Trying to recover from anorexia, bulimia, or another type of eating disorder? Hunting for some healthy nutrient-dense snack suggestions for your eating disorder recovery meal plan? Look no further! In this video, I will share with you my TOP THREE PRO-RECOVERY SNACKS!
After burying my nose in many books and academic articles, I have developed a very strong opinion about the role nutrition plays in the arduous but rewarding process of ED remission. I believe that proper nutrition, not psychiatrist visits or some form of psychotherapy, is the key to finally being free from your eating disorder. You see, when your brain is malnourished after long-term starvation, it does not have the energy or the capacity to function at an optimal level. That means that all those visits with your therapist and/or shrink are a waste of your time, energy, and money because to get through therapy, you need a brain that actually works.
But of course when you have an eating disorder, getting the sky-high amount of nutrition that is required is basically impossible if you are trying to eat enough on your own. That’s why a registered dietitian is one of the most important members of your treatment team. They have received years of training in helping to heal people with the power of nutrition and they can easily design a meal plan based not only on the unique needs of your body, but also on your dietary preferences. Throughout my years of being treated by a registered dietitian, I have also found they do an excellent job at focusing on reshaping one’s relationship with food. This is especially important for us eating disorder sufferers since our ED has made food an enemy instead of a something that is not only necessary for sustaining life, but also incredibly enjoyable.
Unfortunately in the US, it is challenging to find a registered dietitian who is experienced in treating eating disorder patients and affording one. A lot of the times, insurance fails to cover dietitian visits despite the fact that these visits are vital for achieving eating disorder remission. This means too many ED sufferers are left without the support and knowledge of a dietitian which can hinder their remission progress because they are not getting the nutrition they need. In these situations, the only option is to start exploring other options. After going on an expedition in the unknown and dangerous territory of the internet, I have gathered some commendable resources that could be used in place of a dietitian. But before I tell you these awesome resources, I want to remind you that these should be used if and only if you are completely unable to see a registered dietitian. No website can replace the knowledge and compassion of these individuals.
The Best Resources for Eating Disorder Remission Nutrition (all of these links will open in a new tab 🙂 )
ASK THE DIETITIAN Meal Plan Maker: I am beyond impressed with this wonderful website and I honestly believe it is the GREATEST resource out there for those in need of a nutritionally-balanced meal plan. The site is the brain-child of Joanne Larson, a licensed registered dietitian who has worked in a myriad of places including hospitals, clinics, and mental health facilities. Her website contains informative Q&A articles on a whole host of ailments (including eating disorders) as well as three incredibly helpful tools that will aid you in creating a meal plan that suits your unique nutrition needs.
Steps to making your own, one-of-a-kind meal plan
1. Click on the link to be taken to ASK THE DIETITIAN’s “Healthy Eating Plan for Life” tool.
2. Fill in the “Your Body Data” section of the form.
3. Next it’s time to fill in the “Calorie Distribution” part of the form. Do not change the percentages of carbs, fats, or proteins. All you have to worry about in this section is the amount of calories. To figure out how many calories you need, you need to go to ASK THE DIETITIAN’s “Healthy Body Calculator” tool. Fill in ALL the information except the the Body Fat section and the Waist-to-Hip Ratio section (these can be triggering and they are NOT NEEDED to calculate your calorie needs. When you get to the Weight Goal section, you either need to say you want to maintain or gain. If you have a lost weight due to your eating disorder, you need to accept the fact that you need to gain weight. Your body and brain deserves to be at a weight where it functions best and that is not at your current eating disorder weight. Also, when you get to the Calorie Distribution section, DO NOT CHANGE ANYTHING. Once you complete the form, click “Next”. You will be brought to a page where it tells you how many calories your body needs to be or get healthy.
4. Now that you have the calories you need, go back to the “Healthy Eating Plan for Life” tool. Fill in your preferences. If you are recovering from a restrictive eating disorder, I highly recommend you choose full-fat milk because fat it vital for healthy brain function. Also higher-fat foods give you more calories for a smaller amount so you will not have to eat as much.
5. Once you complete the form (except the sections I told you not to), click “next”. You will be taken to a page with your exchange-based meal plan.
