Parents, Don’t Let Your Kids Download Kurbo!

Parents, don't let kids download Kurbo appA disclaimer: I have no vested interest in Weight Watchers’ new Kurbo app. This app will in fact create more work for me. But let me be clear: I do not want this kind of work!

I know that you mean well and are merely concerned about your child’s health, but I can assure you that Weight Watchers does not share your concern. They are a commercial enterprise interested in making money and their business model is based on preying upon insecurities.

You would only need to spend a short time in my waiting room to hear from other parents who were once like you—moderately concerned (or maybe unconcerned) about their child’s weight and happy when their child committed to “eating healthier.” The story is nearly always the same. This child has been in what I would call a larger body—you might have called them “overweight”, pediatricians might have labeled them “obese”. It starts with them giving up sweets and then progresses. They start to restrict meat and starches and exercise more. It looks healthy. Over time, some switch gets tripped, and with very little warning the kid has anorexia, a lethal mental illness.

While most cases of anorexia are triggered by dieting, unintentional weight loss can be a trigger as well. It appears that people predisposed to anorexia respond to a negative energy balance in a way that flips this switch and they cross a dieting point of no return. Many of the teens I work with have been hospitalized for life-threatening low heart rates and electrolyte imbalances.

I cannot adequately express the guilt that parents feel from having allowed their teens to start these diets. I don’t blame them. I understand the pressure they are under.

Two of my three children grew out before they grew up. They had gained the weight their bodies needed to fuel puberty and impending growth spurts. I too received the warning from my well-intentioned pediatrician about their weights and weight gain. I knew enough to ignore the implied suggestion of helping them trim down. I cringe to think what might have happened if I had followed it. My children grew just fine and became more proportional according to their genetic predisposition.

My other child was lauded by the same pediatrician for growing up before growing out. It was only years later when I plotted her growth that I realized she had totally fallen off her expected weight curve at the time the pediatrician praised her weight. Yet, I did notice that she didn’t seem to be eating enough. (For more information on the intervention I did with her, read this post.)

The Kurbo app should come with the following warning:

“This app may trigger an eating disorder
from which your child could take 22 years to recover.”

Yes, 22 years! The most rigorous longitudinal study we have of anorexia has shown that at 9 years, only 31% of individuals with anorexia nervosa had recovered. Almost 63% had recovered at 22 years. If this is the path you follow, you may be facing many long years in and out of costly treatments to help your child recover.

Incidentally, Kurbo has made my job tougher. It classifies foods as “green”, “yellow”, or “red”. “Red” foods, such as ice cream, fried chicken, and pizza are “bad” — Kurbo advises kids to avoid them.

I work with children who suffer from anorexia, may be hypermetabolic, and may require ingesting upwards of 6000 kcal per day for several years to recover. I can’t express the difficulty of convincing an anorexic child to eat highly caloric foods to recover, when they immediately parrot back all the health messages they’ve received about these foods being dangerous. It’s terribly confusing to be told that the foods they’ve learned are bad for them are in fact the medicine that will cure them. This is but one reason why we cannot take a one size fits all approach to foods.

Back in my waiting room, maybe you would hear from some of the adults with eating disorders. They might tell you that years of dieting have contributed to weight gain, weight cycling, binge eating, and misery. They will typically remember that this pattern started in childhood with a diet. Dieting disconnects people from their own internal regulatory system (as does tracking calories and exercise).

What Can Parents Do Instead?  The following advice is for parents of kids of all sizes.

I suggest teaching kids that bodies naturally come in all shapes and sizes and that body size is largely genetically determined. I recommend viewing the Poodle Science video from ASDAH. This video does a great job illustrating body diversity and the risks of subjecting everyone to a single body standard. I suggest teaching kids that fat bodies are great too. We have to make it safe for people to be fat in order to prevent and treat eating disorders. Eating disorders are a more lethal problem. Parents can avoid judging or criticizing their own or other peoples’ bodies.

I suggest giving kids access to a range of foods — prohibiting “fun” foods leads kids to overvalue and overeat them. We don’t need to label foods as good or bad. Parents can serve nutritious food as well as fun food and model that they are of equal moral value. They can also model that food is supposed to be pleasurable and offers the opportunity for social and cultural connections.

