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Meal Planning & Food Choices in Treatment: What to Expect

In eating disorder treatment, your meals will play a crucial role in your recovery. Working with us in this area may challenge you — and it may challenge your eating disorder as well.

We know how difficult this aspect of treatment can be. We also know that it is possible to achieve a full and lasting recovery by approaching food in a more balanced way. Have faith that the framework we use here will support you in recovery, and that it will also help you learn and practice healthier behaviors.


Choosing meals in treatment

Each week, you will select a week’s worth of meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner options) based on the meal plan that is prescribed for you by your registered dietitian.

When planning meals in eating disorder treatment, we use an exchange system that is generally based on the American Diabetic Association standards. This helps decrease the focus on calories (which we won’t be talking about here at ERC), allows for flexibility and helps to ensure that your nutritional needs are met. You will be able to adjust your menus when any meal plan changes are made.

If you have any questions about meal planning and what foods to select, know that your dietitian will be here to support you and answer your questions. When you arrive, we will explain this process to you in greater detail.


Dining with peers at ERC

Depending on your individual needs, you will have three meals and one to three snacks per day. During meals, you will be able to chat with peers and will have an opportunity to participate in light table games (trivia, etc.). Staff members will also join you at your table to help provide support and structure during meals.

Your food will be plated for you when you arrive at meals based on the menus that you have selected and according to your dietitian’s recommendations. As you progress in your recovery, you may have the opportunity to incorporate buffet-style dining during mealtimes to practice portioning. Over time, you may also participate in restaurant outings and cooking groups.

Learn more about what to expect during mealtimes.


Consuming fluids

We want to make sure that you are getting enough fluids daily. Water will be provided during meals and snacks. If we notice that you are not drinking enough fluids or are not getting adequately hydrated throughout the day, we will work with you to increase fluid intake. Since some people with eating disorders may struggle with consuming too many fluids, we will work with you to limit fluid intake to an appropriate level, if that is a concern. In lower levels of care, you will have access to drinking water throughout the day.


Nutrition Services at Eating Recovery Center

Nutrition plays a fundamental role in eating disorder treatment. Patients’ thoughts and behaviors around food are generally negative and destructive, and many individuals need to restore weight in order to restore the clarity of mind necessary to fully engage in therapeutic interventions. Even for those patients who are at a normal weight at the time of admission, nutrition exposure and education is critical in addressing issues related to their underlying relationship with food.

The nutrition philosophy at Eating Recovery Center of Denver emphasizes helping patients overcome their fear of food and eating by providing support and structure during meals, education on a balanced pattern of nutrition and collaborative care to achieve a healthy weight for optimal recovery. More specifically, the nutrition philosophy communicates that there are no good and bad foods and emphasizes balance, moderation and variety.

Eating Recovery Center of Denver’s team of highly skilled Registered Dietitians work individually with patients at all levels of care to develop a personalized meal plan to achieve weight restoration or maintenance goals, as well as meet any verifiable dietary needs. Dietitians also work collaboratively with the treatment team, participating in daily meetings to support an integrated understanding of each patient’s progress and treatment goals.

In addition to individual nutrition counseling, Eating Recovery Center of Denver’s Registered Dietitians lead group education sessions and oversee various exposure activities to deconstruct myths around food and offer opportunities to build confidence in food situations. Cooking classes, buffet-style meals, grocery shopping groups and restaurant outings are integrated into idividual treatments plans and allow patients who are further along in recovery to develop the skills necessary to prepare them for success in real-life situations outside of eating disorder treatment.

Another unique aspect of Eating Recovery Center of Denver’s  nutritional approach is that our expert staff of Registered Dietitians, primary clinicians, and family clinicians regularly dine with patients. Because meal times are often stressful and anxiety-provoking for individuals with eating disorders, staff at Eating Recovery Center of Denver provide structure and support in order to create a therapeutic meal environment. Staff supervision at meals helps provide the encouragement, redirection of eating disordered behaviors, and role modeling necessary to affect behavior change.


Dealing with challenges

Physical and emotional challenges can occur when you adopt healthier eating behaviors in recovery. The carefully controlled, supportive environment here at Eating Recovery Center can help your recovery in the following ways:

  1. If you have been significantly restricting food, we will work on increasing intake gradually at a safe and steady rate while monitoring your lab values and fluid balance.
  2. To minimize discomfort (stomach pain, constipation, etc.) as your digestive system adapts to regular eating, your dietitian will be working closely with the medical team and will monitor the volume and contents of your meal plan.
  3. You will have support in learning healthy coping skills to help you manage the anxiety and emotions that arise as you work on reintroducing foods and increasing variety.


Accommodating special requests

Here at Eating Recovery Center, we take food allergies very seriously. If you have a food allergy, we will ask you to provide documentation of scientifically-proven food allergy testing that you have had before we can accommodate your requests. We may also recommend further food allergy testing during treatment, if needed.

When you first come in for treatment and meet with your dietitian, they will be able to assess any special dietary requests (vegetarian, gluten-free, etc) on a case-by-case basis. We may be able to make some accommodations for religious dietary practices, such as providing Kosher meats for individuals following a Kosher diet.

We believe that there are no “good” foods or “bad” foods. Overall, we want you to be exposed to a variety of foods. We hope that you come to understand that all foods are okay in moderation. Our goal is to assess your needs from a nutritional standpoint, reviewing each meal plan on an individual basis to help promote recovery.


Moving forward in recovery

This process as outlined above may seem really hard at first and it may also be difficult to understand why we do things a certain way. We hope you understand that each day we are doing our best to help you:

  • Establish a healthier eating pattern and routine
  • Develop a healthy relationship with food and feel comfortable eating in social situations
  • Eat appropriately and adequately nourish yourself

Nutrition rehabilitation can be one of the hardest and most important pieces when in recovery at an eating disorder treatment center. By approaching meals in a balanced way, you will be able to achieve full recovery from your eating disorder. To help you reach this goal, we will work with you, by your side, each and every day.

A note about our program: We’d like to point out that this article discusses what to expect in our 24-hour residential care program. Your experience in other levels of care, including partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient will differ. In addition, we have a number of centers in locations across the country. Therapy offerings and other details will differ by location. Let us know if you have any additional questions about what to expect when you arrive for treatment at ERC.

Eating Recovery Center is accredited through the Joint Commission. This organization seeks to enhance the lives of the persons served in healthcare settings through a consultative accreditation process emphasizing quality, value and optimal outcomes of services.

Organizations that earn the Gold Seal of Approval™ have met or exceeded The Joint Commission’s rigorous performance standards to obtain this distinctive and internationally recognized accreditation. Learn more about this accreditation here.

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