Sweets and ED brain changes

There seems to be a tendancy for many ED patients to avoid sweets or desserts. In fact, this is usually the first thing that patients 'cut out' from their diet when they begin to restrict. From one perspective, this makes sense: people can easily hide ED as simply eating heathier by not eating too many desserts. But, this is where things get a bit more interesting: if someone is dieting or cutting down on their desserts, they crave them. And when they want one, they can eat one without any guilt or massive anxiety. However, when a patient with ED is refeeding and is about to eat a dessert, they become anxious, angry, frustrated, and sometimes rebellious. Why the difference? Why is eating desserts or something sweet so hard for patients with ED? (NOTE: this does not apply to all patients; I am stating this out of my own personal experience as well as based on many others).

A study found that patients with ED have altered brain responses to eating desserts. (http://www.dsm.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=1695221&RelatedWidgetArticles=true). Basically, the part of the brain (usually the insula) that becomes 'happy' or excited when we normally eat desserts does not function properly in ED. Instead of finding that eating something sweet makes us happy, our brains interpret this as being dangerous, frustrating, and unrewarding. As a result, our brains send messages that say 'desserts are not good. They are bad. Avoid them because they make you feel terrible. Do not eat desserts'. Can you see why eating sweet things would be so difficult for someone with ED? Their brain is constantly sending signals to AVOID this!

Is there a cure? Maybe. For me, eating anything used to be so hard - but desserts were extra hard. My brain was telling me 'NO!', and I was also scared of eating and gaining weight. At first, I did not eat many sweets. I remember in my first week of recovery, my 'snacks' were always fruits, nutrition bars, etc. Now, that isn't wrong - it is good to have a varity of things each day. What was wrong was that I ended up feeling so full after eating enough fruits to get my calorie intake, and I still kind of craved desserts. I wanted to try a brownie for so long, but my brain was saying NO. Eventaully, one day, I got tired of this constant battle. I told myself that I was going to sit myself down and eat a small brownie as an experiment. JUST ONE. And if I hated it, I would never have to have one again. If I liked it, maybe I could try other things too. So I did. I got a brownie for a snaak. And I liked it. NOTE: some people have tendancy to binge. If this is you (be honest) then doing this with a therapist or medical team may help you avoid the urge to binge on sweet foods.

It's all about exposure. If our brains are telling us that we should not eat sweets, it is going to be so hard to do so. But if you try it once, nothing bad will happen. Try it and see if you like it or not. I did. And now, I can safely say that I eat desserts all the time - in moderation, of course. Do I always feel great about it? No. Many times, I still feel fat and lazy for eating sweet things. Sometimes, ED shouts at me for being so stupid and eating something sugary. But this is all part of my recovery experience It needs to happen - I need to test this out and see what the worst is that can happen. My brain may be going through some series of imbalances, but that does not mean that I do not have control over sone of my decisions. I could not take this step at first in recovery - it took me a long time to get to this place. But it happened slowly, with time and patience and a lot of determination. So, while ED may alter the brain so that sweets are no longer pleasurable or 'safe', there is a way to get around it. Try it out and see what happens. And stay strong and hopeful that things do get eaiser as you work on them.

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