Parents can also help children to move in ways that are fun, rather than teaching that exercise is penance for eating.

For more specific advice on helping kids develop as strong intuitive eaters with healthy body images, I suggest the work of dietitian Ellyn Satter and my psychotherapist colleagues, Zoe Bisbing and Leslie Bloch, The Full Bloom Project.

To Learn More

I recommend reading the statement from the National Eating Disorders Association: NEDA Statement on Kurbo by WW App.

And also The New York Times Op-Ed by dietitian, Christy Harrison: Our Kids Do Not Need A Weight Watchers App.

 

Getting Your Teen with an Eating Disorder Ready for the First Day Back at School

Getting Your Teen with an Eating Disorder Ready for the First Day Back at School
Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

It’s almost the first day of school and parents of students with eating disorders have additional concerns to address on top of the usual back to school frenzy. Transitions can be tough for all teens—they are especially difficult for those with eating disorders. However, there are some preparations you can make to help things go more smoothly.

If you have been supervising most meals your teen has been eating over the summer, the shift to a school day brings a significant change in schedule. A considerable portion of your teen’s day will be spent at school. You may need to increase the size of the breakfast your teen will consume before a long day away from home. Practice the breakfasts you will plan to prepare during the school year. Also be mindful that there may be less time for breakfast when you have to get your teen out the door—to ease the transition, have them practice eating within a reasonable time.

During the school day, your teen will typically need lunch and at least one snack. Now is the time to consider how you will handle these meals and snacks. If your teen is early in recovery it may be important to for them to remain under the full supervision of parents for all meals and snacks. If this is the case, you should speak to the school staff now and make arrangements. Most schools will allow a parent to come and have the teen come out and eat lunch in the car and then go back in. Other parents make arrangements for a staff person at the school (favorite teacher, school nurse) to supervise lunch. You may need to do the same thing with a morning snack. You may even consider only sending your teen for part of the school day until meals are going more smoothly.

If your teen is able to eat a meal and or snack on their own, don’t assume that doing so at school will be easy. Any change in location or schedule can increase the challenge for a teen with an eating disorder. I always suggest letting your teen know that if they can’t finish what you’ve packed, they should pack it up and bring the remainder home. It is important for you to know what they couldn’t finish so that you can add food later to make sure they don’t end up with a deficient intake which could lead to relapse. Let them know they won’t be in trouble!

Practice now with the foods you will send to school for lunch. If your teen is accustomed to hot lunches at home, have them practice eating the very foods you will pack in a school lunch to make sure they are comfortable eating those foods. I always suggest packing foods that are easiest for your teen to eat while being adequate nutritionally; save the fear foods for the meals they will be eating at home with you.

If your teen will be eating without supervision, discuss with whom they will eat. Do they have friends they feel most comfortable with? Even better if they have a friend who knows about their eating disorder and they can talk to ahead of time about making plans to eat lunch together. Encourage them to eat with friends who are good eaters.

If your teen will need to have restrictions from physical education, get a note from your treatment team and deliver it to their school.

Finally, I suggest watching closely during times of transition. This means weighing your teen regularly to guard against a significant weight change. Sometimes you can hit a bump and catching a problem early can go a long way in preventing a serious decline.

For more tips on handling your teen’s meals at school, check out Dr. Muhlheim’s book, When Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder.

Do I Need to Quit X to Stay in Recovery?

Do I Need to Quit X to Stay in Recovery?
Image by Zorro4 from Pixabay

By Carolyn Hersh, LCSW, Staff Therapist

A difficult concept in recovery is knowing when to let go of an activity or even a job that could potentially re-ignite the eating disorder. As a therapist I find myself guiding my clients towards the realization that the sport or career path they had loved so much might be the very thing that holds them back and sets them back up for relapse. It isn’t always an easy decision.

