Author: Breanna Mills R.D.
Eating disorders impact both mental and physical health. Not eating enough food, eating chaotically or inconsistently, behaviours such as restriction, binging or purging and eating disorder rules impact the health of the brain and body. Part of the recovery process involves nutrition rehabilitation, where the body is re-fed and healing occurs. Nutrition rehabilitation is a process that typically happens in stages, such as getting enough, variety and flexibility.
Getting enough is the foundation of recovery. This allows the brain and body to get the energy and nutrients that it needs to cover basic human functioning, as well as activities of daily living and providing mental energy. Getting enough happens through eating regularly throughout the day, typically every 3-6 hours, and getting enough at each meal and snack that occurs. This stage involves setting up structure, regularity, and consistency with food.
Variety is the spice of life! Incorporating variety ensures that we are getting a mix of different nutrients, keeps food more fun and exciting and helps to break rules that the eating disorder holds. It is important to ensure that variety doesn’t come at the expense of getting enough and that we are providing permission to try different foods and eat enough. We want to work on breaking food rules without using the eating disorder to make that feel more okay or manageable. This stage also helps to work on developing more trust with your body and more trust with food.
Flexibility and spontaneity are important skills to have with food. There will be instances in life and recovery where a plan that has been made with food will need to adapt. Some examples could be living with others, and someone eats something that you had planned to have, going to a restaurant and having to pick something else, a store not having something you had planned to buy, etc. This stage often involves more social eating, which helps to build and strengthen social connections, challenge rules from the eating disorder and help to develop a more trusting and neutral relationship with food. The ability to be flexible and spontaneous helps us to be able to engage in different opportunities in life and makes life more fun!
Nutrition rehabilitation and intake is the foundation of recovery and supports both physical and mental health. Allowing yourself to go through the different stages brings you closer to a life free from the eating disorder.