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MinnieMaud: Is It the Only Way to Recover from a Restrictive Eating Disorder?

your eatopia

I have had quite a few people ask me if I believe that MinnieMaud is the only method of recovery that will result in remission. The answer to that question is not simple, so I have gone ahead and written over three thousand words on the topic.

MinnieMaud (MM) is the name of a recovery method with guidelines constructed by Gwyneth Olwyn, on her site Your Eatopia. Whilst MM has received much criticism, and is seen by some as controversial, many inpatient and outpatient facilities do enforce methods alike to MM, such as similar calorie requirements, and remaining sedentary. Other people find that they end up recovering in a way much like MM without having ever heard of that particular recovery method (for example Caroline, from The Fuck It Diet), and I would argue that that is because this type of recovery is normal and natural for the body.

As I see it, the main goals are:

– To eat minimums, and respond to any additional hunger and cravings
– To not engage in exercise
– To eat whatever you want, whenever you want
– To not weigh yourself (be blind-weighed if needed)
– To accept your body, and anyone else’s body, at whatever size it is naturally, and not try to control your weight, as your body does that for you (weight set point theory)

To the present me, these aren’t particularly controversial ideas, but with diet culture being so prominent in our society, I can see why some find it hard to accept, and in the past, I myself was one of those people doing furious amounts of further research and questioning what I read when I first came across Your Eatopia. I looked all over the internet. I asked other people about it. I relentlessly emailed Gwyneth about my doubts (and she always took the time to reply). I didn’t agree with all of it (and arguably I still don’t agree with some of the content of her blog posts), but I knew deep down that so much of the information was making sense to me. A lot of the posts were talking about things I had experienced during recovery and up until that point had had no idea what it was that was happening to my body. Reading the articles gave me a great deal of relief in finally having a logical explanation for the processes that my body was going through. So much of it clicked into place for me, and in hindsight seemed obvious.

I believe that during recovery it is crucial to eat “minimums”. When it comes to these “minimums”, I find it so important that people should follow them because if you let there be a grey area during recovery, it will be easier for the eating disorder to wedge its way into those cracks and convince you that you require less calories than other people (and less, and less, until you realise you have relapsed). It is necessary for everyone to stick to the “minimums” for at least most of their recovery journey, until they are stable and responsible enough to listen intuitively to their hunger. When this happens, things are slightly different, as appetites naturally vary from person to person. For example, my hunger generally leads me to on average 2800 calories, whereas someone else’s hunger may lead them to on average 3200 calories, and someone else may find themselves eating on average 2900. For older people, calorie requirements are often a bit lower (this is also taken into account with the “minimums”). Gwyn says that minimums are for life, and I interpret that to mean around minimums are for life, leaving room for natural variation. Eating minimums during the recovery process and then eating a slightly lower amount intuitively will not result in more than needed weight gain, as your body will burn off excess calories, or use them for the essential repair of the body. In fact, you are almost certain to experience extreme hunger at some point during recovery, and it is pivotal that you respond to it.

As for exercise, in recovery it is just as crucial not to engage in it as it is to eat minimums. To me this seems extremely obvious now (hindsight is 20/20 after all), but apparently not so to some professionals, and more understandably, those in recovery. If you have a broken leg, you would rest it until it was healed. To walk on it would not only prevent the healing of it, but it would make it much worse. This also applies to a damaged body. Not only that, but physical activity is a massively used and abused technique of the eating disorder’s to burn calories and exercise control (excuse the pun). The eating disorder is also an expert at convincing you during recovery (a vulnerable time) that exercise is healthy and needed, and that you can use it in a responsible way. It is very easy to fall into the trap of denial when it comes to this topic, and this was my biggest issue when it came to my own recovery journey. Just like calorie requirements, in remission it is different. In remission you are in a place where you can make an informed choice to engage in exercise or not, but you should always be extremely aware that you are walking a fine line, and it does make relapse more likely. If you feel you are stable and responsible enough to handle exercise without any problems, then it is your decision to go ahead, but also your job to always remain vigilant and to address and resolve any thoughts or behaviours that could pop up as soon as they do (if they do).