Letting go of something that may have predated the eating disorder can lead to questions as to why it cannot remain in someone’s life in recovery. Many clients in the early stages of eating disorder treatment have to face the fact that they have to stop their sports if they are trying to regain weight or are working on eliminating behaviors that could leave the body physically weak. It is no surprise that once stabilization begins there is an urge to return to previously enjoyed activities. However, returning to these activities could potentially hinder full recovery.

Sports like gymnastics, running, figure skating, wrestling, and dancing are incredibly wonderful. As a figure skater myself, I can attest there is no greater feeling than gliding over the ice. But these same sports, especially at the elite level, can be incredibly demanding on the body. Behaviors required for full recovery can go against what a coach may be preaching to athletes to be in top physical form. What is expected of top athletes could look like disordered eating and poor body mentality from an outside perspective. The eating disorder itself may take what is used to condition a top athlete and manipulate it for its own gain.

It can be difficult to find the balance between a recovered mindset and meeting the demands of a sport or career. With some of my clients in the entertainment industry, there are pressures to look a certain way and fit a mold that their bodies may not be meant to fit. It can be difficult to navigate knowing they need to eat a certain amount of times a day and then have an agent say, “Lose five pounds for this role.”

The hardest decision is when there is a realization that staying in either the sport or career is just too detrimental to your health. It is certainly not easy to walk away from something you’ve put work into. And that can also be said about your recovery. Are you willing to give up a healthy body and mind for a potential chance at a gold medal or lucrative career even if it means killing yourself along the way? I’ve worked with a client who was a dancer who recognized as she was going through treatment that going back into a dance studio would be too triggering. She knew that staring at herself in a mirror and comparing herself to her classmates would lead to restricting her meals. It wasn’t an easy decision to walk away, but she knew there was no way she was in a place to be able to dance without being triggered.

In some circumstances, you may not have to completely quit your previous passion.  You might be able to approach the activity differently. You may not be able to return to a sport as an elite athlete, but you could still engage in the activity at a more recreational level. I’ve seen some of my clients shift from being an athlete to being a coach. Actors going from television and movies to doing local theater.  Sometimes you can still do what you love but it just needs to be re-configured to fit into your recovery lifestyle. For many, it can be comforting to know they can still act or model or run, but just do it less intensively.

You may also have the option of challenging what a sport or career emphasizes as far as body image and diet pressures. There are many models and actors who are embracing bigger bodies and not letting the pressures to lose weight define them. With this option, there is a risk of rejection along the way as we do still live in a culture that overvalues thinness. With that being said, this may be a safe option primarily for those who feel stable in recovery and are able to actively use coping skills to fight urges. If your recovery has reached a place of advocacy this definitely could be a path to take.

Leaving a passion behind or re-defining how it fits into your life can be a huge change. You may feel sad or mad. That’s okay. Ultimately, the decision you make will be the one that supports you in your recovery. If staying in the activity is going to trigger calorie counting, weekly weigh-ins or criticism for not looking a certain way, is it worth it? If you know where the eating disorder thrives then why play with fire? Ultimately, the decision will be based on what will make you healthy and happy and not allow you to compromise with the eating disorder.

When Your Child With an Eating Disorder is Sick….

Guest post by Dr. Jennifer Johnson

When Your Child with An Eating Disorder is Sick...
Gambar oleh Clker-Free-Vector-Images pada Pixabay

When parents are renourishing a child with an eating disorder and that child gets sick, parents often don’t know what to do. Some families may back off on feeding every time a child gets any illness, which can be a risky practice. Especially during Phase 1 of FBT, ensuring eating is a priority. To help parents, I’ve asked Jennifer Johnson, MD, a medical doctor who specializes in treating patients with eating disorders, to share some advice.

First, let me say that in general, minor illness should not cause a kid with an eating disorder to lose weight. Parents who are refeeding their child know that even missing a meal or a snack makes a difference in their progress. Don’t let illness throw you off course. As you know, failure to gain as expected may occur if nutrition is even a bit compromised. It is absolutely not a given that illness or surgical procedure must cause weight loss. When I hear that someone has lost 3 pounds “because they had a cold” the previous week, I ask a lot of questions – that should not have happened.

