drinks, which are mostly made of chemicals and lots of sugar, or sugar substitutes, that are highly addicting. The rationale for the individual suffering from Anorexia or Bulimarexia is that she is okay as long as she avoids fats.
Many individuals suffering from Anorexia or Bulimarexia go into residential treatment under duress and make a conscious decision to lose all of the weight gained as soon as they are released. This is one of the reasons that residential treatment has such abysmal treatment outcomes (30% success rates depending upon your definition). In the old days this strategy worked for the individual suffering from Anorexia. It doesn’t work anymore because food is increasingly more polluted, which significantly increases the likelihood of a food addiction developing over the course of treatment, even treatment that lasts only a month.
If forced into residential treatment, where s/he will have to gain 20 pounds in 21 days in order to get out, s/he will develop many bad habits very quickly eating the typical residential recovery diet. The one thing that most individuals suffering from Anorexia or Bulimarexia worry about the most is that once they begin to eat again, they will never be able to stop. Imagine the horror s/he experiences when this is what actually happens. Once out of residential treatment, faced with food cravings that drive unhealthy eating habits, the only option seems to be binge and then purge. This sets up a desperate dynamic psychologically and a very dangerous and complicated medical picture.
If on the other hand, s/he learns how to eat clean, s/he learns that s/he can trust food again, that it affects him/her in predictable ways that she can manage, and her fears about losing control begin to subside. In my experience, it is much easier to get an Anorexic or Bulimarexic patient to eat clean than it is to get them to eat polluted foods. That’s a good thing! In comparison, most residential treatment centers and even the typical traditional treatment center will promote a Moderation Model.
My staff and I did some undercover work and called 15 residential centers specializing in the treatment of Anorexia, to assess their awareness of the impact of food pollution on recovery. Even the facilities that encouraged whole foods over processed foods were clueless when it came to the importance of clean eating for recovery. One spokesperson said “If she can’t eat a hot dog or a hamburger, fries and a coke, then she isn’t ready to leave.” Oh dear!
Dr. J. Renae Norton is a clinical psychologist, specializing in the outpatient treatment of obesity and eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder (BED) and the Director of The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the Director of The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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