By Laura Cohen
“We only eat healthy foods in our house.” I see this statement or similar ones all the time from parents as they start the long journey to help a child recover from an eating disorder. I believe I said the same thing.
I will never forget proudly saying to another parent, “I’m a dietitian so I have a little insight about eating disorders.” We were in our early days, and she responded, “that’s awesome that you have that knowledge, because in order to save your child’s life you are going to have to unlearn it all now.” I truly did not know what she meant. Now I do, and I help others families through this painful learning curve.
I am a dietitian. I have worked in the health and wellness sphere for over 30 years. I have worked clinically as a dietitian in a hospital, owned a personal chef business to create healthy meals for busy families, ran a huge organization with a health and wellness company and helped thousands of people create healthier lifestyles for themselves and their families.
My entire being was about “health promotion”, so I fully understand how frustrated and flustered you feel as you are being told to add heavy whipping cream and butter to all foods. To buy Pop Tarts and Oreos. I so get it.
I fully understand your confusion when you are being told that fruits and vegetables are the last thing to be offered (unless covered in cheese) . I fully understand how strange it feels to be reading labels on foods looking for the highest calorie choice. I had to do all of that and it rocked me to my core. But the thought of losing my daughter rocked me even harder.
Hit the ground running and refeed your child as fast and furious as you can (once they are refed enough that refeeding syndrome is not an issue). One of the best ways through the recovery is to run right into it. The goal is to get as many calories (and fat) as you can get in the smallest amount of food. The less volume the better. It’s very common for the person being refed to feel full VERY quickly and have stomach discomfort. That’s why we highly recommend foods with a high fat content.
I don’t think I EVER bought heavy whipping cream before my child had an eating disorder. Last summer, I was easily going through a gallon a week.
I fully understand that it feels so “wrong” to be adding so much “junk” to their diets, but no one ever overcame an eating disorder to full recovery (which is possible) by eating carrots and organic berries. It just does not have enough calories. I guess you could argue that you could eat 10 tons of carrots. Then go for it.
Why is this important? I would say for 2 separate reasons. One is nutritional and one is emotional.
From a nutritional point of view, a “healthy” diet just can’t pack the calories that are often needed to refeed someone back to being weight restored plus. So, make butter, cream, cheese and uber high fat ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs are the highest) your friends.
From an emotional point of view we need to teach these kids (AND EVERYONE) that food is food. Food is medicine. Food is how to get out of this illness. ALL FOODS. There is no such thing as “junk” “bad” “unhealthy” “naughty” foods. And never “clean”. Food is food. That is all. Food does not have a moral value to it. They need to learn to eat ALL foods (unless there is a medical allergy or a dislike of a food more then 2 years prior to an eating disorder). If they recently turned vegan… they need meat. End of story.
You are probably wondering what to do about you? And your “healthy” home? What about the other kids in the family?
I started eating way differently than I used to. I ate all foods. I did not eat as much as my daughter, but if she had ice cream, so did I. For myself, I looked into intuitive eating and learned to eat what I wanted and not what I was “supposed to” eat according to society standards.
I had to, if you will, look in the mirror, at my own habits; and although I thought I was modeling a “healthy” lifestyle, it really was a lifestyle of some restrictions (I’ve always lived in balance but definitely watched what I ate).
I know it sounds so so scary, I questioned it so so many times. I kept looking for a “better way” and the bottom line was this was the only way.
It’s important to remember that this is not the way you will all eat forever. It may take a while and every case is different but to save your child’s life (and maybe your own) from this awful disease, you are going to have to let that “good nutrition” idea go.
I did, and through this journey I left a successful nutrition business and did a full 180 and pursued my intuitive eating practitioner certification and I’m working on becoming an eating disorder recovery coach. I have learned so much through this journey about the “anti diet” movement and how we are all so poisoned by diet rhetoric EVERYWHERE and we need to change our ways in order to be in alignment with your child’s recovery. It truly is vital.