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Three Ways Structured Meal Plans Make a Difference in Eating Disorder Treatment

One of the most important aspects of eating disorder treatment is the establishment of regular mealtimes with nutritious food. The nutritionists and therapists at the treatment facility design meal support plans to help clients stick to a regular eating schedule – something that can be lost when the symptoms of an eating disorder appear. 

For example, a person with anorexia nervosa will routinely skip meals and avoid eating in a public setting. Binge eating disorder, the most common form of eating disorder, often causes people to engage publicly in diets, eschewing regular meals in favor of binge eating episodes conducted in private. Bulimia nervosa, another common disorder, features similar binge eating episodes followed by purges. 

All these behaviors must be addressed during eating disorder treatment.

With structured meal support, clients can address their concerns and difficulties in real time to receive the support they need in finding their ideal coping mechanisms. With this level of support, they can gain the skills and confidence they need to follow their meal plans and comfortably engage in mealtimes. 

Here are three ways meal planning and support contribute to a full recovery from eating disorders:

#1 – Retraining the Client to Consider Meals Positive Events

Before a client at an eating disorder treatment center can start to replace disordered eating behaviors with healthier ones, they must reframe their negative thought patterns about food and meals. This can take time, as avoidance and distaste for meals may be deeply ingrained over the course of months or years. Using techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy that retrain distorted thought patterns, people with eating disorders can start to make positive associations with eating and sitting down for meals.   

As the therapy progresses, clients normally begin to eat during regular and scheduled mealtimes, often with other clients at the same table. Eating disorder therapists often lead discussions about how their clients feel in the moment; negative thoughts can and should be raised. Through this process, they can challenge the underlying thought patterns and associations with meals that prevented them from healthy eating habits in the past. With clarity about those matters, clients can start building positive associations to reframe how they feel about this important part of life.

#2 – Positive Reinforcement for Mealtimes Promote a New Habit

As a cornerstone of an eating disorder therapy program, attendance at meals and snack periods provide a sense of accomplishment which acts as positive reinforcement. The staff and fellow clients provide validation at a meal in which the client eats the meal provided. This sounds simple, but for many people with an eating disorder, it seems like an insurmountable challenge. Eating a full meal, especially around others, is rewarded with praise and support, turning each successful meal into a step forward into re-establishing a regular eating pattern.

In the early stages, it may be necessary for the client and therapist to eat meals together one-on-one, as publicly shared meals might be too difficult to handle. Through this arrangement, clients can rest assured that they always have someone to lean on when disordered eating practices arise.Practicing coping skills in real time in a safe, monitored environment, build comfort in meal situations, and set a foundation for regular eating patterns once the client has graduated and returned to daily life. 

#3 – Strengthens Social Bonds

Many eating disorder treatment centers incorporate family therapy into the overall treatment plan. This often includes family meals after the individual has reached a sufficient level of comfort with eating in public. It’s more than familiarizing the individual with regular shared meals too – the family’s attendance at these meal support groups can serve to improve their understanding of what their loved ones face in recovery. 

Even more important, these in-house family meal sessions prepare both the client and the people closest to them for continuing regular meals together after they come home. Family and friends’ support is a key factor in continued recovery; people without a compassionate and dedicated support structure are much more likely to relapse than those who have one. These increased social bonds during treatment can continue afterward, providing a base for maintaining the individual’s recovered self.

About Shahbaz Ahmed

My name is Shahbaz Ahmed. I am author on Ventsmagazine. For any business query, you can contact me at [email protected]

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