Food Self-Regulation: The All-Inclusive Resort Analogy
In October and November 2021, I spent 15 nights in Playa del Carmen to circumvent the US travel ban and enter the US to see my partner for the first time (without Zoom/WhatsApp) in 13 months . I decided to splurge and spent far more on this vacation than on any trip in my life, especially just one.
From the moment I typed in my credit card details, I knew it was an anti-anorexic thing to do: 1) Spend a lot of money, just for myself, not because that I “had” to do it, that is, to buy myself something more than I “had to” do. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much wider the implications of the all-inclusive vacation model could be for thinking about how to achieve recovery from eating disorders – and can -even to broader questions about how to eat healthy and exercise successfully. .
Here is the thesis in brief. All-inclusive is the epitome of the “more than necessary” incentive: you pay to encourage yourself to get as much as possible. You’re paying to set the limits (on eating, drinking, and whatever else your package includes) so high that they’re practically irrelevant (I suppose you could camp at the resort’s bar or restaurant and possibly be told you can’t have more? but probably not until you’ve passed out/vomited). The idea is that it is beneficial (eg relaxing) because then you get to self-regulate without some major standard constraints (eg cost) getting in the way.
In this series, I will argue that the all-inclusive framework is, structurally speaking, the same framework that is needed to recover from a restrictive eating disorder (or chronic dieting): the limit is high enough not to not be relevant. (The same applies for a compulsive exercise problem, but reversed: here the limit is low enough to be irrelevant.) Only then can you begin to self-regulate, that is, i.e. start using feedback (e.g. how you feel, what other results you get), rather than blindly applying rules (e.g. how many calories or minutes or miles regardless of all the rest).
Of course, all-inclusive benefits may not, in the context of vacation or recovery, be immediate. Self-regulation can take time to learn, maybe a lot of time. I guess some people do all-inclusive and binge/drink in a way that makes them miserable, and some people do it as miserly as if they were paying for every drink and every meal, and some people do it really well but don’t have fun because too many other things are wrong. Similarly, learning to self-regulate during recovery and then reaping the benefits for the rest of life is obviously not instantaneous, although in some cases the instinct of how to do this may recover. in place much faster than expected.
Source: Emily Troscianko
Let the house rules take over
Following Step 1 (spending a lot of money on something where everything is included, i.e. the incentive now is to consume more, not less) enables the magic of Step 2: let the self-regulation occur. For me this fall, the diet-specific effects weren’t particularly salient, as I already happily self-regulate in this area, but the way eating and drinking adjust effortlessly to the absence of ordinary constraints was a nice part of a greater ease in adapting to near-zero limitations or responsibilities. The most amazingly beautiful part of this vacation – even more than the blue-green water of the Caribbean, the palm trees and the sunrises over the ocean from my balcony – was how everything just turned out from him- even, effortlessly, in the absence of almost any ready-made. guidelines.
I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I had so few demands, whether I imposed myself or not. I had a few coaching calls in the calendar, but I deliberately cleared other work commitments for that fortnight, so otherwise it was empty. And this being all inclusive, there was nothing practical (shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc.) to think about. There were no predetermined limits in my day. Being alone, there weren’t even anyone else’s preferences to satisfy. There was basically no “should”.
So what happens when you take duty out of your life?
In many ways, of course, two weeks of lounging in a fancy hotel has little to do with the rest of life. But it can provide important illumination for the rest, clarifying it ex negative, by the absence of what is usually present. What it does is remove almost all of the accumulated habits that normally prevent us from answering this question from scratch. There is never a blank slate, but the slate is much freer of old scribbles when daily activity is impeded from making us feel like we have no options.
“Letting go of duty” must become a reflex in recovery from anorexia. For a time, a new version of ‘should’ (eat more, move less) is to replace the old one; later, the whole idea of “should” has to change in nature, become more malleable depending on the context. This progression obviously applies to the specifics of diet and exercise, but it’s also about much broader questions about how and why we choose to live, what the great excitement of fully recovering really is. Now that I can choose how to live, rather than disease having always already dictated 90% of the answer, how can I actually choose?
If it still seems a million miles away, across the endless gray tundra of recovery, this series can serve two purposes: 1) to illustrate the basics of how to make recovery work, via the analogy of all-inclusive holidays; 2) encourage you to try such vacations for real, as a pleasantly literal way to speed up the process. At the end, I’ll also offer some observations relevant to eating well (in the broadest sense of the word) in the absence of an eating disorder, but the presence of all the garish socio-cultural cues that can make it so difficult to find and maintain personal balance.