Minnie Maud — The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Minnie Maud.

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. 

I wrote an article about it back in 2015, which has become one of my most trafficked articles. (That and my article about bloating in recovery.)

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.

THE GOOD

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.

THE BAD

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.

THE UGLY

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.

Next: BINGING

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

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37 thoughts on “Minnie Maud — The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

  1. I love the way your dad handled it. It reminded me that having been broke and unable to afford a break, I decided that we would visit all the local food establishments when we had first arrived in our new home. It was cheaper than a holiday and our youngsters had settled happily into our new home.

    We still have every local take away menu.

    1. thank you so much – yes – my dad was my superhero. he still is. thank you for sharing that. sometimes the best times are just spending quality time together! 🙂 Hugs and love xox

  2. This was a GREAT article to end with your video! You put in so much work for it, now is when you start getting some mileage out of it! And people trying to figure out their own recovery have a chance to identify with you even more closely. I hope you have a great weekend!

    1. Thanks so much Jeff! yes! gosh, that was such an affirming weekend in Memphis. I am so grateful to have had that opportunity, and i have you to thank for that!! 🙂 hope you have a great weekend too! hugs to you and your girls! xoxo

      1. It was so great to spend some time with you! You really got people’s attention. My standout memories are those two sisters you spent time with Saturday evening and the mom and daughter who watched online from inpatient. You did a lot of good that weekend!! FYI – Hillary started her phlebotomy internship at a hospital and is doing really well. We’re very hopeful that she’s found her niche! Thanks for your friendship!

      2. Yes! Oh my gosh I agree it was so great! And yes! I was so moved by those sisters and the mother daughter duo. Gosh, what an incredible time. Oh that’s amazing!!! I’m so happy for her!! I’ll continue praying for her 🙂 ditto my friend! 🙂

  3. Very interesting, thank you. And there were some similarities to my own life, though my main issue was addiction, not anorexia.

    You have to want to get better. Yes, that’s true for me in addiction too. I remember seeing one counsellor and she abruptly ended our session saying, “If you don’t want to give up drugs, there’s nothing I can do to help you.”

    For me, that was extremely unhelpful. OF COURSE part of me didn’t want to give up drugs, that was the problem!! Rather than end our sessions, I feel she should have helped me explore this issue further. As it is, I left therapy feeling counselling for drug addiction was a waste of time.

    Having said that, I do still agree with you – I have to really want to quit. And from there, the method you use is almost just a matter of personal preference. It took me perhaps another 4 years of sneakily taking drugs and hiding my usage from my family before I was finally ready to quit.

    I can’t help but wonder if that could have been sooner if that earlier counsellor hadn’t simply given up on me.

    I too question the wisdom of “pint parties” of Ben & Jerrys. That was my go-to binge food. When drug addicts are in early recovery, they often turn to sugar as a kind of legal substitute. I believe and hope that (refined, added) sugar will be recategorised as a drug due to the effects it has on the human mind and body.

    I (was) a 6ft, 100kg (220lb) male. I could easily smash 2 tubs of Ben & Jerrys in 1 sitting, but it made me feel absolutely awful. My asthma and hayfever flared up. I felt itchy, hungover, head full of brain fog. So, I imagine that for an underweight female, just 1 tub has the potential to produce similar effects in sensitive individuals. In other words, binging on ice cream is REALLY BAD for you, both physically and mentally!

    I’m not saying ice cream is all bad – everything in moderation. A whole pint/tub for 1 person is NOT moderation.

    “Just do the next right thing!” – YES! I really like that, it breaks down scary-seeming, overwhelming tasks into something far more manageable. That’s really helpful for depression management too. And it reminds me of the 12 Steps mantra, “One Day At A Time”.

    Thanks for a great post. Love and hugs x

    1. thank you so much Rock, for sharing your story. you’re absolutely right – addiction takes many forms, and the remedy is always along the same vein: you have to want it for yourself and be willing to put in the work! and yes! just doing the next right thing turns mountains into baby steps. so glad you stopped by! have a wonderful night! Hugs and love xox

      1. I’ve just rewatched your video. It’s so powerful and moving. Right now, I really don’t know how I feel about God/Jesus. I can’t hear/feel him any more… And the scientist in me feels ashamed for having any religious inclinations. But, I know I can’t really say it was *me* that caused myself to recover. It was more like *something* working through me. That could well have been God. Maybe I should get back into the habit of prayer. Thank you again for your vulnerability and drive to help others x

      2. Thank you for watching that. And thank you for your honesty. I have definitely gone through periods like that. And I’ve found that those seasons are when God is actually carrying me, I just don’t see it. Absolutely. There is power in prayer 🙂 Hugs and love xox

  4. I’m sitting here with tears streaming down my face. We were the same perfectionist in high school except I turned to speed…which ultimately took me down the road to addiction. On paper, we are polar opposites. Dad always jokes that he needs extra mops in the house to ‘mop up my bleeding, liberal heart.’ But I am so glad I found your blog. You are such a light in this world.

    1. Oh gosh – thank you so much for sharing your heart and for such kind and generous words!! I’m sorry that you too know the toils of perfectionism. Youre right – there are many different forms of addiction, but the remedy is always the same: wanting to get better, and surrendering it all to do so! I’m so glad our paths crossed too!! You are a blessing to me! Have a beautiful weekend! Hugs and love xox

  5. You know I almost got lost when I peeped into your Instagram account.It’s like a vast continent ,traveling to every nook and corner will take time nevertheless I shall find time to visit slowly and steadily.Visiting your instagram account is a great experience infact it’s mind blowing.Take care.🌷👍🙏

  6. Hi, Cara. Well husband still has his job, praise God! Nothing was said, he was not laid off. We are going with, ‘no news is good news’. Thank you for your prayers. I hope you have a great weekend.

    1. Oh Melissa that is such great news!! I am thrilled for you guys. I’ll continue to keep him in my prayers! Thanks for the update! Hugs and love xox

  7. You’ve written a really sensible article here, Caralyn. I hope it encourages others to follow a path that is appropriate for them, especially with regards to medical supervision.

    1. Thanks Jim for sharing your thoughts. Yeah, there is the Minneapolis starvation experiment which provided some research into the method. But other than that I am not entirely sure. Hugs and love xox

  8. ” 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. ”

    Exactly like it is in our spiritual walk… To be transformed by Christ one has to want Him, one has to believe In Him.

    One would think that a eating disorder is physical, which it partly is..And for the sufferer that is where the delusion is- as they spend the majority of the time staying away from mirrors,while at the same time attached at the hip by one…and therein is the propagation of the disorder; for it to be continued….. by the person failing to address the root cause- because they are too busy staring at/running from- the primary physical ailments and never adequately addressing nor considering the root cause is a spiritual one.

    We learn so much as we grow and live. All things are spiritual. All things happen / occur on the spiritual plane first, then manifested onto the physical.

    That’s why recovery programs, treatments, rehab, counseling, therapy, fail.. They don’t treat your FAITH, and that is EXACTLY where the I WANT TO CHANGE begins to take place.

    Amen and Halleluyah!

    1. You’re so right about that – our walk with the Lord is our own personal journey!! Amen to that. Thanks for sharing your heart! Hugs and love xox

  9. Oh gosh, i am so sorry to hear that! gosh my heart is just breaking reading this. i will be praying for your cousin, and for the healing of your family. Let me see what i can do about getting you a copy of my book. sending prayers and love xox

    1. thank you so much for sharing that! that’s definitely something to celebrate being med free! 🙂 Hugs and love xox

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