In recovery, I believe that no food should be the enemy, and if it is, this just accentuates an unhealthy relationship with food. I do not believe that there should be any forbidden foods, and I do not believe a distinction should be made between “good” and “bad” foods. I believe that all food is good food, and I also do not subscribe to labelling foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. I believe that if we stop associating foods with emotions and morality, we will be able to listen to our bodies and remain healthy by responding to it. From a personal point of view, that is working extremely well. During the beginning of recovery I was very hungry, and I also craved a lot of “unhealthy” food. Looking back, that seems perfectly rational: my body was starved and in need of a high amount of energy, and it also needed foods that it had been restricted from. “Unhealthy” foods not only provide lots of energy, but are rich in fats, carbs, and sugar, which were what my body had been restricted from for a very long time. As my body healed, my cravings and hunger settled down. As someone who is now fully recovered and does not see food as being a matter of morality or emotion, I listen and respond to my body and find that it leads me to a balanced diet. Sometimes I crave cheese. Sometimes I crave bread. Sometimes I crave cereal. Sometimes I crave ice cream. Sometimes I crave apples. Sometimes I crave broccoli. Sometimes I crave chocolate. Sometimes I crave bacon. Ectetera etcetera. I crave a variety of foods, at a variety of times. I trust my body fully to lead me to what I need to eat, and it seems to be working very well in leading me to eat a varied and balanced diet.

Not weighing yourself in recovery seems to me to be the most obvious one of all. So many people with eating disorders attach such great significance to the number that the association is not reversible, and so to weigh oneself opens oneself up to a massive trigger every single time one hops on the scales. The scale is something that does not need to exist in your life. It is an object infused with so many negative emotions that I would highly advise you to take a hammer to it in your garden (it seems to be quite therapeutic for some). However, you may need to be weighed for health reasons. I suggest being blind-weighed by your doctor, or by a partner/friend/family member. They could give you a thumbs up for progress, a neutral thumb for no change, and a thumbs down for weight loss. This gives you an idea of where you are and what you need to change or continue doing without giving you the specific number which is not going to help you in any shape or form.

Lastly, we come to accepting your body, and other people’s bodies, at whatever weight they are at naturally. People come in all different shapes and sizes, and that is the way of the world. Each body has its own weight range – its set point – at which it is at its healthiest and happiest, and each individual is different. To be healthy, and to be happy, you have to let your body gain to whatever that weight is. To try and control it and maintain a weight that is not your set point would be to restrict and to focus on intake all day every day (and that is not being recovered). Our weight is not as in our control as we think it is, or would like it to be. It is our bodies that decide what weight we should be, and we can either accept that or spend our entire lives fighting it (which many people tragically do). Some people are naturally slim. Some people are naturally voluptuous. Some people are naturally chubby. Some people are naturally muscular. Some people are pear-shaped, some are an hourglass, some are an apple shape, and some are other various fruit/veg/inanimate object shapes (still finding these nicknames for body shapes slightly odd). You should never judge or ridicule someone for their body’s weight, shape, or size, and neither should you do that to your own body. Body acceptance, for both ourselves and others, is an extremely important step that needs to be made by everyone in our society. I don’t think people can recover without finding it within themselves to make peace with their body. I don’t expect people to love their bodies (I certainly don’t love mine) but to accept it and move on from hating it and berating it and focusing on it is a crucial part of recovery.

There you have my in-depth opinions and reasoning for why I believe that the key points of MM are needed for recovery.

