Changing Your Perceptions of Foods
The first step for eating disorder patients in treatment is to avoid labeling foods and categorizing them as “good” or “bad.” This black and white thinking is a dieter’s mentality and leads to a dysfunctional relationship with food. When a patient eats a food on their “bad” or forbidden list, they believe that they are bad and punish themselves by restricting, compensating, or ruminating on self-loathing thoughts. Patients can find peace with food by accepting that all foods are okay in moderation, and that foods are not intrinsically good or bad.
Reintroducing fear foods and exposing patients to a variety of foods is also an important part of the recovery process. At The Meadows Ranch, we have a strategically designed menu cycle to support overall healthy eating, and to challenge patients with some of the most common fear foods. Each time a patient is exposed then re-exposed to foods they have omitted because of their eating disorder, they learn to empower themselves and take the power back from food.
Initially, patients might benefit from understanding and accepting the fear food by acknowledging its nutritional value such as “this food is a good source of carbohydrates, which is my brains preferred source of fuel and quick energy for my body”. Understanding foods functionality and finding gratitude for food helps to lessen the guilt and shame around eating.
Finding the Pleasures of Eating
The next step for patients is to allow themselves to find pleasure in eating again. Each person’s approach to this step can be different, according to her personal needs. So, we have a variety of methods to help facilitate this phase in their treatment. One example includes refining cooking skills. If a patient learns that cooking can be fun and easy, they may also learn to enjoy eating. Also, asking them to take in the senses involved in eating— the textures, smells, presentation, and flavors and how they compliment or enhance each other— can make the process of eating more enjoyable.
Patients are given recipes to make it less overwhelming to prepare their own food. They also learn how to combine foods with varying colors, tastes, and textures to make them complement each other. When possible, fresh herbs or vegetables from our garden are picked by patients and used in recipes.
We also help patients enjoy eating by encourage creativity and acknowledging that food and cooking is an art form. At Remuda, patients partake in challenges such as Cupcake Wars or The Iron Chef where they are able to have fun, work as a team, and be creative.
We also work with patients to help them acknowledge and understand the social significance of certain foods and meals. Patients process pre-eating disorder memories of their comfort or fear foods, and they relearn how to appreciate and anticipate certain foods in specific social gatherings. Turkey at Thanksgiving, pizza with friends, ice cream or cake at birthday parties are typically part of social rituals they may have avoided in the past due to their fears. As patients admit how avoiding certain foods has negatively impacted their lives, they realize that they need to let go of their food rules and restrictions in order to regain control of their lives.
Letting Go of Perfection
For someone who struggles with an eating disorder, their relationship with food can be extremely complicated. There is a fine line between dedication to healthy eating, and an unhealthy obsession. Once patients let go of the notion that there is a “perfect” way to eat, they can begin their journey to finding peace with food.
To learn more about how we can help women and girls find joy in eating and reclaim their lives, give us a call at 866-390-5100.