BED Recovery Meal Plan:

Creating a Balanced Diet With Food as Fuel

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders has defined binge eating disorder (BED) as repeated binges that occur at least weekly for three months, throughout which a person consumes an amount of food that most people would consider excessive. To meet criteria for this disorder, a person must feel that he or she is unable to control the amount of food consumed during binges; other factors, such as eating more quickly than normal, feeling guilty about the binge, or eating excessive amounts despite not truly being hungry, are also present in BED. 1

To recover from this condition, clients often undergo a combination of psychological and dietary interventions, with a doctor or nutritionist with expertise in eating disorders providing a BED recovery meal plan. Some people also take medications to help them recover. A BED recovery meal plan can promote a balanced diet and enhance the benefits of medications and psychological services like counseling in the treatment of BED.

What does a Balanced BED Recovery Meal Plan Include?

A balanced BED recovery meal plan can help you to recover and get the nutrients your body needs for optimal functioning. A balanced diet plan includes regular meals as well as a variety of foods from all food groups to meet your body’s nutritional needs.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides dietary guidelines and recommends that people consume a diet that is rich in fruits, multiple varieties of vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, and protein sources, including eggs, nuts, seafood, chicken, and beans. The USDA also advises that people consume alcohol in moderation and limit foods contains trans fats and excessive amounts of added sugars. 2 These guidelines are useful for creating a balanced recovery meal plan.

Avoiding Restriction in a BED Recovery Meal Plan

While you may be tempted to restrict calories or certain food groups to lose weight, restriction can be ineffective in a BED recovery meal plan. In a 2010 study in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers evaluated the effects of moderate calorie restriction, similar to what occurs when people diet to lose weight, on a group of mice. Study results showed that three weeks of calorie restriction resulted in an elevation of the stress hormone corticosterone among the mice, and it created physiological changes in the brain that did not resolve when mice returned to normal feeding levels. 3

In addition to this finding, the researchers discovered that over the long-term, mice who underwent calorie restriction demonstrated an increase in binge eating when subjected to stress. Being too restrictive with a BED recovery meal plan could therefore have the opposite intended effect and put you at risk.

Research with human subjects, instead of mice, has confirmed that restricting calories can be a disadvantage for clients with BED. A study in a 1994 edition of Obesity Research compared outcomes for individuals with BED to those without after a very low-calorie diet. Study results showed that people with BED were more likely to regain all the weight they lost during the diet, drop out of the diet program, or refuse to be contacted for follow-up after the diet when compared to those without BED. 4 It appears that significant calorie restriction is not effective for long-term success among people with BED, and a balanced, nutrient rich diet that does not severely restrict calories or food groups is recommended as part of a BED recovery meal plan.

The Importance of Regular Meals in Recovery

In addition to avoiding restriction, incorporating regular meals into your BED recovery meal plan can help you to be successful. In 2006, scientists writing for the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy analyzed the eating habits of individuals with binge eating disorder to determine the effects of these habits on weight and binging behavior. The results of their study indicated that subjects who ate meals more frequently and ate breakfast tended to have a healthier body weight. 5

Study results also showed that individuals who consumed three meals per day engaged in less binge eating when compared to those who neglected to eat three meals each day.

Eating for Hunger and Fuel

In order to eliminate emotional eating that could contribute to a binge, recovery plans should also include how to listen to the bodies natural hunger cues, and the importance of using food to fuel the body. In BED, binges can unfortunately become a mechanism for coping with stress or unpleasant emotions. In a 2003 study in Obesity Research, scientists from France assessed the relationships between emotional eating and binge eating disorder. They found that emotional eating and feelings of stress were related to binge eating disorder. These researchers also determined that difficulty with identifying emotions was associated with emotional eating among people with BED. 6

To avoid binges and emotional eating, a BED recovery meal plan should focus on eating when hungry and avoiding eating in response to emotional triggers. When the desire to eat emerges, pause to evaluate the situation and determine if you are truly hungry or simply seeking comfort.

Mindfulness approaches to eating can help you learn to identify emotions and understand feelings of hunger. A 2014 study in the journal Mindfulness found that a program called Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training was effective in reducing binges and improving the severity of BED. Four months after completing the mindfulness program, 95 percent of study participants no longer met diagnostic criteria for this BED. 7

You can work with a counselor or social worker who specializes in eating disorders to learn mindfulness-based approaches to eating and identifying hunger. The skills you develop during counseling can be applied to your BED recovery meal plan, so that you can focus on eating to fuel your body.

Combining Planning with Flexibility

In addition to eliminating emotional eating, planning meals ahead of time can be helpful for BED recovery, because planning reduces the chances of being unsure what to eat resulting in a less-than-ideal choice. Having a plan in mind prevents choosing a meal on a whim, and it could reduce the risk of binging. After all, a report in a 2013 edition of Obesity Research reviewed the results of 51 different studies and determined that individuals with BED showed increased food-related impulsivity. 8

Planning meals in advance can prevent impulsive eating choices, but it is also important to allow yourself some flexibility when creating a BED recovery meal plan. Being flexible with your meal plan can increase your chances of success; a 1999 study in the journal Appetite found that individuals who followed flexible diets tended to have a healthier body weight and to engage in less overeating. 9 Planning meals can protect you from making an impulse decision to binge, but being flexible allows you freedom from time-to-time without feeling as if you have completely fallen off the bandwagon of balanced eating.

Working with a Dietitian to Develop a BED Recovery Meal Plan

Creating a flexible meal plan can help during recovery from BED and working with a dietitian could increase the chances of success. The American Dietetic Association has advised that nutrition counseling is a key part of recovery from an eating disorder and that registered dietitians should be part of a multidisciplinary treatment team. 10

A registered dietitian can help you develop a BED recovery meal plan that is balanced, includes regular meals, and offers flexibility. They can also work with you to create a plan that suits your unique needs and provide education regarding the role of various foods and the ways they fuel your body.

Working with a dietitian can simplify the process of creating a BED recovery meal plan that meets your needs and enhances your success. When creating a meal plan, there are several factors to keep in mind. The plan should include a balanced diet, as recommended by the USDA, and it should not be too restrictive of calories or any single food group.

Your BED recovery meal plan should allow for regular meals, and while it is helpful to plan ahead, you should not be too rigid with a meal plan and should allow yourself some flexibility. A dietitian can help you to create a plan that takes these factors into consideration. A mental health professional, such as a counselor or social worker with expertise in eating disorders, can help you to overcome barriers such as emotional eating and binging in response to stress. While a BED recovery meal plan is important, it should be included in a comprehensive treatment program that also includes psychological services.