6. Highlight and copy your meal plan to a document (Google Docs or Word work best) so that you can save it and print it out.
The Kartini Clinic Meal Plan: This straight-forward, no-nonsense meal plan was created and is implemented by the Kartini Clinic in Portland, Oregon. Founded in 1998 by Dr. Julie O’Toole (a physician who is VERY well-known in the Maudsley/FBT community), the Kartini Clinic treats children to young adults suffering from a wide-range of eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, EDNOS, and food phobia. Unlike many eating disorder professionals, Dr. O’Toole believes eating disorders are a biological brain disorder that are not caused by parents or by patients, which I totally agree with. Of course there are some treatment philosophies of hers that I disagree with completely, but I do believe her meal plan is excellent for patients who prefer more rigidity in their meal plans.
The meal begins at a base amount of 2150 calories (which is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE). A lot of the times, patients need to add more to the meal plan in order to reach a healthy weight for their unique body type and they do this by adding “extras”. Extras include things like adding Benecalorie to their whole-milk yogurt or drinking calorically-dense nutritional supplements like Boost or Ensure. Unlike most ED remission meal plans, this meal plan only has patients have 3 meals and 1 snack per day. The thought behind this is that eating less frequently allows patients to not focus on food every waking hour. Another thing you must know about this meal plan is that that require patients to eat full-fat foods. This means no skin milk, low-cal almond milk, or low-fat yogurt. I know that that can be quite frightening, but remember fat is VITAL for a healthy brain and body.
Herrin Food Plan: This meal plan was designed by Marcia Herrin, a renowned registered dietitian who is actually the founder of the respected Dartmouth College Eating Disorder Treatment Program. Like most meal plans for eating disorder patients, this plan requires patients to consume food 6 times a day (3 meals, 3 snacks) and it is based on choosing certain food groups for each meal and snack. The plan also requires patients to have one cup or double the serving size of each food group AND to consume two “fun foods” each day. What exactly is a “fun food” you ask? Well, let me tell you right off the bat it is anything BUT fun for eating disorder patients. “Fun foods” are basically Herrin’s term for the foods that show up in the nightmares of ED patients around the world. We’re talking cake, donuts, croissants, non-diet soda, fries, chips – basically EVERYTHING an ED patient refuses to even get close to. Now I understand that it is important for eating disorder sufferers to begin to enjoy food and eat things that aren’t necessarily health foods, but in my opinion requiring patients to do this TWICE a day is a little excessive. Healthy eating means eating everything in moderation and eating dessert twice a day is definitely NOT moderation. Obviously that is just my opinion, so take it or leave it.
Finding a dietitian is hard work and sometimes it just isn’t possible to meet with one for various reasons. I hope these resources are helpful to those who can’t meet with a dietitian and give me a chance at achieving remission 🙂
The GAPS Diet is a strict dietary regimen that claims to be a cure-all for a plethora ailments including allergies, autoimmune conditions, malignancies, hepatitis, digestive conditions, and even serious burns. But not only does this diet announce that it can cure the physical conditions I just listed, it also declares it can rescue people from the clutches of severe, life-altering psychiatric illnesses. One of these illnesses the GAPS Diet says it can adequately treat is eating disorders – a family of deadly diseases that end the lives of 20% of its victims.
Now when I saw this claim written on Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride’s website (the doctor who invented the GAPS Diet), I immediately decided that it was necessary for me to put this unorthodox nutritional protocol under the microscope. I made it my duty to decide whether or not the GAPS Diet was a viable option for individuals suffering from eating disorders and other serious psychiatric conditions.
So What’s the GAPS Diet Anyway?
GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. This condition (which has absolutely no scientific basis) is the brain-child of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride who conjured up the term in order to describe the unique connection between the digestive tract and the brain. According to her, a whole range of even the most complex psychiatric illnesses are the result of an abnormal microbial ecosystem in the gut. This abnormal gut flora results in an inability to properly digest foods. The foods that are left undigested apparently turn toxic and reek havoc in the brain, thus causing a wide variety of psychiatric conditions. The idea behind the GAPS Diet is to rebuild the gut flora which allegedly will free the body and brain from toxins. Once the individual is detoxified, they will be “cured” from whatever ails them
What Does the GAPS Diet Entail?