Do I believe that you can fully recover without those things? No. I do think that you can make a great deal of progress using other methods of recovery. For the first six months of my recovery I adopted the “eating healthy and exercising” method. It helped me a great deal: I was eating enough and eating a far more varied diet, which brought me back from being very, very sick, to being sick. What I noticed from those six months was a vast improvement in the functioning of my brain. Before, my cognitive abilities were impaired, I had severe brain fog, my moods were horrendous, and the only word I can really describe my state at the time is “insane”. I was not behaving in a rational way, and I was not able to think straight. I was not able to make logical decisions, and my brain was just not working correctly at all. Eating an adequate amount really helped with that, and I was able to regain my cognitive abilities, and some of my former self. However, I was far from recovered and I knew that, but I didn’t know how to move forward until I came across FYourED, which then led me to Your Eatopia. I read the information and advice given out there, which gave me a way to continue moving forwards on my journey to living an ED-free life. I don’t think continuing to focus on intake (whether calories or macros, or even just food types without being so specific) and exercising during the recovery process will ever lead to a full recovery, because there are still so many rules and restrictions, which the ED both creates and thrives on. Whilst people without the genetic predisposition to develop an eating disorder are able to try diets, go through phases of exercise frequently to try and lose weight, and engage in acts and thoughts pressed upon us by our diet culture, those with restrictive eating disorders do not have the luxury of doing so, as it will most likely cause a relapse at some point. I believe that to attain a full recovery, diet culture must be tossed out in the trash as well as your ED.

Without the help and encouragement from the wonderful community on the forums on Your Eatopia, and without my own determination to fully recover from my eating disorder, and without the extremely extensive and valuable support network that I have in my life, I don’t think I would have been able to recover, especially not using MM. Most of it was down to being so resolute in my decision not to go back to where I had been, but I had the privilege of having a family that tried as hard as possible to provide me with support when I needed it, but also left me to recover how I saw best without question (and this was the most important part for me). I also had the privilege of my many fantastic friends who all were rooting for me, who stuck by me throughout the entire journey, and who also let me rant and vent whenever I needed to. I also have friends with eating disorders and met other friends through recovery who were also recovering, who were invaluable to me, as we walked the journey to freedom together, and propped each other up when it was needed. I also had a partner throughout the first six months of recovery, who was essential in providing motivation, and in some ways built the foundation of my journey. Our relationship, in both its triumphs and failures, became one of my main inspirations and was always a reminder to keep on moving forwards, so that I may never repeat the mistakes I made again.

This meant that I had something that so many people lack in recovery: a strong support network. and a normal life to go back to once I reached remission. Some people do not have that to look forward to. Some people do not have the support of others. This can mean that recovery is a hell of a lot harder, and sometimes that can mean that the guidelines of MM are unattainable at this point in their lives. It can mean that they are not ready to embark on that journey, which is incredibly difficult and requires a sometimes overwhelming amount of dedication that some people are not able to give right now. It can mean that the anxiety and guilt that comes with recovery is too overbearing without having people close by to help with those negative emotions and experiences. Some people do not feel strong enough to oppose diet culture and the people who subscribe to it. All of these are valid reasons for not wanting to follow MM or a similar method, or not wanting to choose recovery at all (although I would still encourage you to try, because you have no idea how strong and courageous you actually are when the ED constantly tries to overpower you).

I am also aware that some people use the guidelines as just that: guidelines, and I think that is okay too if you feel confident in doing so (although I will always condone following them pretty rigidly as that is the stance I have chosen to take as I am so aware of that “grey area” that I talked about earlier).

In conclusion, I agree with the MM guidelines, and I agree with the general ideas and opinions that Gwyneth is trying to get across. However, I do not agree with everything Gwyneth writes about, and there are lots of things that she says on Your Eatopia that I am unsure of because I have not done further research on them. I prefer not to identify with MM as a singular recovery method (although it seems I have become one of the key spokespersons for MM, on Tumblr at least). This is because I would like to move away a little from just the specific recovery method and would prefer to take on an approach more like Caroline (The Fuck It Diet), where I am not just talking about the recovery method, but also a way of life. However, the two need to still be separated as recovery is more black and white whereas remission has room for experimentation. I also think that those general ideas are for anyone, anywhere, not just those with eating disorders, and as I said, a way of life. It means that I am stuck between being black and white (MM-style) for those who are in recovery from restricting eating disorders, and my own opinions about being less rigid but still vigilant in remission, and also being an advocate for the general guidelines as a way of life for those without eating disorders as well.

