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Eating Disorders and Labeling Negative Thoughts

Eating Disorders and Labeling Negative Thoughts

I recently read this article in Elephant Journal entitled “Confessions of a Food Restrictor.”¯ In the words of my beloved Oprah, it was an “Aha Moment” for me. The author, Anne Falkowski, explains her experience with a registered dietician who, after a conversation about her eating habits, informed her that he believed her to be a “restrictor.” He defined the term as “someone who counts calories” or “someone who has so many rules around food and the rules give more power to food than food actually has.”¯

Wow. That’s exactly what I used to do. For years. The term “restrictor” really resonates with me because I have always been reluctant to refer to my past eating disorder as anorexia. My case was serious. My relationship with food was certainly unhealthy and it dominated my life. But I always felt as if I were a step or two away from all-out anorexia (though I realize that what constitutes anorexia for me may be somewhat different for someone else).

Before I go any further, I want to clarify my feelings about the power of food. We give food as much power as we choose to. I don’t believe that power has to be negative. It can be very, very good. Sharing holiday meals with family, trying a new restaurant with a friend, preparing a meal for your partner … these are all very positive, powerful experiences. In fact, since recovering from my eating disorder, I’ve fallen in love with cooking and baking. A friend and I are even planning to start a cooking blog together.

However, for people with eating disorders, the power given to food is, of course, very negative. It is not a healing power, or a power that creates community and reinforces bonds. It is a power to overwhelm and control. It is a power that allows food to take on a life of its own—and to overshadow the person’s real life.

But when we understand where this power comes from – that it comes from negative thoughts that we can label (meditation can be particularly helpful in this regard), then we can defuse that power. This is why finding the term “restrictor” was so meaningful to me. If I’d had this term at the height of my eating disorder, I would have been able to mentally label my negative thoughts as “restriction.” That would have helped me to separate the thoughts from myself and my truth and to thereby begin to disregard them.

Humans like to quantify things. We like categories and names. This is sometimes helpful and sometimes detrimental—but it is undeniable that we like to make order out of chaos. Having a label for an eating disorder helps us understand that those negative thoughts don’t represent truth, nor are they an essential part of our being. They are simply the voice of the “restrictor,” something we can recognize and then move on from. The terms anorexia and bulimia are very familiar, but I believe there are a lot of people out there like me who have truly disordered relationships with food but may not consider themselves anorexic or bulimic. Perhaps those people would benefit from having a label that makes their experiences more tangible, and helps them separate themselves from their negative thoughts.



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Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.


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6:46AM PST on Dec 1, 2012

Having food on our table is a blessing that is meant for all to enjoy. But times have changed, society's need for instant gratification , the media bombardment of the variety of cuisines that tempts so many- the true meaning of food is masked by visual satisfaction. Simplicty in food preparation is a thing of the past. Add the tendency to add a label everything around us, almost makes food an enemy.

9:43PM PDT on Oct 29, 2012


3:24AM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

Thanks Sarah for sharing your perspective.

8:23PM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

It is a matter of loving and honoring the body with foods that are nourishing and healing....

12:14PM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

Thank you.

10:26AM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

Thank you.

8:13AM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

I'd never actually heard of the term "restrictor." I am now enlightened!

7:32AM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

Thank you for the honesty. I'm a restrictor/ignore. I don't have stuff in my house so if I "crave" something I have to go get it.

If it's not there, I don't generally think about an item or want it frequently.

6:32AM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

thank you

1:11PM PDT on Oct 26, 2012


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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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