by Heather Bell, MPH, RD, LDN
Last time, we talked about “All Foods Can Fit” as an antidote to nutritional hyper-vigilance, and the worry and food-preoccupation that accompany it. What we didn’t talk about is the irony inherent in nutritional hyper-vigilance—that in feeling pressured to over-focus on the nutritional worthiness (or unworthiness) of foods, people’s ability to fuel themselves adequately can often be incapacitated. In this post, I want to discuss the second way in which “All Foods Can Fit” qualifies as a Healing Concept.
“All Foods Can Fit” facilitates optimal dietary adequacy.
Every individual, whether they’ve struggled with under-eating or over-eating, needs to meet their physiological requirements for energy and nutrients — it’s part of what healthy eating is all about. And many individuals with eating disorders have a significantly greater demand for energy and nutrients, by virtue of the damage caused by malnutrition and extreme dietary behaviors. Anything that acts to place unnecessary restrictions on food selection decreases the likelihood of adequate dietary intake, which again, has repercussions for under-eaters and over-eaters alike.
And if you are saying to yourself, “Yes, but they’d be even better nourished if they focused on including certain foods and eliminating others,” please remember what we discussed in the previous blog post. Individuals with eating disorders typically find that even the subtlest of good/bad messages about food acts to increase their guilt, anxiety, and preoccupation with eating, which then exacerbates their behaviors. Any dietary philosophy that promotes behaviors that lead to malnutrition or a disturbed relationship with food, CANNOT be said to be productive of health or well-being—whatever the purported benefits of the dietary approach were supposed to be. The philosophy of “All Foods Can Fit” allows for a dialogue about the varying nutritional profiles of different foods that is accurate and factual, and it also encourages people to explore how they can include these differing profiles in a way that supports both health AND pleasure. It reinforces dietary inclusivity, rather than dietary elimination. It says, “Eat this, AND eat that—according to what each food offers, and your individual needs in the moment,” and in doing so, ensures that people will be adequately nourished on many levels—a cornerstone of true healing.
Amy, a client recovering from anorexia nervosa, struggled to make peace with her enjoyment of the chocolate pumpkin bread at her local café. The goodie seemed so rich, such an indulgence—how could a food like that really be part of healthy eating for her? We discussed the fact that the quick-bread was energy-dense —lots of fuel in a relatively small volume of food, something people are often taught to be wary of. But then we also talked about the role of energy-dense foods in normal eating. We talked about why Amy’s friends and family (normal eaters) didn’t need the same (sometimes physically uncomfortable) volume of food at their meals and snacks that she did–not because their energy needs weren’t similar, but because they felt okay about incorporating energy-dense foods and beverages in a way that she didn’t, yet. Amy began to understand that foods like the pumpkin bread could actual serve several legitimate purposes—provision of adequate fuel for her body, development of more comfortable and normal eating experiences, and yes, pleasure.
Next: “All Foods Can Fit” Part Three—Flexibility, Spontaneity, and Quality of Life