I believe that the guidelines at the beginning of this post are needed to reach a full recovery. The label of “MinnieMaud” does not have to be slapped on it, but I personally found my way through Your Eatopia, and through “MinnieMaud”. It provided me with a way to regain my life, and I know it has saved countless others. So whether you recovered by finding those guidelines through Your Eatopia, or whether those guidelines just happened to you throughout your recovery process because you recognised they were part of recovery, I believe they are of paramount importance to reaching remission.

What Being Healthy Really Means

About a year or so into my recovery, I went to the hairdressers. When I sat down for a haircut, my (very awesome, around-the-same-age-as-me) hairdresser said, “You’re looking healthy!”

It took me a while to register that what she had said was a compliment. The eating disorder lodged in my brain saw an opportunity and cried out “Healthy?! Healthy?!What she really means is fatter.”

image

The above image is me before and during recovery from atypical anorexia. I didn’t even realise that there was a difference in the way I looked then and now bar that I had gained weight until I was at a friend’s house over Easter and on her wall were two photographs that included me: one at a healthy weight and one when I was underweight. I was in shock. I never realised how pale and sick I looked.

My hairdresser had been cutting my hair in Manchester since my first year at university. She saw my drop weight to my lowest, and she saw me restore it again. That’s how I know that her compliment was so sincere.

One thing that I’ve noticed since being in recovery is that even though sometimes I am unable to act on my own opinions, those opinions about food and weight and body shape have become so healthy that they’ve moved way over to the other side, as far away from disordered as possible, and past even most “normal” people’s views. My views have become so healthy that when I am having coffee with my friends at Starbucks, and one of them says “Oooh, do you think I should get a cake with my coffee? It’s kinda a lot of calories…” I look at her disapprovingly and say “Of course! If you want it, you eat it! Stop asking me for validation, that chocolate cake looks so damn good that you should get TWO SLICES.” Another of my friends said that she had eaten loads that day but “haha it was okay” because she would just work out for double the amount of time. To which I shouted “No, no you will not! Our bodies are not mathematical machines that have specific countable amounts going in and our like our diet culture would have us believe. You do not have to double your work out just because you over ate for one day. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!”

Having an eating disorder and trying to recover from it has ruined a lot of my life and had me existing in constant misery. What it has done for me though is introduced me to blogs like Fyoured, TheFuckItDiet, and Youreatopia , which opened my eyes to the actual truth rather than the lies that our money-grabbing, body-shaming diet culture would have us believe (I suggest that you check them out). I began to learn that being healthy means making the right choices for you and your body. It means going swimming if you genuinely love going swimming (but not before being in remission, or nearing it). It means having a second helping at dinner if you still want more. It means playing badminton with your best friend if that is what makes you smile. It means sitting down with a friend to watch a movie and sharing a whole tub of ice cream if that is one of your favourite foods. It means eating whole foods if that makes you feel great. It means spending the day in your pjs in bed blogging and watching TV when you want to relax. Being healthy means doing with your body what makes you happy. Genuinely happy. Without that eating disorder voice having any say.

In addition, exercise doesn’t have to be exhausting, or stressful. You don’t have to dread it. In fact you can exercise without even having to take much notice of it, and that’s the way that it should be done. Exercise should not ever be about changing your body. What it should be about is genuine enjoyment. In fact, I have talked about this topic extensively on my YouTube channel (Herehere, and here are my videos on exercise in recovery, and exercise in remission). It does not mean you have to spend gruelling hours at the gym or engaging in high intensity aerobics, gasping for air in your living room. It can mean taking a walk in the countryside with your dog/friend/camera. It can mean splashing around with your mates in the pool. It can mean getting competitive and enjoying a game of badminton in the sun. It can mean getting on the trampoline with your siblings. It can mean walking in the fresh air to town to do your shopping rather than catching the bus. It’s about what works for you.

Health is eating the right foods for you and nourishing your body and your soul. It’s about eating whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s about trusting your body and it’s cravings; whether it is calling for doughnuts or broccoli, you should respond to it. Being healthy is being happy, and the happier you are the more it will shine through your skin and your eyes and in the way you hold yourself. Knowing that is how I overruled the voice of my eating disorder when my hairdresser complimented me with those words: the knowledge that I was shining the most I had done for going on two years.