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September 7, 2023

The Emily Program’s Nutrition Philosophy: A “Can Eat Culture”

The Emily Program’s Nutrition Philosophy: A “Can Eat Culture”

Mainstream ideas about nutrition are often rigid and heavily influenced by diet culture. Those with eating disorders often have thoughts and behaviors surrounding food that reflect the rigidity of diet culture. 

In order to help our clients with eating disorders nurture a more flexible, balanced, and mindful relationship with food, The Emily Program provides nutrition experiences, education, counsel, and skills—all of which are guided by our “Can Eat” philosophy. But what does this philosophy entail?

What Is A “Can Eat Culture”? 

Unlike so many diet culture messages that demonize certain foods, The Emily Program’s nutrition philosophy is that foods have no moral value, and all foods fit.  What’s more, we acknowledge the varying nutritional profiles of food, individual nutritional needs, and each person’s unique experience with food (including their cultural heritage). Ultimately, a “Can Eat Culture” supports overall health and well-being and emphasizes the importance of freedom and choice in purchasing, preparing, and consuming food. 

There are three core concepts of our “Can Eat Culture”: food and body acceptance and inclusivity, flexibility with food and eating, and meeting individual needs.

Food and body acceptance and inclusivity

In a “Can Eat Culture,” food and body acceptance and inclusivity means letting go of the eating disorder’s rigid food rules and learning to embrace all bodies as worthy. 

More specifically, food acceptance and inclusivity means:

  • Knowing that all foods fit in a balanced diet
  • Understanding that food provides more than just nutrition (i.e., connection, community, and expression)
  • Respecting cultural food differences
  • Acknowledging the importance of food variety
  • Approaching food with curiosity not judgment

Body acceptance and inclusivity means:

  • Respecting that there are individual factors that influence body weight, size, and shape
  • Respecting different body sizes and shapes
  • Understanding that body weight and shape are not attached to moral value
  • Knowing that body weight is not a sole indicator of health
  • Being aware of implicit weight bias

Flexibility with food and eating

Having food and eating flexibility is a sign of a healthy relationship with food. What does it mean to be truly flexible with food and eating? It could include:

  • Eating at a place that is unfamiliar
  • Eating foods that you’ve never had before
  • Eating mindfully
  • Leaving food behind when satisfied 
  • Eating foods that are offered at an event
  • Eating without rules or rituals
  • Getting a second helping if you’re still hungry

Meeting individual needs 

A “Can Eat Culture” is about eating a variety of foods without the eating disorder’s rules, as well as meeting the individual needs of the client. Every client has a different experience with their illness and that must be accounted for when creating a treatment plan. The individual needs of the client include things like:

  • Nutritional consideration. Concerns like gastric bypass, weight restoration, returning to/continuing normal growth and development, vegetarianism, food allergies, etc., must be considered.
  • Knowledge. Each client will have a different level of knowledge when it comes to the principles of a “Can Eat Culture.” It is important to provide them with the education they need to unlearn all the misinformation about nutrition out there.
  • Skill development. Clients have different triggers that they need to learn to cope with. Helping them develop skills to deal with their specific issues is essential.

How A “Can Eat Culture” Is Implemented In Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery

Our “Can Eat Culture” is essential to our clients’ journey toward healing their relationships with food. We incorporate this philosophy across our multidisciplinary treatment approach, most directly in meal plans, nutrition education, and therapeutic-supported meals and snacks.

Meal plans and nutrition education

Dietitian-designed meal plans are vital in eating disorder treatment, providing both necessary structure and nourishment. Every meal plan is individualized to allow for choice, flexibility, and variety. Our dietitians work with clients to design meal plans that fit their unique recovery needs and preferences.

Nutrition education is also key in the recovery process, and that education is steeped in our “Can Eat Culture.” The healing journey calls for unlearning inaccurate nutritional information disseminated by diet culture and replacing those beliefs with ones based in truth.

Therapeutic-supported meals and snacks

Therapeutic-supported meals and snacks are a pillar of treatment at The Emily Program. A dietitian, behavioral health technician, or therapist supports clients during all meals and snacks and models healthy mealtime behaviors.

During therapeutic-supported meals and snacks, clients can:

  • Become aware of their triggers at the table
  • Talk about eating challenges in real time
  • Increase their ability to remain present while eating
  • Practice building therapeutic coping skills
  • Receive structure, guidance, and encouragement needed for healing
  • Sort out their likes and dislikes separate from their eating disorder
  • Decrease their fear of food through exposure
  • Be re-introduced to eating as a social experience
  • Increase self-confidence surrounding appropriate food intake

Everyone experiencing an eating disorder deserves a better relationship with food. With The Emily Program’s “Can Eat Culture,” our clients can unravel the lies the eating disorder pushes and develop a relationship with food based on nourishment, freedom, and joy.

Eating disorders can wreak havoc on a person’s relationship with food. If you, a loved one, or a patient are exhibiting the signs of disordered eating, please give us a call at 888-364-5977, or—if you prefer we reach out to you—fill out our online form.



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