Second, plan ahead. After you’ve read through my answers and looked at other parents’ recommendations, be proactive. Make a plan with your child and treatment team about what you will do if they get sick (which they inevitably WILL at some point during recovery). They should know that they WILL still be eating. But talk about what foods they tend to like when they are ill, and think about how to plug maximum nutrition into them. Buy any non-perishable supplies and stock up on over the counter medications for colds, coughs, and fever. (And please have a thermometer on hand! A $10 digital one is plenty good to give us doctors valuable information.)

What should parents do in terms of feeding when a child with an eating disorder has a head cold or sore throat and loses their appetite? Is it necessary to avoid dairy?

If your child is listless and feeling unwell, they will often not be very hungry for a couple of days. A sick child needs care and comfort. Caring for a sick child who has an eating disorder includes keeping up the nutritional intake. You don’t want the eating disorder to think that illness is a good way to sneak through the back door. And, there are other times when your child is not hungry, just from refeeding itself, and they have to eat anyway. So, push ahead, but gently. Present nutrition dense food and beverages that will be particularly appealing to your child. Does a milkshake sound appetizing? You can add a packet of Benecalorie. (There’s nothing wrong with dairy, by the way.) Chicken noodle soup? Maybe add some extra pasta. There are lots of helpful posts from parents on the Around the Dinner Table Parent Forum.

What about if they have a fever?

Having a significant fever (101 or above) increases fluid needs as well as metabolic rate (more calories are burned). Your child will feel better if you control the fever with regular doses of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Giving the medication at regular intervals, say every 6 hours for acetaminophen, may prevent the fever from getting as high as it otherwise might. This also helps with the headaches that usually accompany fever. Keeping your child hydrated, particularly with something like Gatorade, will also help them feel better – and thus more likely to have some appetite. Some kids maintain their appetite when they have a fever and of course, it’s fine to continue refeeding. Otherwise, know that keeping up nutrition during an illness helps your child feel better sooner, and push on. Again, it’s helpful to adjust what you give them based on their preferences.

What about when kids in recovery have the stomach flu?

What do you do if they’re vomiting?

Generally, vomiting is worst at the onset of an episode of stomach flu and becomes less frequent over the next 24 hours. A parent’s main goal when a kid is vomiting is to keep them hydrated. I recommend not giving anything by mouth for 2 hours after they’ve thrown up. Then you can give them ice chips or a couple of teaspoons of water. This liquid will get absorbed from the mouth. Do this every 5 minutes or so for half an hour. If they haven’t vomited again, you can have them try slightly larger amounts of liquids at less frequent intervals. They should be able to keep down about 2/3 of a cup of liquid, and be hungry, before you try a very small amount of food. Slowly increase the amount you give them. Kids may become ravenous and eat a huge meal, but then throw up everything they’ve just eaten. A kid who throws up a day or two into recuperation may have just overdone it. In that case, you’ll need to let up a bit before pushing back into refeeding.

What about diarrhea?

For kids with diarrhea, we don’t generally recommend giving any medications that are designed to decrease the number of stools (bowel movements). No major food restrictions are needed. There is nothing magical or beneficial about the so-called BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast), which is of low nutritional density. Studies have shown that having diarrhea for a few days does not make someone lactose intolerant. We know that eating when you have a “stomach bug” with diarrhea will generally increase the number of diarrheal stools. But we also know that at the end of the illness, people who have continued to eat will end up better nourished (= digested more calories). And that, of course, is the ultimate goal.

One thought: you may want to speak with your child’s doctor about a proactive prescription for a small number of anti-emetic tablets (that dissolve in the mouth) to have on hand in case your child gets stomach flu. I don’t normally recommend this but refeeding is an exception. We want to minimize the duration of nausea and vomiting to make it easier for your child to eat. Also, many of my patients who have eating disorders are afraid of truly fearful of vomiting (a condition called emetophobia), which only makes stomach flu worse for everyone. If your doctor is willing to do this, they undoubtedly want you to call before you give the medication.

