Vegetarians & Eating Disorders
Upon admission to the program, individuals with eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating participate in a one on one assessment with the nutrition therapist, a registered dietitian, to develop their individual food plan. The registered dietitian and the individual develop a collaborative and supportive relationship in which the nutritional issues can be safely addressed. Each meal plan is balanced and nutritious. Since each client’s food plan is truly individualized, we are able to work with vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerant, kosher and other specific food plans. Our cooks are excellent. They understand the necessity of offering a wide variety of foods and only use the freshest ingredients for each meal. Our experience has shown us that at the time they enter the program many individuals are out of control with food. Many individuals are locked into a fearful cycle with food. For these reasons, we work with individuals in an effort to gain their trust. We want individuals to learn the difference between food preferences and eating disordered driven choices. We understand that this may be frightening, but we commit to each individual that we will not allow her, or his, weight to swing to either extreme. We encourage open discussion of feelings about these matters with the staff and peers. The staff’s responsibility is not to police food intake or to force individuals to do something that they do not wish to do. Instead we ask individuals to be willing to trust our staff and to share with us when they are having difficulty.
Our goal is to help individuals gain the knowledge and skills necessary to begin nourishing instead of abusing their bodies with food. We understand that eating disorders do not develop overnight, so we do not expect behaviors and feelings about food to disappear overnight either. We know that changing nutritional habits may be difficult, but our staff is committed to help individuals work through the changes. The following is one vegan’s experience with her food plan.
"I came to Rader as a vegan. I didn't eat meat, eggs, dairy or any other animal products. I ate organic, all natural "health foods" and feared refined sugars and carbs. I wanted to be healthy, but if I was really so healthy, I wouldn't have ended up at Rader. Upon admission, I had narrowed my variety of foods to the extent that it was unhealthy physically, mentally, and emotionally."
"I had restricted myself from the foods I knew I liked. The truth is the differences between food preferences and disordered eating are the motives behind the eating habits. I believe in animal rights but that was not the real reason, I wouldn’t eat meat. The truth was, I was deathly afraid of being "unhealthy", of being "fat", and of consuming cholesterol and saturated fat if I ate meat. But "my way" obviously didn’t work; it wasn't healthy. I had deprived myself of the pleasure of variety and didn’t have balance with my meals. I would make myself full by eating vegetables but ultimately get hungry quickly and end up craving the foods that I feared the most."
"I would start out binging on health foods. I binged on cereals, carbs, and sweets. Then I would progress to where it didn’t matter what I binged on, because I was going to purge it out anyway, I was desperate. I would end up bingeing on refined carbs, sugar cookies, white bread and all. I was completely out of control. The more I tried to control my food, my food would end up controlling me."
"When I came to Rader, I decided it was time to be honest with myself about my relationship with food. The dietitian challenged me to think about my "healthy" habits and how these choices may have been feeding my eating disordered behavior. I knew that my lifestyle wasn't healthy and I that I couldn’t go back to what I was doing. I decided it was time to attempt to surrender to the professionals who ran the program. I knew I wanted to recover and to do so, I was going to need to trust the program. In the past, I had tried to get out of my eating disorder alone, but it never worked. This time I was going to try something new and entrust myself to the professional opinion of some one else."
"Together with Rader’s dietitian, we came up with a meal plan that was healthy and designed to maintain my weight. For the first time, I began to believe that food exchanges are truly equal. Be it 3oz. of tofu or 3oz. of lean meat. One isn't really better then the other. In essence, they are about the same in calories and nutritional value. They just have different vitamins and nutrients in different combinations."
"I knew that the extent of my veganism was a result of my eating disorder and my eating disorder couldn’t possibly be healthy. By restricting and limiting myself, I had set myself up for obsession, which led down the destructive path of bingeing and purging. I took my treatment at Rader as the opportunity to reintroduce the foods I had feared for so long."
"At Rader I was always given a vegetarian or vegan choice at menu planning, and was never forced to eat meat, but I decided it was time to challenge myself. I had entered treatment to recover, not to fall prey to my eating disorder."
"I now know that the food exchanges are equal, vegan or not, and everything I eat has nutritional value. Even white bread and refined carbs, which I greatly feared, have nutritional value. During treatment I made the choice of slowly adding new foods to my meal plan. I've eaten white bread, white rice, and pasta. I've tried cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, yogurt and milk. I have even eaten tuna, sashimi, and orange roughy. All of which I've discovered I really enjoy. For me, protein is protein and a variety of food in my meal plan ensures that I am getting a variety of nutrients. I’ve learned that eating these new foods in moderation is better for my health than bingeing and/or purging. Through treatment, I learned that variety and pleasure are healthy; it nourishes the body, mind and soul."