Special diets for individuals with eating disorders focus on restoration of a normal body weight and control of bingeing and purging. These diets are usually carried out under the supervision of a multidisciplinary team, including a physician, psychologist, and dietitian.
The overall dietary goal for individuals with anorexia nervosa is to restore a healthy body weight. An initial goal might be to stop weight loss and improve food choices. Energy intake is then increased gradually until normal weight is restored. Because individuals with anorexia nervosa have an intense fear of gaining weight and becoming fat, quantities of foods eaten are increased very slowly so that the patient will continue treatments and therapy.
The overall dietary goal for individuals with bulimia nervosa is to gain control over eating behavior and to achieve a healthy body weight. An initial goal is to stabilize weight and eating patterns to help the individual gain control over the binge-purge cycle. Meals and snacks are eaten at regular intervals to lessen the possibility that hunger and fasting will trigger a binge. Once eating behaviors have been stabilized, energy intake can be gradually adjusted to allow the individual to reach a normal body weight healthfully.
For individuals with either anorexia nervosa and bulimia, continued follow-up and support are required even after normal weight and eating behaviors are restored, particularly since the rate of relapse is quite high. (Relapse occurs when a patient returns to the old behaviors that he or she was trying to change or eliminate.) In addition to dietary changes, psychotherapyis an essential part of the treatment of eating disorders and helps the individual deal with fears and misconceptions about body weight and eating behavior.
Nancy Gustafson M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A., E.L.S., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,