One common symptom of an eating disorder is the perceived need to eliminate or restrict certain foods. Extreme restriction of certain foods may indicate the presence of a disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa or Orthorexia. Restricted food groups often include processed foods, fast foods, or foods that are higher in sugar and fats (snack items, sweets, and desserts).
Alternatively, someone struggling with Compulsive Overeating or Binge Eating Disorder might alternate between periods of severe overconsumption and total restriction. It is important that intensive work is done in treatment to normalize both one’s attitudes toward and intake of such foods when working to reintroduce that person to the variety, novelty, and pleasure of eating.
The term “all foods fit” is often used to emphasize that there are no “good” foods or “bad” foods. The idea that no food has a moral value is an important concept in removing judgments and distortions that often form in disordered eating beliefs and practices.
Unfortunately, it is also common for foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to become associated with eating disorder patterns. For example, a client once said “Focusing on eating vegetables was something I did when I was restricting or I started focusing on clean eating. If I was having salads, it meant I was dieting, denying, or punishing myself.” In a situation where food is restricted, working on accepting and practicing the idea that all food has a place in a healthy diet is essential. By re-incorporating all of the vital components of a balanced diet, individuals can develop an eating pattern free of eating disorder behaviors.
Recovering from an eating disorder means there needs to be balance throughout one’s life. As individuals think about creating meal patterns that allow them to choose a variety of foods depending on hunger and enjoyment, it’s important to remember that we live in an environment where food companies have spent billions of dollars creating foods and packaging with the sole purpose of enticing us to buy and consume them. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has no such budget, so we need to take it upon ourselves to make sure we are careful to fit in nature’s foods.
Ensuring that we have a balanced diet that provides enjoyment, convenience, and supports our optimal physical and emotional health and wellbeing is one factor that can help those struggling with eating disorders find long-lasting recovery. That balance and acceptance of all foods should be a recovery goal. It’s important to include and enjoy both the carrots and the carrot cake because both have their place in a healthy diet!
Hilmar Wagner is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN) and Certified Dietitian (CD) in the state of Washington. Hilmar joined the Emily Program in 2006, and currently serves as the Training Coordinator for Nutrition Services and Clinical Outreach Specialist. In this role he initiates and coordinates training of new dietetic staff, dietetic interns and continuing education for nutrition services for all Emily Program locations. He has presented on a wide range of nutrition topics at local, regional and national conferences. Hilmar received his Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition/Dietetics and Master’s in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Minnesota. He has worked in the field of eating disorders for the past 12 years. Hilmar has extensive experience working with clients of all eating disorder diagnoses in both individual and group settings. He has a particular interest in mindfulness and body-centered approaches to eating disorder recovery.
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