If my client comes to me with a diagnosis of an eating disorder (or suspicion of something “weird” with eating habits), I act like a guide for their journey to eating disorder recovery. This journey is filled with ups and downs for all clients, and no one will ever be “perfect”. It’s hard to see this in the moment of struggle, but eating disorder recovery can turn an individual into a resilient human being.
With this in mind, I guide clients to resources for eating disorder recovery, but really work with them on a nutrition plan using a non-diet approach. So many of my clients have mixed messages in their heads about nutrition and many clients fear certain foods (for various reasons). I always work in alignment with clients, setting them up with information and support to succeed in ED recovery and help them fight the eating disorder voice. However, I understand that that ED voice sounds totally legit at times, and that it’s also there for a reason. I invite all parts of my client into the session, as weird as that may sound!! (But I bet if you’ve ever lived with an eating disorder, you get what I’m saying).
Here are 5 tips for eating disorder recovery (from a dietitian!):
1. Sounds ironic but have a “flexible” meal plan: You are not going to find this plan on the internet! Everyone has different needs, different food preferences, different food “fears” and a unique style of eating. Also, everyone has different jobs, different families, and different daily schedule. The only way you are going to find a meal plan that works for you is to see a Registered Dietitian. A Registered Dietitian will take all of these factors and come up with something individual for YOU. A meal plan is a tool used to teach someone the right amount of food for them as an individual. Together, we will assess where you are today and where you need to be.
2. Learn nutrition facts vs. myths: “Carbs are fattening…”, “I can’t have fruit after dinner…”, “Peanut butter is bad for me…”, “Since I had chocolate after lunch, I can eat whatever I want for the rest of the day…”, “If I don’t exercise 6x/week, exercise is pointless…” <– guess what? These are all myths! I find people with any eating disorder behavior are sometimes what I like to call “chronic dieters”, where they have run into lots of nutrition “rules” throughout their lifetime and have taken those rules with them. A Registered Dietitian will help you learn the real nutrition facts vs. myths.
3. Monitor your feelings with a journal and write down your food choices. When a person has an eating disorder, sometimes certain feelings like depression, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, avoidance, and/or happiness (yes even happiness!) will lead to overeating or undereating. The first way to “figure this out” is to write down your food in a journal, and try to also write down your feelings when you are eating. Pay attention to any times where your food intake is below or above what you consider “normal”. This exercise will help you to start to connect the dots! A team of healthcare professionals will take it from there.
4. Use a hunger/satiety scale: My clients are always given my “cheat sheet”- my hunger scale ranging from 1-10 to identify feelings of hunger/neutral/full. Ideally you want to start eating at a place between 3-4, where your hunger starts to build up… and stop at a 6-7, where your satisfaction kicks in and you no longer need any more food to feel satisfied. People with eating disorders may not have the same feelings of hunger/satiety (sometimes the “eating disorder voice” will kick in and go against what your body is telling you)- therefore trying to pay attention to your hunger/satiety cues will help YOUR VOICE be louder than ED. This can also be called mindful eating.
5. Surround yourself with support: Getting help for an eating disorder is not easy, and recovery isn’t any easier. Anyone struggling with any food issue (not just eating disorders!) needs the help of a team of professionals, as well as support from their friends, family, and community (whoever that may be).
Jennifer is a Registered Dietitian and the owner of Eat With Knowledge in Nyack, NY. She is on a mission to help people heal from diets, and find peace and balance with their food choices. She leads a team of dietitians who support the philosophy, “Feel Fabulous about Food!”