The Proper Use of Food in Anorexia Nervosa Recovery

Eating disorders are harmful and sometimes even fatal conditions. Anorexia nervosa is one of them. If you or a loved one is recovering from anorexia, you need to learn how the right nutrition can help with the therapy.

Anorexia nervosa affects millions of men and women in the U.S. every year. People who have this condition will typically eat very little food and stop eating a certain “fattening” food group. They will also tend to exercise excessively and hide their eating disorder from other people.

The treatment plan for anorexia nervosa relies on psychological, physical, and nutritional therapy to help the patient recover. Since anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders cause detrimental, and sometimes even fatal, effects on patients’ health, an early start of treatment is crucial.

Refeeding syndrome

People going through nutritional rehabilitation should be wary of a potentially fatal condition called refeeding syndrome. When a person in a starvation state is refed rapidly, there is a shift of electrolytes and fluids due to metabolic abnormalities in anorexic patients. Refeeding syndrome can cause:

  • Irregular heart rate
  • Respiratory failure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Brain damage
  • Skeletal-muscle weakness
  • Comatose
  • Seizures
  • Loss of movement control

Refeeding syndrome and its harmful effects can be avoided by making sure phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and thiamin levels are monitored in the patient for the first five days of nutritional rehab. Monitoring should continue every other day for the following weeks.
skinny girl refusing to eat

Food variety

Increasing food variety while a person is recovering from anorexia nervosa has many benefits:

  • Increased food variety encourages patients to become flexible eaters and break the cycle of anorexia or bulimia
  • Eating a variety of foods reduces the risk of patients overeating any single type of food
  • More food groups in the diet give the patient the nutrients that they need
  • Having a broader palate will help the patient enjoy more social opportunities
  • Recovering patients will be more willing to try unfamiliar foods later on
  • Patients will receive more satisfaction from eating varied foods rather than eating only one type

The ultimate goal for anorexia recovery is to get the patients back to a safe weight range. To do this, expanding their restrictive diets is usually the first place to start. Patients with anorexia nervosa typically create a list of foods that they forbid themselves to eat. During treatment, these “forbidden” foods should be introduced to the patient’s diet at a gradual pace. Then, after the patients’ fears are lessened, more foods can be added.

Seeking help

Anorexia nervosa treatment is best done with a support group by the patient’s side. Aside from doctors and therapists to address the physical and psychological problems associated with the disease, individuals with eating disorders should also seek help from nutritionists. Nutritionist-dietitians can help the food rehabilitation aspect of therapy by:

  • Setting safe and realistic goals for weight gain
  • Creating a comprehensive meal plan
  • Helping incorporate more food variety into the diet
  • Helping manage triggers for binging or purging
  • Monitoring your diet and progress

Anorexia nervosa is a tough but not impossible condition to beat. On the road to recovery, it is important that patients and professionals alike recognize the role of food. Its role is not only to help the patient gain back weight but to make eating an enjoyable experience as well.

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