What if your child has no appetite (due to illness)

Biology is on our side. When a kid (or another human being) eats less due to a minor illness, appetite typically returns with a vengeance and we make up for what we’ve missed. For a kid in the early refeeding phase, of course, it is normal to not feel hungry. So you may not know whether your child is not hungry because they’re not feeling well or because they’re refeeding. In either case, your eating disordered child needs you to continue to push forward. Refeeding is the mainstay of treatment and you’re the team leader. Go for it!

Please note that none of the above should be construed as medical advice. If you have concerns about your child’s health, contact their doctor. Some examples of when you should call the doctor are: Bloody diarrhea, high fever (102 or above), vomiting that continues more than 24 hours, weakness, severe dizziness or fainting, or very little urine.

About Jennifer Johnson, M.D., MS, FAAP

Dr. Johnson is a medical doctor. She has more than 20 years’ experience as a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist. She practices in Newport Beach (Orange County), California.

Dr. Johnson is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in Adolescent Medicine as well as in Pediatrics. Dr. Johnson also has an advanced degree in public health. She has been a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, where she served as director of the adolescent medicine program. Dr. Johnson has taught medical students, residents, faculty, and community physicians, for whom she continues to present educational programs. She has presented at national meetings of many organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Practice. Dr. Johnson has written many research articles and book chapters related to adolescent and young adult medicine.

Dr. Johnson is an advocate for adolescents and young adults. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). She has led many activities in the Academy’s Section on Adolescent Health and served as its chairperson. Dr. Johnson is active in the Orange County chapter of the AAP, as well. Current projects include the Teen Safe Driving Initiative and healthcare for GLBTQ teens.

Dr. Johnson has also been active in the Society for Adolescent Medicine. As a member of the medical advisory board for Teengrowth, Dr. Johnson wrote many articles and answers to reader questions. Articles and webcasts by Dr. Johnson are posted at Healthology.com, medbroadcast.com, and the New York Daily News. 

Dr. Johnson is on the medical staff of Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.

Parent Volunteers Needed for Eating Disorder Recovery Research Study

Parent Survey Eating Disorder

 

Mayo Clinic researchers are conducting a study examining parents’ perspectives on eating disorder recovery. We believe that parents have valuable information about their children that can help us better understand eating disorder recovery and improve treatment outcomes. If you are a parent of a child or a teen with an active or past eating disorder, we would appreciate your input by taking an online survey. If you are interested in participating, please click on this link:

Parent Survey of Recovery

You may share this message and link with anyone else or any group that you think might be interested in participating.

This survey is for parents who:

  • Have a child or a teen who was diagnosed with an eating disorder before the age of 18
  • Have access to some data about their child’s heights and weights prior to diagnosis, at diagnosis, and after diagnosis (any measurement system is fine!)

We will be asking you questions about your child’s illness and aspects of recovery, including weights and heights if you have them. If you have growth records, it would be helpful to gather them before taking the online survey. The survey should take about 30 minutes to complete and will be anonymous.

Study Information

Understanding Carers’ Experience in Treatment for Their Child’s Eating Disorder

Principal Investigator: Jocelyn Lebow, Ph.D.

Additional Investigators: Erin Accurso, Ph.D., Leslie Sim, Ph.D., and Lauren Muhlheim, Psy.D.

You are being asked to participate in a research study to understand carers’ experience in treatment for your child’s eating disorder. This invitation is being posted on blogs, social media groups and sent to listservs for parents of children or adolescents who have had/ currently suffer from an eating disorder.  If you agree to participate, you will be asked to spend approximately 30 minutes completing an online survey. We will ask you questions about your experiences during your child’s treatment and your personal definition of “recovery” for your child. The survey is anonymous, so your answers cannot be identified or traced back to you.  The risks and burden associated with this research study are minimal. While there is no direct benefit to you if you choose to take this survey, we believe that this research study will provide a better understanding of carers’ perspectives of their children’s treatment and recovery, with the goal of improving treatment and outcome assessment.  Please understand that this is a voluntary study and your current and future medical care at Mayo Clinic will not be affected by whether or not you participate. Contact the Mayo Clinic Institutional Review Board (IRB) to speak to someone independent of the research team at 507-266-4000 or toll-free at 866-273-4681 if you have questions about rights of a research participant. Thank you for sharing your time and expertise.

