A big part of recovering from an eating disorder is re-learning how to have a healthy, balanced diet. This is also one of the most challenging aspects of recovery for many recovering from anorexia, bulimia, or other general eating disorders. The time it takes to resume a relatively normal eating habit depends on the individual, the severity of their disorder, and many other factors.
A person’s age, length of their disorder, any co-occurring mental disorders, their social environment, and how their recovery is progressing thus far also need to be taken consideration when planning their treatment. A treatment professional may start off by looking specifically at what is not normal with the person’s eating patterns, and go from there.
For an individual with anorexia, any activity that involves food can be a source of great anxiety, including shopping for food, being around cooking and food preparation, and social events that revolve around eating. Feelings that are related to eating are also a great concern. Fullness and hunger take on different meanings to someone suffering from anorexia. It’s important to address these issues when mapping out their recovery and new eating guidelines.
Recovering bulimics have many of the same issues when starting recovery. Someone recovering from bulimia will need to work on any fears they have about eating before establishing new habits. Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder are also very common among individuals suffering from bulimia, and these issues must be addressed before progressing with recovery.
Guidelines for establishing normal eating habits.
Once physical health has been restored and eating disorder habits have come mostly to a stop, a person in recovery can begin working toward eating a balanced, regular diet and returning to a normal weight range. Age is an important factor here, as a child will have different dietary needs than a teenager or adult.
A person still under the care of their parents will need the eating habits of their family taken into consideration as well. Many times eating disorders are established because of restrictive eating guidelines at home. In these cases, the eating habits of the whole family will need to be examined and restructured to better support the individual’s recovery.
New eating patterns will start in the treatment center or when a person begins outpatient treatment. Each person will receive a customized meal plan that takes all their unique needs and background into consideration. The common factor among all meal plans is that they encourage a regular eating schedule. This makes the act of eating less frightening for many and to gradually restore a person’s instinct for knowing when it’s time to eat. It may take months or even years for a person to ease off the meal plan and continue on their own, depending on how severe their eating disorder was. But with patience, diligence, and customized treatment, it can be done.
Some examples of healthy eating plans include the “Rule of 3” meal plan and diets with a variety of foods that provide energy. The Rule of 3 plan set the guidelines at three meals a day, with three snacks included, and no more than three hours between any food consumption. The meals are also broken up into parts including calcium, protein, complex carbohydrate, fruit or vegetable, and fat. Even snack foods like cookies or chips are part of the plan. The variety of diet is careful to include many sources of nutrients and energy in the meal guidelines. Studies have shown that dietary variety is highly beneficial for eating disorder recovery.