Food is Medicine – Karen Petermeyer
We’ve all heard the phrase “food is medicine.”
I often find myself agreeing with this notion, but not in the typical way that one might imagine.
Food isn’t the sole cure. It isn’t a magic pill and there is no perfect way of eating. Yet, I can see food as medicine, in its ability to provide each individual with facets that promote health.
Food meets one of our basic needs of survival: it nourishes us. It can bring a starving body back to life by providing the essential nutrients and energy it needs to survive. This is great news!
Now, if I were recovering from a severe eating disorder (even if I weren’t) and ate food that was the same color and the same texture, all by myself, every day, that process would really not be enjoyable for me. This would be especially challenging if I was struggling to eat due to the eating disorder.
At Eating Recovery Center, we strive to make this experience as helpful as possible. One way we do that is by using appealing food to nourish and connect to others.
Food is universal. Despite all of our differences, we all need food to live. In that sense, food is a universal language and can be a powerful tool for social connection. And - social connection is linked to better health. Studies have shown that those who have regular family meals and connectedness have improved self-esteem and they tend to do better socially and emotionally.
So, the dining table can be a powerful place. It can be place to share a meal, connect, and build relationships.
Initially, this may not be true for those struggling with an eating disorder. Going out to a restaurant with friends, having family dinners, and connecting over food can be very stressful, which may then lead to isolation.
So, if social connectedness can improve one’s health, and an individual is isolating themselves in addition to not eating adequately for their body, then it is reasonable to understand that one’s health can begin to decline. This is why we work hard to provide the best support and to provide food that can help enable the process of recovery. We strive to heal people by nourishing their bodies adequately and healing their relationships with food.
Food can provide emotional and social connection and add color and exploration to life. One of the things I love most about food, is that, by eating it, we can start to explore who we are as an eater. We can ask ourselves: What kinds of textures and texture combinations do I enjoy? Personally, as I eat mindfully, I start to notice that I thoroughly enjoy crunchy foods with a hint of creaminess. I also start to notice that a variety in color plays a role in my sense of satisfaction. This journey can be really empowering for me. Rather than focusing on external factors to guide me, I can start to look towards my body’s internal cues to guide me through the process.
At ERC, Washington, we have partnered with Thomas Cuisine, our new culinary team, who has joined us to provide hope and healing around the table. Thomas Cuisine’s wholesome food provides inspiring fresh ingredients tailored to our patients — and provides inclusivity to individuals with different dietary needs.
We want the table to be a safe place for all; food can promote health by nourishing the body, providing self-discovery, and social connection. In a way, food is medicine, and yes, while we need food to survive, we can also use it to thrive.
Karen Petermeyer RDN, CD worked as a dietitian in the intensive outpatient program at ERC, Washington. Karen is now a part of our outreach team and is passionate about spreading awareness and educating the community, clinicians, and schools on signs and symptoms of eating disorders and how to support someone who might be struggling.