- Eating disorder recovery requires a multidisciplinary treatment approach, with medical, psychological, and nutritional interventions.
- A balanced meal plan for ED recovery includes foods from each category– protein, fat, starchy carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and dairy.
- Certain foods contain nutrients that may benefit health conditions that can develop from eating disorders, like selenium-rich foods for thyroid health.
Food is an important part of eating disorder recovery.
Achieving adequate calorie and nutrient intake helps with many of the medical complications eating disorders can cause.
Your body needs a balance of the different food groups to get all of the nutrients it requires to function properly.
Read this article to learn more about the role of nutrition and specific foods in eating disorder recovery.
How Food Affects Eating Disorder Recovery
Eating disorder recovery is complex and usually involves a combination of medical, psychological, and nutritional treatment.
From a dietary standpoint, the initial goal of recovery is to consume adequate calories to restore body weight to an appropriate level.
The long-term goals are to stop disordered eating behaviors, build a healthy relationship with food, and learn how to eat a nutritionally balanced diet.
A balanced meal plan for a person recovering from an eating disorder includes foods from each group:
- Proteins, like chicken, tofu, and eggs.
- Grains, such as rice, pasta, and oats.
- Fats, including avocado, nuts, and olive oil.
- Fruits, like blueberries, apples, and mango.
- Vegetables, including leafy greens, peppers, and carrots.
- Dairy, such as yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese.
A combination of these foods will provide your body with the calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat you need to be healthy. It also ensures adequate intake of micronutrients required for recovery.
Nutrients Support Your Overall Health
When untreated, eating disorders can result in specific medical concerns:
- Low thyroid levels.
- Missed periods.
- Low bone density.
- Impaired immune function.
In addition to receiving medical treatment, certain nutrients can benefit each of these concerns and help your body recover. For example, nutrients like iodine and selenium are essential for proper thyroid function, while adequate calcium and vitamin D can support bone health.
The 9 Best Foods for Eating Disorder Recovery
It may be helpful to prioritize nutrient-dense foods during eating disorder recovery. This includes proteins, grains, fruits and vegetables, and fats.
1. Lean Proteins
Protein plays an important role in preserving muscle mass and supporting proper immune function, both of which can become weakened during an eating disorder.
It also stabilizes blood sugar levels and helps your body produce essential hormones.
A meal plan for eating disorder recovery will include a source of high-quality protein with each meal and snack, such as:
- Fish and seafood.
- Greek yogurt.
- Nuts and nut butter.
2. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are rich in healthy fats, plant protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals necessary for eating disorder recovery.
For example, brazil nuts are rich in selenium, a nutrient essential for proper thyroid function.
Further, research shows that nuts have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce depression rates.
Nuts also contain magnesium, a mineral linked with improved brain function and mood.
Add whole nuts and seeds or nut butter to your diet daily to reap the nutritional benefits.
- Brazil nuts.
- Hemp seeds.
- Chia seeds.
- Pumpkin seeds.
- Flax seeds.
3. Beans and Legumes
Beans, peas, and lentils are part of the legume family and provide an excellent source of plant protein, carbohydrates, and fiber.
This means they provide long-lasting energy and blood sugar regulation.
The fiber content of legumes may also help improve the digestive side effects of eating disorder recovery by regulating bowel movements and improving gut health.
In addition, legumes are very nutrient-dense, providing a good source of B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, and zinc.
Try a variety of legumes, including:
- Kidney beans.
- Black beans.
- Pinto beans.
- Black-eyed peas.
- Lentils (all types).
4. Whole Grains
Whole grains are an important source of carbohydrates, fiber, and energy in a balanced diet for eating disorder recovery.
Whole grains are also nutrient-dense, providing essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
In your recovery eating plan, each meal should include a carbohydrate, which can be from whole grains such as:
- Brown rice.
- Whole grain pasta.
5. Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens are incredibly nutrient-dense and can help your body regain its vitamin and mineral stores while recovering from an eating disorder.
These vegetables are a good source of vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting and bone health.
Green leafy vegetables contain folate and magnesium, which may play a role in preventing depression in part by boosting serotonin.
Include a variety of leafy greens in your diet, such as:
- Bok choy.
- Collard greens.
- Swiss chard.
6. Healthy Fats
Not only does it help replenish your energy stores, but dietary fat is also necessary for your body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins from your food.
Fat also plays a role in hormone production and function and may help regulate the menstrual cycle, which can be disrupted in eating disorders.
Nutrient-dense fat sources include:
- Nuts and nut butter.
- Olive oil.
- Fatty fish, like salmon.
Carbohydrates, including starches, provide energy, maintain adequate blood sugar levels, and support brain and muscle health throughout the eating disorder recovery and maintenance.
In addition to being good sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, starches can also boost serotonin levels, which may help improve mood and sleep.
Foods like starchy vegetables, legumes, and grains are good sources of starchy carbohydrates.
- Sweet potatoes.
- Green peas.
- Butternut squash.
- Grains, like rice, pasta, and bread.
- Legumes, including beans, lentils, and peas.
8. Nutrient-Dense Foods
While no single food will dramatically change your health, some foods are especially nutrient-dense and have a place in a balanced diet for eating disorder recovery.
Fermented dairy products, like cultured yogurt and kefir, provide beneficial probiotics which can support gut health and regularity.
They can also help you meet your daily calcium needs.
Blueberries are incredibly rich in antioxidants and fiber, making them an excellent addition to your oatmeal, smoothie, or snack.
Walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds are good sources of ALA, the plant-based precursor to omega-3 fatty acids.
Research shows ALA can improve heart health and chronic inflammation.
9. Liquid Nutrition Supplements
During your eating disorder recovery journey, your meal plan may include liquid nutrition supplements or nutritional shakes to help boost your intake.
Appetite can fluctuate during recovery, sometimes making it hard to eat enough food to reach a healthy weight.
Since liquid nutrition supplements are nutrient-dense and low in fiber, they can be an easy and convenient way to help you meet your nutritional needs.
While recovering from an eating disorder, you will likely be given a meal plan by a registered dietitian that includes foods from all the major groups– protein, carbohydrates, fats, fruits, vegetables, and dairy.
Some specific foods are especially beneficial for recovery. Whole grains provide long-lasting energy and fiber for digestive health.
Fermented dairy products contain probiotics to support a healthy gut microbiome and calcium and vitamin D for bone health.
Nuts and seeds are rich in magnesium, which may help boost mood.
How a Dietitian Can Help
Your dietitian will coordinate with your healthcare team to create a realistic and balanced meal plan to help you reach your goals.
All appointments are conducted online for convenient access to expert help. Nourish also accepts most major insurance plans, making it easy to get the care you need.
Frequently Asked Questions
See a Registered Dietitian with Nourish
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