Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
By Christa A. Banister
There are all kinds of misconceptions about men and women diagnosed with anorexia. Some people may simply chalk up behaviors to extreme dieting, a zealous preoccupation with fitness or a phase that’ll pass.
Considering that 0.6 percent of adults in the United States will be diagnosed with anorexia — with women three times more likely than men — according to the National Institute of Mental Health, it’s important to make the designation that anorexia is more than a mere self-esteem concern or problem with food.1 It’s a mental health issue that must be taken seriously with treatment being an ongoing, individualized process that must be handled with the utmost care.
Ensuring that you have your daily nutritional needs met while in recovery is absolutely essential. While it may feel counterintuitive to do so when eating disorders and food obsession often go hand in hand, working closely with a trusted medical professional to devise a custom-fit meal plan can be a crucial step in successful recovery.
Reintroducing Healthy Habits
When one’s body has been deprived of food for an extended period of time, and it’s missing the nutritional benefits that regular meals provide, healthful, restorative eating is definitely first priority.2
And when the guesswork is eliminated — namely, what you should be eating, how much, how often, etc. — by having a medically approved strategy in place, mealtimes don’t have to be a source of stress or confusion.
Rather, each meal is seen as fuel for the body and can be “checked off” as another positive step toward healing. Basically if you’ve eaten what you and your doctor have agreed upon at the appropriate times you’ve discussed, you’ve accomplished all you’ve needed to that particular day. And when you’re recovering from an eating disorder and the distorted body image that results, that’s a life-changing prospect.
The physical manifestations of anorexia, including abnormal heart rhythms, weakening bones, and for women, dangerous effects of reproductive functions, are numerous. But if treated in time, they can be reversed.
Developing Support Systems
Just like any other life-changing endeavor, recovering from an eating disorder requires hard work, and it’s always better when you’ve got a strong support system in place.
Despite wanting to move forward, some days are going to be easier for you than others, so it’s important to educate your friends and loved ones in the language they use to be supportive and non-judgmental.3
It’s helpful to know you have someone you can confide in. Having someone present and engaged in your life as a friend, supporting you and the lifestyle changes in progress and including your in social engagements can be especially helpful during this season of change.
Not commenting on your appearance, weight in particular, or working out and exercise is essential. This is a time for building up the body physically and developing a positive association with food, not potentially taking a step backward into behaviors that may have contributed to anorexia in the first place.
Getting Back in Touch With Your Body’s Default Settings
While you transition into healthier terrain, it naturally takes time to learn to listen to your body’s signals again.
It’s particularly important to be patient during this process because it doesn’t happen the moment you leave the hospital or go to therapy sessions less often. It’s an ongoing effort as your body learns to process food again.
Once you begin eating regularly again, it still takes the body a bit to recover and retrain itself. Having a predictable schedule of meals and snacks, not to mention groceries already purchased in advance, inevitably helps set you up for success. Preparation also helps provide built-in accountability, an easy checklist when you’re not quite sure what’s in your best interest with nutrition.
At first glance, a meal plan may seem contrary to recovery from an eating disorder, but being more regimented in the beginning actually helps pave the way for a more flexible future.
1 Herndon, Jaime. “A Healthy Diet for Recovering Anorexics.” Livestrong.com, October 3, 2017.
1 Troscianko, Emily T. “12 Reasons to Use a Meal Plan in Recovery from Anorexia.” Psychology Today, September 30, 2017.
1 Janniello, Lizzie. “12 Tips for Talking to Someone With an Eating Disorder.” Project Heal, February 10, 2017.