The fear of food is one area that must be conquered in order to experience full recovery from an eating disorder. Fattening foods, those with a high percentage of fat calories, are typically high on the avoidance list of those suffering from an eating disorder, but the fear of specific foods is an individual matter. One of my clients eats butter but would never consider ice cream, while another frantically counts fat grams but consumes thousands of sugar calories daily. Different foods physically and/or emotionally trigger people depending on their genetics, hormones, experiences, and how they perceive the food. When food has been used almost exclusively as a coping mechanism it is terrifying to give up. Regaining power over foods boosts confidence and self-esteem. The goal for a person suffering from an eating disorder is to normalize their relationship with food by letting go of the power they give to it.

Part of the work that a dietitian does with a client is to help them eat foods they have been avoiding. We call this a challenge food. Eating a challenge food is a very emotional experience. As a dietitian, my job is to help dissipate the overwhelming emotions that are released by 'indulging' in a challenge food. I constantly reassure clients that they will not gain ten pounds by eating one cookie. Their false beliefs about the lurking dangers of food must be challenged and their thinking restructured about food and calories to bring about healing. This is where education about metabolism is essential.

Once a person has eaten a challenge food and survived (they always do!) they go on to systematically add other challenge foods. I let my clients chose the food if they are able too. One objection that is typically raised is 'why do I have to eat foods that are bad for me?" This is a trick question. First of all, there is no such thing as perfect eating. Is a piece of cake on your birthday bad for you? How about a big piece every night? Is chocolate bad for you? What if you are experiencing PMS? In other words, there are a lot of gray areas to healthy eating. Also, the social aspect of eating is significant. People who do not eat with their families or co-workers do not have the connection with others that people who 'break bread' together do. All cultures celebrate with food. Healing from an eating disorder involves the flexibility to eat, more or less, what others do. This doesn't mean the client should become a junk food junkie but less rigidity and fear is essential to normalize eating.

There is hope. People do recover from eating disorders. They let go of their fear of food and the control it has over them and even go on to enjoy food and eating!
---Lisa Licavoli, RD


(Affirmations are phrases that help instill power and hope within. These have been especially helpful for people recovering from eating disorders, and some S.P.E.A.K. members have put together a list of the daily affirmations that helped us the most. Post these (or your OWN affirmations!) in any and every place they can be visible and repeat them often-especially before meals. For more suggestions, contact us at )

1. My worth as a person is not diminished in any way by my body size or my eating patterns.

2. I will love myself no matter what my eating patterns are.

3. I will judge my days not by what or how much I eat, but by the accomplishments I have made and the love I have given.

4. My life is a gift, and I will not let my enjoyment of it be diminished by feeling guilty over my body size or how much or what I eat.

5. I am finished blaming others, situations, and myself for the way I eat. I will take action minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, and day-by-day until I can eat normally again.

6. My eating disorder is a temporary condition in my life-it DOES NOT define who I am.

7. There is a strong, intelligent, and capable person inside of me. I will let her/him take over my life more and more each day as I am ready.

8. I can imagine a life without having an eating disorder.

9. When I feel stressed, I will close my eyes and picture how my all-powerful, normal eater would handle the situation.

10. I deserve to feed and nourish my body to be as strong and healthy as I can be!


Here are some guidelines (Adapted from BodyLove: Learning to Like Our Looks and Ourselves, Rita Freeman, Ph.D.) that can help you work toward a positive body image:

  • Listen to your body. Eat foods you like when you are hungry. Stop when you are full.
  • Be realistic about the size you are likely to be based on your genetic and environmental history.
  • Exercise regularly in an enjoyable and MODERATE way, regardless of size.
  • Expect normal weekly and monthly changes in weight and shape
  • Work towards self-acceptance and self forgiveness-be gentle with yourself.
  • Ask for support and encouragement from friends and family when life is stressful.
  • Decide how you wish to spend your energy -- pursuing the "perfect body image" or enjoying family, friends, school and, most importantly, life.

Think of it as the Three A's...

Attention -- Refers to listening for and responding to internal cues (i.e., hunger, satiety, fatigue).
Appreciation -- Refers to appreciating the pleasures your body can provide.
Acceptance -- Refers to accepting what is -- instead of longing for what is not. Healthy body weight is the size a person naturally returns to after a long period of both non-disordered eating* and consistent exercise that is HEALTHY for the person' s physical health and condition. We must learn to advocate for ourselves and our children to aspire to a naturally determined size, even though that will often mean confronting misinformed family, friends, and media advertising again and again.

