Regardless of what kind of eating disorder a person may have, treatment should include education on basic nutrition and meal planning. Working with a registered dietician who understands eating disorders is an essential part of recovery.
Most people with eating disorders are more than aware of the calorie and fat content in foods and tend to choose foods based on this information. These choices are made with the intent of weight loss as the goal without considering how food restriction will affect mood, behavior and the ability to think clearly. What they tend not to consider is the importance of balanced nutrition and how restricting foods or food groups can lead to malnutrition regardless of what they weigh.
With all of the misinformation that abounds on nutrition, weight and dieting, it is difficult to sort out what is healthy and normal. The following describes the three main nutrients we need everyday for optimal health – carbohydrates, protein and fat – why we need them, how much we need and examples of healthy sources of each nutrient.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our body. They help maintain blood sugar and are stored in muscles to use as energy between meals and snacks. Carbohydrates provide important sources of B vitamins, iron and fiber and also provide bulk which helps us feel full.
We need at least two servings of carbohydrates, like grains, at each meal and one serving at snacks.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates include: Whole wheat grains like muffins, bagels, brown rice, pasta and bread; legumes or beans such as black beans, navy beans and pinto beans; starchy vegetables like peas, potatoes and corn; and others like pretzels, wheat crackers and popcorn.
Fat is also an important energy source. It helps manufacture hormones like estrogen and thyroid, is necessary for cell growth, maintains immune function, regulates body temperature and keeps skin and hair healthy. Fat makes food taste good, helps us feel satisfied after eating, aids in digestion and keeps us full between meals and snacks.
For a low fat diet that consists of 25-30% of calories from fat, women need at least 60 grams of fat per day. For those who are physically active and require over 2000 calories per day, the amount of fat should be increased. For men, 75 grams per day is normal.
Healthy sources of fat include: Margerine, mayonnaise, regular salad dressing, sour cream, butter, nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, cheese, peanut butter, muffins, crackers, chips, ice cream, desserts and vegetable oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, canola, corn oil and safflower oil.
Protein is the main building block of our major organs and provides the amino acids essential for the growth and repair of muscle. Hormones, antibodies and every enzyme in our body all come from protein. Protein provides important sources of zinc, iron and niacin.
Protein intake should consist of eight to ten ounces per day — a three ounce serving at meals twice per day and 1-2 ounces per serving for snacks once or twice per day.
Healthy sources of protein include: Milk, eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, beef, turkey, chicken, pork, venison, seafood, fish, tofu, veggie burger, nuts, peanut butter, Carnation Instant Breakfast (with milk), Boost, Ensure, Powerbar Essential and Luna bars.
Notice that each nutrient is needed at each meal and snack. It is important to plan meals and snacks that include variety to prevent boredom with eating, so mix it up! Eating can be interesting, enjoyable and something to look forward to. Recovery from eating disorders allows freedom with food and the ability to eat based on hunger and fullness instead of rules and restrictions.