The GAPS Diet is honestly one of the most restrictive diets I have ever read about. The diet begins with the GAPS Introduction Diet and then continues in seven different stages. In the first stage, the patient is only able to consume homemade meat or fish stocks, homemade soup containing only specific ingredients, and small amount of probiotic foods. Once you graduate to the second stage of the diet, the patient may eat organic egg yolks in their homemade soup, ghee, and high-fat stews and casseroles (which MUST be homemade and prepared with only certain ingredients). By the third stage, the patient is permitted to consume mashed avocado in their soup as well as special pancakes containing only organic nut butter, squash, and eggs. The stages continue like this, adding just a few foods at a time. Once the patient reaches stage 7, they get to eat the Full GAPS Diet. In this part of the diet (which must be strictly followed for at least a few years), the patient cannot eat any grains or starches, soy, processed foods, sugars (unless in comes from fruits), refined sugar, certain dairy products, beans, soft drinks, alcohol, and coffee.
Is There Any Publications Supporting the GAPS Diet?
Nope. THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO PUBLICATIONS! Dr. Campbell-McBride has even failed to produce a simple case study of a patient who went on GAPS and was miraculously cured. Dr. Andrew Weil, a physician who is known for encouraging the use of alternative medicine, doesn’t even support the diet and says so on his website (check out the link by clicking here).
What I Think About GAPS and Eating Disorders
I am completely appalled that Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride posted on her website that her diet could aid in eating disorder recovery. There is absolutely no scientific proof that this diet does anything to even help reduce the symptoms of psychiatric illnesses, let a lone save someone from the grips of a severe eating disorders! In my opinion, I think that if a person went on this diet in order to say adios to their ED, their ED would get much worse. This diet is extremely restrictive and encourages an unhealthy relationship with food by labeling foods as “good” or “bad”. In eating disorder recovery, a patient should be exposed to all foods and taught that every food under the sun can be a part of a nutritious diet.
Please completely stay away from this diet. It has no science backing it up and shouldn’t even be allowed to post that it cures any illness, especially eating disorders.
Celiac disease (CD) is a chronic autoimmune digestive disease in which the consumption of gluten leads to severe damage to the small intestine, interfering with the proper absorption of nutrients. This causes individuals with the disease to suffer from a myriad of adverse health effects including bloating, weight-loss, malnutrition, pernicious anemia, unbearable abdominal pain, and even depression. Currently there is no way to treat CD other than following an incredibly strict gluten-free diet. If a person with CD is not diagnosed and goes untreated or refuses to obey the scrupulous dietary laws, that person is at risk for developing serious conditions including lymphoma, osteoporosis, and life-altering neurological and psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia.
But now there may be another medical condition caused by CD that does not only drastically decrease a person’s quality of life, but also kills 20% of its innocent victims. This condition is something that I am positive you guys all are very familiar with – it’s eating disorders.
Now I think you all know I have anorexia nervosa. That’s pretty obvious if you scan through some of my posts. But I don’t know if everyone who reads this blog is aware I was diagnosed with CD just months before I was finally clinically diagnosed with an eating disorder. Because I have both CD and an eating disorder, when I saw an article on a connection between the two I was incredibly intrigued. I mean for goodness sake, I may have just found the answer as to why irrational thoughts about food have been plaguing my mind since I was just 8 or 9 years of age!
So folks, I bet you are wondering what the evidence is that supports the claim that CD and eating disorders are connected. Well, in two cities in Italy 100 untreated celiacs and 100 healthy controls between the ages of 18 to 60 participated in a study. In the study, each participant were subjected a rigorous psychological assessment, seven comprehensive questionnaires designed to assess eating behaviors, and also had their BMI measured. The results were absolutely astounding. The women in the study who suffered from celiac disease had significantly scores on their Eating Attitudes Test (16% were high enough to be considered pathological) as well as a higher drive for thinness. There was also a marked difference in women of the celiac group’s level of social insecurity, perfectionism, and feelings of inadequacy. All of these concerning but intriguing findings point towards the potential for body image issues and problems with food intake. What makes this study even more fascinating is the fact that the findings listed up above were only found in the women belonging to the celiac group. The men in the celiac group only had a difference in their interoceptive awareness.