*Simply stated, non-disordered eating means eating a variety of foods when you are hungry and stopping when you are satisfied. This involves being able to distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger, and satiation from over-fullness or restriction.


Become aware of your positives. When you look in the mirror, make yourself find at least one good point for every demerit you give.

Decide if there are cultural pressures - glamour, fitness, thinness, media, peer group - that prevent you from feeling good about yourself. How about not buying fashion magazines that promote unrealistic body images?

MODERATE exercise is the key. Exercise gets high marks when it comes to breeding positive body feelings. It makes us feel better about our appearance, and improves our health and mood. But remember-too much exercise can be just as harmful to our bodies as not enough!

Emphasize your assets. You've got lots. Give yourself credit for positive qualities. If there are some things you want to change, remember self-discovery is a lifelong process.

Make friends with the person you see in the mirror. Say, "I like what I see. I like me." You may feel silly at first. Do it until you believe it.

Question ads. Instead of saying, "What's wrong with me," say, "What's wrong with this ad?" Write the company. Set your own standards instead of letting the media set them for you.

Ditch dieting and bail on the scale. These are two great ways to develop a healthy relationship with your body and weight.

Challenge size-bigotry and fight size discrimination whenever you can. Don't speak of yourself or others with phrases like "fat slob," "pig out," or "thunder thighs."

Be an example to others by taking people seriously for what they say, feel, and do rather than how they look.

Accept the fact that your body is changing throughout your life. In teen years, your body is a work in progress. Don't let every new inch or curve throw you off the deep end.

You know you are successful when you can look in the mirror and instead of asking, "What's wrong with it," and say, "There's nothing really wrong with me." And little by little you'll find you can stop disliking your body.

This is the starting point. It is from this new way of looking at a problem that we can begin to feel better about ourselves. Make this the time to accept the natural dimensions of our bodies instead of drastically trying to change them. We can't exchange our bodies for a new one. So the best thing is to find peace with the one we have. Your body is where you're going to be living the rest of your life. Isn't it about time you made it home? If you want to work with others to help foster your own positive body image, please contact for information about our support group and campus activism!

*This information comes from an article by Cindy Maynard, M.S., R.D.


Recovery can be a difficult time for your friend/relative/spouse and for you, as their loved one. You can be sure that just being there for your loved one is a wonderful blessing. But, during this fragile recovery period, there are some helpful suggestions to aid their recovery and your own mental and physical well being along…

  • Make sure you take care of yourself… Be good to you!
  • Avoid commenting on her looks. If you say she is too thin that will only please her, because that is her goal. If you tell her she looks 'good' she will invariably interpret that to mean that she looks fat, therefore, this statement is likely to only further fuel her attempts to lose weight.
  • Remember that she is not her anorexia. It is possible to love her and dislike her eating disorder at the same time. Love her unconditionally.
  • Remember to avoid simplistic solutions such as "just eat" and "just don't vomit anymore." This will only add to her feeling misunderstood and isolated … it overlooks the complexity and severity of the problem.
  • Avoid discussing what, how, or when she should eat. You will inevitably wind up in a power struggle. Allow the nutritionist and/or eating disorder specialist to take care of this. After all, it is their job.
  • Accept that there is nothing that you can do force her to eat, stop bingeing, or stop purging.
  • Avoid trying to control her food intake and avoid making judgments about her choices and her behavior, especially out-loud to him/her or others.
  • When communicating use "I" statements, "You" statements tend to be judgmental. "I" statements show that you are taking responsibility for how you feel and think. For example, you can say, "I am worried about you. Why don't we make an appointment with a doctor to just to make sure that you are medically safe." This sounds far less attacking and judgmental than: "You're too thin! What are you trying to do to yourself!!??"
  • Avoid labeling foods as good or bad.
  • Do not advocate the diet mentality that is so prevalent in our culture.
  • Focus on things that do not relate to food, weight, and exercise. Be there just for company. Remember that she needs people in her life that can respond to her on more than one level and about more than just her food intake and body weight.
  • Despite the fact that I am suggesting to avoid certain topics of conversation, try not worry about saying the 'wrong' thing. You will not have an irreversible negative impact on her recovery. But worrying about that can and probably will silence you that will in turn prevent you from being supportive. It is better to say something with the intention of being supportive than to say nothing at all and have her interpret your silence as a lack of caring on your part.
  • Encourage her to be human… not perfect.

*Monika Ostroff, MSW is the Program Coordinator at the Eating Disorder Treatment Center at Hampstead Hospital in Hampstead, NH.