If you’re scratching your head right now and picturing Minnie Mouse — you’re definitely not alone.
But alas, I am not referring to a high heeled mouse, but rather the radical at-home, DIY eating disorder (ED) recovery method that has taken the recovery community ~and Instagram~ by storm.
Yes, Instagram. Little known fact, but there is actually a quite vibrant recovery community online. And it only takes about 10 seconds of scrolling, until you’ll see pints of Ben & Jerry’s with the hashtag, “PintParty” and “#MinnieMaud” plastered all over it.
But back to Minnie Maud. The kitschy name comes from the sources of its evidence-based recovery approach: the Minnesota ((Minnie)) Starvation Experiment, and the Family Based Treatment — aka MAUDsley Protocol.
Since then, Minnie Maud has adopted another name: the Homeodynamic Recovery Method. I’ve done quite a bit of research on it, because honestly, I find it absolutely fascinating. Basically, the long and short of the guidelines can be summed up in this: It’s an outpatient treatment plan where you eat a minimum of 3,000 calories per day, (you’re encouraged to eat more, and give your body what it craves, even if it means eating 10,000 calories due to extreme hunger), no food is off limits, no restricting, no weighing yourself, and absolutely ZERO exercise.
And reading this, having myself recovered from a severe case of anorexia, I can say for certain that, this recovery method would absolutely have not worked for me. Given my resistance to going to inpatient, and the truly life-threatening degree of my eating disorder (I was 78 pounds) — Minnie Maud was simply out of the question.
I needed medical supervision and professional guidance.
However, Minnie Maud obviously has gained notoriety among the recovery community for a reason. Many have found success, adhering to its guidelines. So I thought that, I would revamp my article on Minnie Maud, and offer my thoughts as a non-doctor/nutritionist/therapist/dietician, however a fully recovered author, speaker and top recovery blogger. AKA — from someone who has been through the trenches of true recovery.
Good first — always.
There are a lot of highly beneficial aspects to the Minnie Maud – or Homeodynamic Recovery Method. Mainly being, the food freedom and autonomy that comes with it. No food is off limits, you eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and the best cast scenario is that you fall in love with food again.
I say “fall in love,” because up until a young woman truly adopts recovery, she is petrified of food. One of the most beneficial things my dad did for me during my own recovery journey, was, after I returned home from inpatient (and I still had about 12 pounds to gain), he took me to all the different buffets around the city. This was so great, because it allowed me to taste things that I would have never “allowed” myself to enjoy during the eating disorder. It helped me to fall in love with eating, and find the joy in flavors and different cuisines.
Additionally, the freedom to eat what you want is awesome. At inpatient, we stuck to a prescribed meal plan. Three meals, three snacks, and supplements. We had two options, and you cleaned your plate (at monitored tables), or your “privileges” were revoked, and you had to drink a calorie equivalent amount of Ensure to make up for what you didn’t eat. And the food was, admittedly, not great. The meals tackled “fear foods” but were basically what you’d expect to find at a nice public school cafeteria: pizza, pasta, burgers, sandwiches, cereals, meatloaf. Basically, there was no real “joy” in tucking into your steaming plate of spaghetti marinara, with other struggling girls, all while being watched ~eagle eye~ by a nurse.
Also – the fact that this is an at-home recovery method is definitely helpful, as many inpatient eating disorder treatment centers charge around $40,000 for a 60 day program.
Lastly – the no exercise. This is HUGE, because exercise is the one “ED behavior” that girls will cling to, well into recovery. And it is a foothold for the eating disorder to continue to control her, and impede her recovery. The only way I truly recovered was when I was forced to give up exercise cold turkey, due to being on bedrest from an Ulcerative Colitis flare that lasted for 11 months, back in 2010. During that time, I learned to truly trust my body, and I realized that my body had the beautiful ability to process food, without maniacally burning calories in an effort to control my weight. So Minnie Maud’s zero exercise protocol is highly, highly beneficial.
Now comes the cold, hard truth.
In order for Minnie Maud to “work,” she has to WANT to get better.
That can be said for Minnie Maud, for Inpatient, for outpatient, or for my dad’s “buffet method.” In order for a true recovery to take place, she has to want it for herself. No one can want it for her — not her parents, her family, her friends, her doctors or community — she has to want to get better. Because ultimately, she is the one who is putting the food in her mouth, eating and swallowing.
Like I mentioned, I needed to be in an inpatient treatment center, because if left to my own devices — at least initially — I would have found a way to sneakily continue on in my eating disorder. Because I was not ready to give it up yet. So I needed the 24/7 supervision. That being said, when I did finally embrace recovery, my physical location didn’t matter. I could have been recovering anywhere successfully — because once you make up your mind that you want to get better…you do. But until then, the eating disorder is a deceptive, manipulative, thief that will find a way to derail even the most well-laid plans.
