What to expect regarding nutrition in anorexia nervosa recovery
During anorexia nervosa recovery, it is critical to follow a nutritious meal plan that allows for refeeding and correction of any nutritional deficiencies. An appropriate meal plan allows patients with AN to undergo nutritional rehabilitation and reduce eating disorder behaviors. (1)
Here is what to expect when creating nutrition goals during recovery from AN: (1)
- You will increase your calorie intake to allow for nutritional rehabilitation.
- You will follow a meal plan that provides adequate nutrition and incorporates all major food groups and micronutrients.
- Your dietitian will encourage you to add additional foods to your diet and challenge specific food fears.
- You may require a multivitamin or multimineral supplement to treat nutritional deficiencies.
Components of an anorexia nervosa recovery meal plan
Each patient’s meal plan will differ based upon their unique needs and preferences, but there are some general components of an adequate anorexia nervosa recovery meal plan. Meal plans will always include a variety of foods that allow you to obtain the nutrition you need to function your best.
Experts recommend that patients in recovery from AN consume foods that provide high amounts of protein and essential amino acids. It is also important to consume foods that contain fats, as they provide lipids that are essential for brain functioning. Carbohydrates are also an important part of an adequate meal plan. (1)
A healthy anorexia recovery meal plan can also contain a high amount of calories for some people, as studies have shown that high-caloric refeeding (HCR) is linked to shortened stay among hospitalized patients with AN. (2) While consuming a high amount of calories can seem intimidating to a person struggling with AN, the truth is that larger meal plans in the early stages of anorexia nervosa recovery is linked to better health outcomes over the long-term. (3)
In general, a recovery meal plan for people with AN will contain sufficient calories, combined with standard macronutrient content: (3)
- 25-35% calories from fat
- 15-20% calories from protein
- 50-60% calories from carbohydrates
Beyond these general recommendations, patients in anorexia nervosa recovery typically don’t need special foods. Everyday foods that most families eat can be incorporated into the diet to support healing, rebuild tissue, and correct nutritional deficiencies. (4)
Many people in recovery from AN experience slowed digestion and GI distress during the recovery process, especially at the beginning. Foods that are lower in fiber, including nutritional supplement drinks, can be a helpful strategy to increase caloric intake while minimizing food volume, which reduces digestive discomfort. (6)
Developing an eating plan
Each person’s healthy anorexia recovery meal plan will vary based on individual needs, other medical conditions or allergies, and culturally appropriate foods. Experts recommend that patients in recovery consume three meals and three snacks per day, though some people might find it easier to have fewer, larger meals or more, smaller meals. (4) While in treatment, it is important to work with a registered dietician for an appropriate anorexia nervosa recovery meal plan. A dietician can help you to create a suitable meal plan that includes foods that you like. Your dietician and medical team will monitor your progress and make adjustments to your eating plan as needed.
Tips for meal planning
It can be challenging to increase your food intake during recovery, but support from friends, family, peers, and treatment professionals can help to develop a meal plan and stay consistent with following it.
If you’re struggling to develop a healthier mindset around eating, the following tips can help you with meal planning:
- Rather than being concerned about weight, focus on nourishing your body with foods that meet your nutritional needs. (1)
- Pair fear foods with foods that feel safer and talk to your providers about receiving support during exposures to new or scary foods. (1)
- Remember that if your meal plan feels impossible at first, it will get easier over time as you physically and mentally adjust to eating regularly. (1)
- Check in regularly with your goals for recovery to help provide motivation during difficult stages in the process.
At Within, we offer meal plans for all of our clients, and our caring, knowledgeable treatment team will walk alongside you while you do the hard work of recovering. We will help you to develop an eating plan that meets your unique needs, while also providing medical and psychological services to support you along the way.