Although the main causes of all eating disorders are psychological and dealing with food issues alone will not lead to a cure, at some point the sufferer’s food intake does need to be addressed. When this happens varies between patients and severity of illness. A severely underweight anorexic will be treated to have their nutritional needs taken care off as a matter of urgency.
Many people are afraid to start eating normally for fear that once they start eating they won’t be able to stop, but experts state this won’t happen. Beginning to eat normally takes time and any good treatment team should do this slowly so that you don’t start to panic and lose control. The ultimate goal will be to learn to eat 3 non-dieting meals and 2-3 snacks per day. Carbohydrates such as cereals, pasta, rice, bread, fruit and vegetables should make up 50-60% of your total daily intake. Fat is also an essential nutrient and should make up about 25% of your total daily intake. Proteins such as eggs, red meats, dairy products and poultry should make up about 10-15% of your total daily intake. A qualified nutritionist can help you to gradually develop a healthy eating pattern.
Below is a list of suggestions that might help when trying to return to normal eating:
- If you are anorexic, try eating 6-8 small meals per day. Small meals will be easier to eat than 3 normal meals. Small meals will not leave you feeling quite so bloated and full. It is important to remember that in the beginning you will experience bloating, and that can be uncomfortable. Many think this is a sign they are becoming fat, but it is natural for this to happen. It is only temporary and can last from 6-8 weeks. Instead of thinking of the bloating as you becoming fat, remind yourself that it is a part of the re-feeding process and it is a sign that your body is healing.
- If you are bulimic or a compulsive eater, try eating 3 non-dieting meals and 3 snacks each day. Try to eat them at the same time each day. You may find it beneficial to follow a meal plan in the beginning so that you will know what you will be eating in advance. Do not allow yourself to eat more than planned. Eating more could lead to feelings of, “I’ve blown it,” and may cause you to binge or purge.
- In the beginning try to avoid foods that tend to trigger a binge or cause feelings of guilt after eating. Later on you can reintroduce those foods into your meals.
- If anorexic, you may wish to begin the re-feeding process with foods that will be easier to digest (ie mashed potatoes, macaroni cheese, scrambled egg, etc.) Once the body starts to get used to having food, you can then begin to introduce more solid foods.
- Throw out your scales! Difficult I know but constantly checking your weight on the scales just makes everything more difficult. Therefore getting on those scales can prevent you from your reaching your goal of healthy eating. If it seems too hard to throw the scales away at this point in time, perhaps give them to someone to look after them and agree that you can check your weight once a week maybe. Also, it is important to remember that you are not a number, and that numbers on the scales can never change the person you are inside.
- After eating, try and distract yourself with an activity you enjoy, or if you feel very uncomfortable, try deep breathing exercises.
- Stop counting calories. This is another tough habit to break free from but continuing to count calories will prevent your from eating normally. Concentrate on learning about what normal eating is. Sometimes watching others eat can help to show you what normal eating really is.
- Start living one day at a time and one meal at a time.
- Sometimes it helps to think of food as medicine. You may not want to take it, but it is necessary for you to eat it in order to recover. You can also think of food as fuel. Your body needs that fuel in order to be able to function properly.
- Remember that the voice in your head is lying to you. You need to do the opposite of what it tells you. If it tells you not to eat, do your best to ignore it and eat anyway. By doing this, you will be able to start taking back the control the eating disorder has. Many people believe that if they don’t eat, they are the ones in control. The reality is, if you do not allow yourself to eat, the eating disorder is the one controlling you.
- If you exercise excessively, try to slowly cut back.
- Remind yourself constantly that NO food will make you fat, as long as it is eaten in moderation.
Normal eating does take time and it should be done slowly so that you do not become too overwhelmed. It does take a lot of hard work in the beginning, but in time it will become a normal part of your day.