For individuals struggling with eating disorders, repairing the relationship with food is a primary focus of eating disorder treatment. In response to emotional distress, individuals can develop rigid, inflexible thinking, and negative food behaviors. For individuals with eating disorders, these ways of thinking and these negative behaviors can be particularly pronounced and can have significant impacts on day-to-day life. Food is a source of stress for those with eating disorders. To manage the anxiety felt around food, individuals struggling with an eating disorder often develop food rules and food rituals. These rules and rituals can also provide the individual with a sense of safety.
Signs of a Troubled Relationship with Food
Those who are experiencing challenges in relation to food may exhibit certain behavioral signs and symptoms.
Symptomatic behaviors might include (but are not limited to):
- Avoiding eating scenarios
- Sudden shifts in diet (i.e. change to vegan or gluten free)
- Excessive exercise or diets
- Chaotic food intake
- Sudden trips to the bathroom after eating
Rituals that might signal a troubled relationship with food include (but are not limited to):
- Cutting or tearing food into small pieces
- Eating food in a specific order
- Hiding or throwing away food
- Mixing inappropriate foods together
- Eating at a very slow or fast pace
- Not allowing food items to touch each other on the plate
- Drinking a lot of fluids before eating
- Excessive condiment use
Repairing the Relationship with Food: Reasons’ Perspective
At Reasons, our philosophy is: all foods fit. Our mission at Reasons is to repair a broken relationship with food through a variety of avenues. A non-diet approach is the cornerstone of our model for promoting a healthy relationship with food. This approach recognizes and honors the many reasons we eat – not just for nutritional value, but for taste, enjoyment, socialization, tradition, culture, and more. We believe that an essential component of nourishment and health restoration includes eating with enjoyment, mindfulness and intention. An all foods fit model means there are no “good foods” and “bad foods.” When individuals categorize foods as such, they place a moral value on those foods, often internalizing messages of “good” and “bad.” For example, if you eat a “bad” food, this often translates to “I was bad today,” or “I am bad.” When we can normalize foods, and remove the labels, we are able to reduce anxiety around food and eating, as well as decrease the guilty feelings many patients experience when they eat certain foods.
At Reasons, we put this philosophy into action through well-established treatment methodologies, including Exposure Response Prevention (ERP), mindfulness skills, and Intuitive Eating Principles. The process of ERP represents the first step in building a healthy relationship with food. Through ERP, patients are encouraged to eat foods that they have eliminated or avoided from their lives, either because they experience high anxiety and fear associated with these foods, have binged on these foods, feel out of control around them, or due to other negative beliefs about the food. Mindfulness skills support patients in becoming more aware of their emotional states and enables patients to connect with and process those emotions on a deeper level. Patients can leverage mindfulness techniques throughout ERP, learning to become aware of their mental states surrounding food. Intuitive Eating Principles builds upon mindfulness skills by teaching patients to listen to the body’s cues and to nourish the body accordingly with food.
Ultimately, by healing the relationship with food, patients have an opportunity to experience life more fully. Eating disorders can be isolating – both in relationships with people and in relationships with foods. A thoughtful and multi-disciplinary approach to repairing the relationship with food is key to resolving this isolation and reclaiming a whole life.
If you believe you or a loved one are struggling with [topic]/an eating disorder, please reach out for help. Our team understands that seeking help can be a challenging step. To schedule a no-cost clinical consultation or for more information, please call 844-573-2766 or submit an online contact form.