Healthy Eating

As part of the rehabilitation process, the patient must learn healthy eating habits, often as a component of an eating disorder treatment program.

Learning Healthy Eating Habits With an Eating Disorder Program

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the rate of development of new eating disorder cases has increased steadily since 1950. Eating disorders are a group of mental illnesses related to a disordered, unhealthy relationship with food. As part of the disease’s progression, unhealthy eating habits develop. With anorexia, the patient self-starves. With bulimia, the patient overeats and then purges what was eaten. With food addiction, a person demonstrates a physiological dependence on certain foods and often incorporates bingeing into their eating disorder.

Eating disorder treatment programs generally involve three phases. The immediate medical concern is the restoration of the patient’s healthy weight and physical condition. Next, the patient’s psychological disturbances must be treated. Finally, the patient rehabilitates and recovers. As part of the rehabilitation process, the patient must learn healthy eating habits, often as a component of an eating disorder treatment program.

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Causes of Eating Disorders

Medical researchers cannot provide definitive identification of the causes that lead to the development of an eating disorder. As reported in the fall 2005 issue of “Focus,” a journal of the American Psychiatric Association, the disease’s prevalence among females, who account for about 90% of all cases, and the young, with 95% of people suffering from an eating disorder being under 25 years of age, indicates that genes are involved in the cause.

95% of those suffering from an eating disorder are younger than 25.

Although genetics play a role, the development of an eating disorder is the culmination of an assortment of complexities particular to each patient.

Research has identified risk factors demonstrated to increase the likelihood that a person will suffer from one of the various eating disorders. Associated risk factors include an interplay of genetic and environmental factors, including family context and patterns of eating.

Unhealthy eating habits on their own are not a causal factor for eating disorders. In fact, no single factor is responsible for the formation of such a complex disease as an eating disorder. A history of poor patterns of eating at home, however, frequently accompanies disordered eating behaviors later.

The Role of Eating Habits in the Treatment of Eating Disorders

At its most basic and core level, an eating disorder is an unhealthy relationship with food and eating. Establishing a more functional eating pattern and restoring a healthier relationship with food are essential to the patient achieving a balanced body image during the recovery process. After any life-threatening or other immediate medical conditions are addressed and the patient is stabilized, the treatment phase begins.

Treatment programs are tailored to the patient’s particular needs, of course, but ideally should involve a physician, psychologist and rehabilitative nutritionist. Evidence-based treatment methods proven to be more effective in successfully treating eating disorders incorporate behavioral health therapy techniques and nutritional therapy. The former focuses on modifying the patient’s perception of his or her body, and the latter addresses the patient’s view of the food put into the body. Establishing patterns of healthy eating habits is one of nutritional therapy’s goals.

The Maudsley Approach

The Maudsley Approach is a promising treatment for anorexia and possibly bulimia in adolescents, according to the American Psychological Association. Research provides evidence that the relatively short-term, outpatient program results in an effective, long-lasting recovery.

The family-based treatment program begins with a weight restoration phase to address issues of malnutrition and eating. A therapist observes a family meal to assess eating habits. The goal of this phase is to restore the patient to a healthier weight and to restore parents’ control over getting their child to eat.

In the next phase, the patient reclaims control over eating again. Finally, the Maudsley Approach seeks to establish a healthy adolescent identity. Learning healthy eating habits as a family aids in treatment under the Maudsley Approach.

Learning Healthy Eating Habits

Healthy eating habits are taught over the course of different lessons and vehicles for delivery. One prong of the multifaceted approach addresses the way the patient thinks about food – what control over eating represents emotionally as well as body image issues. Such psychological factors are treated through therapy sessions, which take place in a one-on-one, family or group setting.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a commonly used framework for resolving emotional aspects of the disease as well as for achieving modifications to behavioral aspects of the disordered eating. Dietitians and nutritionists help the patient change dysfunctional patterns of eating into healthy eating habits by identifying faulty beliefs contributing to the disease. The patient is educated on the importance of proper nutrition, and meal planning assistance is utilized to establish sound eating patterns.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment

For eating disorder patients suffering severe malnutrition or life-threatening complications, immediate hospitalization is warranted. Inpatient treatment is most appropriate for severe or prolonged cases where the patient’s life is in imminent danger. An appropriate amount of weight must be regained and vitamin deficiencies must be replenished. In a residential setting, the patient’s caloric intake, physical condition and eating habits are closely monitored and strictly regulated. As soon as the patient is physically able, the medical staff regulates eating patterns and attempts to introduce healthier habits. Initially, all meals and snacks are supervised.

In outpatient treatment programs, the patient has more independence and control over her eating. Reinforcement by family or therapists is beneficial in building better eating habits.

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Practicing Healthy Eating Habits

Reaching a healthy weight significantly improves the physical, psychological and emotional functioning of the patient, but this achievement does not mean that the patient has fully recovered from her eating disorder. Underlying emotional disturbances often remain along with distorted body image and disordered thoughts about eating. Continued nutritional rehabilitative therapy is critical in teaching healthy ways of eating and managing weight. Ongoing support and therapy are key in helping the patient learn healthier ways to view food and body image. Commitment by the patient and her family is crucial for long-term health and a successful recovery.

Nutritional counseling should not be used alone in an attempt to treat an eating disorder. Learning healthy eating habits must occur along with other psychological, social and medical processes and therapies. Through a range of rehabilitation methods and with ongoing commitment, recovery can be achieved, even if by one meal at a time. If you are, or a family member is, struggling with an eating disorder, help is available. Call  to discuss treatment options.

Last Update | 11 - 15 - 2022

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