 

The researchers

This Halloween, Serve Candy to Your Teen in Recovery

A Family-Based Treatment (FBT)-approach

Fear FoodFor teens with eating disorders, Halloween can be scary for the wrong reason: the candy! Most teens with eating disorders are only willing to eat a restricted range of foods. Expanding this range is an important goal of treatment, with the reintroduction of fear foods being a key step. Candy tends to be high on the fear food lists of many teens.

Halloween presents an ideal opportunity.

A Taste of Recovery

Most teens in America are excited for Halloween and its bounty of candy. By incorporating some candy during your teen’s Halloween week you can help them approximate the lives of teens who do not have eating disorders. This step can give them a taste of the full life you want for them—a life where they are unencumbered by food restrictions, a life where they can enjoy all foods, a life where they can travel the world confident that they will easily be able to meet their nutritional needs, and a life where they won’t feel the need to shun social events for fear of facing the foods there.

I know that I’m painting a beautiful picture and that this is easier said than done. Teens with eating disorders will deny that the disorder is driving their food preferences. Instead, they claim they simply don’t like candy anymore. Or that candy was the preference of a child and since then their palates have matured. But don’t believe them—you have crucial parental memory and knowledge. You know which foods your teen actually liked a few years back. You also probably know the foods on which he or she binged if they binged. And it is not credible that any teen really hates all candy!

Especially if your teen had a great many fear foods, you may already have experience reintroducing some of them. But once meals start going more smoothly, some weight has been restored, and binges and purges have subsided, many parents are reluctant to push further. Why rock the boat when your teen seems to be doing well? You may be wondering: Is candy really necessary?

In fact, this Halloween is exactly the right time to introduce candy.

Exposure

It is much easier to introduce fear foods before your teen is completely independent in their eating. Right now, you are still overseeing meals and your teen does not yet have their independent life back. Pushing the issue of fear foods becomes more challenging when your teen has regained most of their freedom.

When you introduce fear foods to your teen, you will probably feel anxious. Your teen will too. You may even feel like you are going back a step. This is how exposure works—it is supposed to raise your teen’s anxiety. When your teen avoids these fear foods, their anxiety decreases, reinforcing the avoidant behavior and justifying the anxiety response. This perpetuates both the emotion and the behavior. But the food is not truly dangerous—if the teen were to eat the food, they would learn that nothing catastrophic happens. In exposure, the teen is required to eat the food, and the anxiety response shows itself to be baseless. With repeated exposure, the brain habituates, learns that the food is not harmful, and loses the anxiety response.

Exposure works through repetition over a sustained period of time—not all at once. It’s likely that each food on your teen’s feared list will need to be presented several times before the thought of eating it no longer causes extreme anxiety.

You may feel that requiring your teen to eat candy is extreme. However, remember: the healthy part of your teen probably wants to eat candy, but the eating disorder would beat them up if they ate it willingly. By requiring your teen to eat candy, you are actually granting your teen permission to eat it—permission they are unable to grant themselves. After recovery, many teens report that they really wanted the fear food but were too afraid—it was only when their parents made them eat it that they were able to.

And I would argue that fearlessness in the face of candy is important for your child. So be brave about facing potentially increased resistance by your teen and model facing your own fear.

Here’s How to Incorporate Candy During Halloween:

  1. Choose a few types of candy based on your teen’s preferences about three years before they developed their eating disorder. (If you can’t remember, ask one of their siblings or just pick a few options, maybe one chocolate-based and a non-chocolate alternative.) Make your choice based on providing your teen with the typical American teen experience. (American teens will typically collect a lot of candy on Halloween, have a few pieces that night, and then have candy as snacks a few times during the following week.)
  2. You may choose to tell your teen about the candy ahead of time or not. Some families find that telling teens about exposure to fear foods ahead of time is helpful; other families find that it is better to just present a fear food without warning. But note that you are not required to ask their permission; FBT is a parent-driven treatment.
  3. Serve a single serving of candy during dessert or snack a few times during the week of Halloween. Plan carefully and be thoughtful. Do this with the same resolve that you use when you serve them any starches or proteins. You may want to introduce the candy on a day when you feel more confident, will have more time to manage potential resistance, or can be sure a second caregiver will be present. You may not want to present candy, or any fear food, before an event that you are not willing to miss in case you encounter an extreme reaction.
  4. If your teen binges or purges, make sure to sit with them for an hour after they eat the candy.
  5. Plan for what will happen if your teen refuses to eat the candy. For example, will you offer something else instead and try the candy again tomorrow? Offer a reward for eating the candy? Create a consequence for noncompletion? Whatever you decide, be consistent and follow through.