Now for the, been-there, done-that, got the t-shirt perspective that says, there are some glaring red flags in this eating disorder treatment method.
And when I say glaring, I mean — bright red, blinking lights, taking out a billboard on the Vegas Strip — red flags.
I can really boil it down to three HUGE things: A) the association of weight gain with food, B) BINGING, and C) the lack of professional supervision.
A) Now, I know I kind of harped on the meal plan at inpatient. Sure it wasn’t the most exciting or most gourmet, but let’s call it what it is: it is a nutritionally sound, energy sufficient meal plan. You see the smart thing they do, is that the food you eat is exactly what a young woman needs on a daily basis to MAINTAIN her weight. The WEIGHT GAIN came in the form of supplemental drinks — Ensure, Boost Plus, etc. And for someone with over 35 pounds to gain, it was critically important for me not to associate the FOOD that I was eating, with the weight I was gaining. It was the SUPPLEMENTS that were behind the weight gain.
That was one of my biggest fears at inpatient that I would often talk to my dietician about: When I reach my weight range, how will my body not just continue to gain weight and gain weight and gain weight? And she assured me that, all I have to do is stop the supplements, and my body will maintain its healthy weight.
That, friends, is how I could sleep at night.
When you associate your weight gain with eating whatever you want — you’ll come to distrust the pasta, the sandwiches, the pizza, etc — it will be incredibly difficult to trust your body to process those foods without gaining weight, afterwards.
Let’s recall: the Minne Maud protocol mandates a minimum of 3,000 calories a day, and says that in episodes of extreme hunger, as many as 10,000+ calories may be consumed. The problem with these out of control, eat-until-you-burst, gorge fests — where eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in a “PintParty,” or an entire box of cereal is encouraged, and considered totally “normal” — is that it instills highly problematic — and dangerous — behaviors around food. Particularly, binge eating.
I’m going to be honest — I went through a season of binge eating early in my recovery. I wrote about it here, and how I finally got control of it. But the debilitating cycle of binge eating is incredibly difficult to overcome. And eating disorder survivors are particularly vulnerable to it. Think of it as a pendulum swing. As far as it swung in one direction during the extreme restriction, the equally far it will swing in the opposite direction. And this can lead to other dangerous coping behaviors such as purging, extreme exercise, self harm, etc. Praise God, I did not experience any of those behaviors as a result, but there definitely were moments where I considered asking my parents to put a lock on the fridge at night.
So — normalizing binging in the Minnie Maud protocol – absolutely will lead to disordered behaviors around eating and satiety down the road.
Lastly: Minnie Maud’s lack of medical supervision and professional guidance is at best irresponsible, and at worst, utterly negligent.
Refeeding syndrome is a very real thing. To go from a state of starvation, to binging on 10,000 calories in one sitting is extremely extremely dangerous.
During my first few weeks at inpatient, I had to sleep in a cot at the nurses’ station, so that they could monitor my heart and check my vitals throughout the night, for fear that I would go into cardiac arrest. Because at 78 pounds, my body was so depleted that increasing my caloric intake had to be done extraordinarily delicately, so as not to shock my heart. That is how girls die from anorexia. The body feeds off of its own muscles in a last ditch effort to stay alive. And the heart, being a muscle, too, also deteriorates.
So the initial process of weight gain needs to be done in a medically supervised, professionally directed way.
Not to mention, it places parents in the role of “food police.” Which creates a detrimental parent/child dynamic. I needed a stern, no-nonsense nurse that made sure I ate every single morsel on my plate, with no “funny business.” They flushed the toilets after meals to make sure no one was purging. They monitored our activity to ensure we weren’t exercising. They laid down the LAW. It is frankly, unfair, to require that of a parent. Parents should be there to love, support, and encourage their recovery child — not as their “bad cop” or “disciplinarian.” Not to mention, at the end of the day, kids know exactly how to manipulate their parents, and what is the absolute hallmark of eating disorders? Deception and manipulation.
So there you have it. The good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to Minnie Maud, aka the Homeodynamic Recovery Method.
I fully believe in “different strokes for different folks” but this is one that I just cannot get behind.
I do hope that helps. To hear my story, you can watch a video of one of my talks below.
And to order a copy of my recovery resource, “Bloom,” a 60-day recovery guided journal, click here.
In the words of my mother, Just do the next right thing!
“This is what the Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” Ez 37:5
A huge shoutout to Reason Nutrition Beverage! Their all-natural, high calorie drink is not only delicious, but it has no “garbage” in it! Utilizing the wholesome goodness of coconut oil, it’s a phenomenal option for those needing to gain weight in recovery, or for those simply looking to supplement their diet with convenient and fast nutrition. Check them out!
A big thank you to my foundational sponsor, BetterHelp Online Therapy. I cannot begin to express how beneficial therapy was for my recovery from anorexia. Speak with an online therapist. Or check out content about eating disorders from BetterHelp.
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