With the support of lead dietitian Kari Johnson, a group of teens in treatment for eating disorders recently tried a seasonal treat: caramel apples. For this particular food challenge, a variety of caramel apples were provided for the group’s snack, including some with nuts and chocolate. The group’s objective was to eat a portion of the caramel apples to fulfill their meal plan. This activity caused the group to become apprehensive at first, because many feared the caramel, nuts and chocolate, thinking that those foods would cause them to gain weight.
“We teach variety and moderation,” Johnson said. Patients don’t often realize they can feel comfortable going to seasonal activities and parties that often include challenging foods. A number of people who have eating disorders are also diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or other severe anxiety disorders. The food challenges provide them with an opportunity to expose themselves to foods that they would normally avoid.
Often, during the challenge, patients will encourage each other. With this supportive approach, patients in the eating disorder treatment programs have tried birthday cake, donuts, fried foods and other “fear foods.” Johnson said, “I tell patients, ‘At the very least, you should be able to eat a piece of birthday cake on your birthday.’”