Nutrition in Eating Disorder Recovery: Building a Recovery Meal Plan
Dietitian recommendations for what an eating disorder meal plan looks like
Eating disorder recovery is a journey that requires a team approach, and one essential component of this journey is nutrition. Nutrition rehabilitation is vital for healing the body and mind, as it helps restore physical health, provides essential nutrients for mental well-being, and empowers individuals to challenge eating disorder thoughts.
In this blog post, we will look at the critical role of nutrition in eating disorder recovery, explore the role of nutrition in restoring physical and mental health, and provide tangible steps to build an eating disorder meal plan that supports recovery goals.
The Role of Nutrition in Recovery
Restrictive or chaotic eating patterns are a nutritional trauma to the body, depleting vital nutrients and affecting overall health. A focus on nutrition during recovery serves several crucial functions:
- Restoring Physical Health: Malnutrition is a common consequence of eating disorders, which can lead to a host of physical issues, such as muscle weakness, bone loss, and hormonal imbalances. Adequate nutrition helps reverse these effects and promotes physical healing.
- Cognitive Flexibility: Proper nutrition supports cognitive function, including cognitive flexibility. This means that as your body receives the nourishment it needs, your mind becomes more adaptable in challenging and ultimately changing eating disorder thoughts. You’ll gain the mental strength to question and reframe harmful beliefs about food, body image, and self-worth.
- Supporting Mental Health: Nutrient-rich foods play a significant role in maintaining stable mood and managing anxiety and depression, which are often associated with eating disorders. Proper nutrition can positively impact brain chemistry, helping you manage emotions more effectively during recovery.
- Enhancing Energy Levels: Recovery is physically and mentally demanding. An eating disorder meal plan that provides balanced nutrition ensures that you have the energy needed to engage in therapy, build a healthier relationship with food, and regain your strength.
Steps to Build a Balanced Meal Plan in Eating Disorder Recovery
If you’re wanting to get started on your recovery journey, or you’re supporting a loved one with an eating disorder, below are some tips to get started:
- Prioritize Regular Meals and Snacks: Consistency is key in recovery. Start with building in regular eating opportunities throughout the day. Aim for three balanced meals and two to three snacks daily. This helps stabilize blood sugar levels, regulates digestion, and reduces the chances of engaging in compensatory behaviors.
- Increase the Volume of Meals Gradually: Once you’ve built in regular eating opportunities daily, begin to build up the volume of those meals to provide your body with the energy it needs to restore metabolic functioning. This is where the support of an Eating Disorder Dietitian can be vital to ensure you are getting enough nutrition!
- Include a Variety of Food Categories: Focus on including the key components of a balanced meal at each eating opportunity. Each meal should include a mix of proteins, grains/starches, fruits/veggies, and healthy fats. Here are some examples:
- Breakfast: Whole-grain oatmeal cooked with milk with berries and a handful of nuts.
- Lunch: Grilled chicken or tofu salad with mixed greens, quinoa, and olive oil vinaigrette.
- Dinner: Baked fish with steamed broccoli and quinoa.
- Snacks: Greek yogurt with honey and almonds, or carrot sticks with hummus.
- Challenge Food Fears Gradually: Many individuals with eating disorders have specific foods or eating environments that feel particularly challenging. Work with your dietitian and support system to gradually incorporate these foods back into your eating patterns in a safe and supported manner.
- Be Patient and Kind to Yourself: Remember that recovery is a process, and setbacks may happen. Treat yourself with compassion and seek support when needed.
What Does a Balanced Plate Look Like?
Are you still wondering what a recovery plate should look like? Here are a few tips and resources to get you started:
- Think About the Rule of 3s: With this concept (developed by Dr. Marcia Herrin), all you must remember is the number 3! Aim for 3 meals and three snacks, spaced 3 hours apart throughout the day, and work towards each meal containing 3 food groups. This ensures a well-rounded intake of nutrients and encourages dietary variety.
- Use the Plate-by-Plate Approach: This approach was created by dietitians Casey Crosbie and Wendy Sterling and provides great visual guidance on how to nourish yourself or a loved one through eating disorder recovery. Check it out HERE.
- Build a Peace Plate: I find this works best for “component meals” that contain a separate protein, grain, and veggie. Think about dividing your plate into thirds and allocate each third of the plate to your protein, grain, and veggie. With this strategy, we are working under the assumption that your healthy fat is included as part of these categories, for example, an olive oil bruschetta sauce on the chicken and/or dressing on the veggies.
Nutrition plays a vital role in eating disorder recovery, helping to heal both the body and mind. Building a balanced meal plan is a key step towards this goal, but it’s essential to do so under the guidance of a qualified treatment team. By prioritizing regular meals, including a variety of food groups, and leaning on your team, you can make significant progress on your journey to recovery. Remember, you don’t have to go through it alone – seek the support you need from an eating disorder Dietitian!
If you are a parent or caregiver trying to support a loved one with an eating disorder, we’d love to support you too! Join us for the next round of Caregivers United, an online group support program where we walk you through everything you need to know to support your loved one on their recovery journey.
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Disordered eating, intuitive eating, mental health, digestive health, emotional eating, chronic disease
One of the first things you’ll notice about Britney is her energy, zest for life and love of food! Britney is passionate about supporting her clients in developing a healthy and satisfying relationship with food and their bodies, allowing them to live life to the fullest. Britney specializes in disordered eating, intuitive eating, mental health, digestive health, emotional eating, and chronic disease.