So of course we still don’t have enough evidence to say that individuals with celiac, especially women, are at an increased risk for developing eating disorder. More reputable studies need to be carried out in order to confirm the link. But you must admit that the results from the Italian study are beyond extraordinary.
Learn More About the Celiac & Eating Disorder Link!
The hormonal consequences of anorexia nervosa not only effect the body’s physical state drastically, they also greatly effect a female’s emotional health. I can personally vouch for this because I live with the hormonal repercussions of my ED every single day. I am already 16 years old and I still haven’t had my period – the key that unlocks the door to womanhood. Sometimes I try to reassure myself saying that my lack of a menstrual cycle is just due to the fact I am a late bloomer, but then I see my little 12 year old sister, whose period came at the age of 12, and I am reminded that odds are my prepubescent physique and amenorrhea is the direct result of the years I spent restricting my intake, overexercising, and purging.
One of the most common hormonal issues with anorexics is a condition called hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is where “nature’s monthly gift” vanishes due to problems with the hypothalamus. What’s the hypothalamus? It’s actually a part of the brain that can be found hanging out right below the thalamus and right above our wonderful brain stem. Now the hypothalamus is super duper tiny, but despite it’s minuscule size, it has plays a huge role in various physiological processes. These include controlling things like body temperature, hunger, emotional responses, and most importantly – the release of 8 major hormones that the pituitary gland let’s out. One of these hormones is known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone, but those big guys with the white lab coats just call in GnRH for short. In hypothalamic amenorrhea, there is an incredible shortage in the amount of GnRH someone has in their body. These low levels of this vital hormone result in low levels of gonadotropin. So what happens when your gonadotropin is pretty much nonexistent? Well, you get problems like anovulation (lack of ovulation) and hypoestrogenemia (where your body does have enough estrogen). Ultimately, this results in infertility.
Infertility is honestly my worst fear. The idea of being completely unable to have my own children is absolutely devastating and I know that many other women feel the same way. But I cannot let this horrific fact get to me because I know if it does, I will just enter a state of depression and emotional turmoil. I think we all know what happens when an Ed-victim is struggling emotionally – yep, they subconsciously begin to readopt their disorder eating behaviors in order to cope. Instead think of infertility as a motivation to recover because you never know, maybe once you reach a healthy weight, your body’s reproductive system may get back into shape and allow you to start the family you always dreamed of.
Anorexia nervosa is a horrific disease that wages war on not only the soul of the individual but also every single part of their body. It massacres the bones causing them to become weak and brittle, it ferociously assaults the heart, and it can even permanently erase a women’s treasured ability to have her own child. In this new blog series – The Consequences of the Deadliest Mental Illness– I will be discussing the myriad of health complications that come with the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. I hope that this series of informative posts will help educate not only sufferers of the disease, but also family members and friends of those with anorexia as well as normal individual who have no personal connection to the disease. As national eating disorder weeks comes around, I am realizing more and more about how little people know about anorexia nervosa and eating disorders as a whole. I hope and pray that this series changes that and people start to realize that no one consciously chooses to have anorexia nervosa because NO ONE IN THE WORLD wants the potential fatal complications that come with the disease.
Now, the health complications I listed in the first paragraph are pretty terrifying and those complications are usually the one’s doctors lecture about to their suffering anorexic patients the most. What the docs tend to fail to explain is the affects anorexia has on one of the most important bodily fluid – the blood. The blood is not just a dark red substance that drips down your knee after you take a good fall on the sidewalk. It’s actually the key to optimal health and survival. So what makes blood so special? Well in order to understand that we need to look at each of the blood’s four basic components – the plasma, the red blood cells, the white blood cells, and last but certainly not least – the platelets.
The plasma is kind of like a bodily fluid smoothie. It is a liquid that contains water, fat, sugars, proteins, and other nutrients. It’s main mission is to transport the other blood cells around the body.
The red blood cells look like little disks and are red colored because they contain a very special protein called hemoglobin. The hemoglobin helps the red blood transport oxygen throughout the body and return carbon dioxide to the lungs
The white blood cells, or leukocytes, are like your own personal body guard. Their job is to scout out and destroy foreign bodies that might bring you harm.
Finally we have our platelets which you can think of little plumbers ready to fix a leak wherever it may be in your body. These fellas are actually fragments of cells that have the job of helping your blood clot when you get injured. They do this by booking it to the affected area and sticking to the lining of the “leaky” blood vessel, thus forming a platform for the blood to begin to coagulate.
So now that you get the general idea of what the blood is comprised of and what each of the cells jobs are, it’s time to start learning what happens to the blood when an anorexic is unable to allow her body to get the nourishment it needs.
Anemia is one of the biggest health issues in malnourished anorexics, affecting 21% to 39% of all sufferers. It is a condition that is characterized by having too few red blood cells and do you remember what red blood cells do? They’re duty is to transport all the oxygen around the body and to kick out the carbon dioxide by sending it on back to the lungs. So that means if you have too few of them, your body’s organs are not receiving enough oxygen to thrive. This causes people with anemia to have shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, extreme fatigue, low energy, and dizziness. A lot of the times, the anemia can be the cause of a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which if left untreated, can lead to severe neurological damage.
Anemia isn’t the only issue with the blood cells in those with anorexia. A lot of the times the shape and structure of the red blood cells (RBC morphology) is extremely abnormal. Some anorexic suffers may have red blood cells that are unequal in size (anisocytosis), red blood cells that are abnormally shaped (poikilocytosis), and red blood cells that are even spikey (acanthocytosis).
Another huge issue among those with anorexia is the toll starvation takes on their immune system. People with anorexia usually suffer from leukopenia – a condition where there are too few white blood cells in the body. This condition puts anorexics at risk for infection and sadly, it isn’t to hard for one little bug to push an anorexic’s ailing body to the edge and cause devastating effects. Don’t believe me? Well, take the famous model Isabelle Caro for example. She put a nude picture of her emaciated body on a billboard for an anti-anorexia campaign. Despite many efforts to try to get better, Isabelle passed away in November of 2010 from a lung infection. She was just 28 years old. She could have had a lot going for her if it wasn’t for anorexia.
Though I am sure there are more hematological conditions that are the direct result of self-starvation caused by anorexia, those are the one’s I know about. I hope that this post gave you a taste of what anorexics have to go through and maybe if you are anorexic, encouraged you to get the help you need. Please stay tune for more posts from this series!
Fat acceptance is something I’m sure you’ve been exposed to. Just think of the multiple blog posts composed by frustrated women demanding that obese mannequins infiltrate the store fronts. Or maybe you’ve heard women nagging about how corpulent females should take-over the cat walks. Wherever you may be in the world, the fat acceptance campaign is there. Whether you like it or not.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not completely trashing anyone who is a fat-acceptance activist. I understand that these folks are on a mission to encourage individuals to have a good body image and hey, that is something we need in this day and age. I mean, so many women beat themselves up each day because they don’t meet are society’s expectation of beautiful and that just isn’t right.
But I strongly believe that the fat acceptance movement is going about encouraging healthy body image in the wrong way. Actually, the way that they are doing this is so wrong that even medical professionals have deemed the fat-acceptance movement as a health threat. Sure, stick-thin models strutting down the catwalk isn’t healthy, but how on earth is replacing them with half-ton models going to help? That is just sending the message that being obese is okay and you know what, it isn’t! Obesity is a DISEASE with DEADLY consequences. People who carry tons of weight are at risk for developing life-threatening medical conditions (like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes) just as anorexics are at risk for developing serious illnesses like osteoporosis and organ failure.
So whether one is a fat-acceptance zealot or a pro-ana activist, both are helping people dig their graves. We need to have a movement that encourages people to see food as medicine and to treat their bodies like a temple. Apparently though, a reasonable movement like that is too gray for this black and white world.