If you do this-this year, there is a good chance that by next Halloween your teen will be eating candy independently!

Is the (Eating Disorder) Treatment Your Child is Getting FBT?

When new families talk to me about Family-Based Treatment (FBT), I often find that they are confused about what it is and what it isn’t.

FBT is a type of evidence-based treatment for adolescent eating disorders. This treatment was developed at the Maudsley Hospital in London in the 1970s and 1980s; Doctors Lock and Le Grange manualized it into its current form in 2001. Because of its name, FBT is often confused with more general “family therapy.” Be careful, because these are not the same thing—while both involve the family, FBT is a very specific, behaviorally-focused therapy.

While a treatment that includes some elements of FBT—but falls short of the full manualized treatment—may work for some eating disorder cases, it may not work for more difficult cases. When FBT doesn’t work it is important to know whether the child has had an adequate course of the true treatment in its evidence-based form. This can be tricky—in the field of psychotherapy, most therapists identify as eclectic, meaning they adhere to no single therapeutic orientation but combine techniques from several (just scroll through any Psychology Today therapist profile to get a taste for how many different theoretical approaches most therapists endorse). We don’t yet know which elements of FBT are critical to its efficacy and make it such a successful treatment. This would take expensive dismantling studies in which different partial treatments are tested against each other. Except for studies documenting a separated FBT (where only the parents attend sessions), no such study has been cited in the literature. Until we have good evidence that suggests otherwise, treatments that stay true to the original, already-tested treatments are the safest bet.

I once worked with a patient with panic disorder who had had previous treatment. He told me that his previous therapist had conducted cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), widely accepted as the best evidence-based treatment for panic disorder. When I dug deeper, I found that his therapy had included no exposure to the sensations of panic—considered to be the core element of CBT treatment for panic disorder.  Instead, the treatment had focused on discussing his anxiety thoughts—a very different protocol. From this experience I learned to inquire carefully about the treatment my patients have previously received before accepting that it cannot work for them.

So it is with Family-Based Treatment. Sometimes parents tell me that they think they tried FBT but are not sure. If your child was treated in an academic center, it’s more likely they got the evidence-based treatment of FBT in its full form. However, some parents who tell me that FBT didn’t work also tell me:

  • They did FBT on their own, with no therapeutic support
  • They had meals with their child, but that the therapist met primarily with the adolescent alone
  • They didn’t supervise all meals because their child resisted it. 

In each of these situations, it is obvious to me that the treatment is not what I would consider FBT. And while it is true that including some aspects of FBT or even a “watered down” FBT may be better than no FBT or parent inclusion at all, it’s important to know whether your child had the real thing or not, especially if they end up needing more or different treatment.

Often, parents who tell me they struggled with renourishing a child on their own find that things go much better once they started working with me or another therapist. That’s not to say that parents should never try to renourish a teen on their own—just that supporting a child with an eating disorder is extremely hard work and best done with the support and guidance of a professional at their side.

Signs Your Child Received FBT

Accordingly, I created the checklist below for parents to determine whether the treatment their child received (or is receiving) is really FBT. To how many of the following statements can you answer “YES” (the more the better)?

  • My therapist received training through the Training Institute for Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders.
    • The basic training is a 2-day workshop. Have they attended one?
    • Have they received or are they receiving clinical consultation or supervision by a staff member of the institute?
    • Are they certified in FBT by the Training Institute (meaning they have completed the 2-day training and received 25 hours of consultation by a staff member around their treatment of 5 patients)?
  • My therapist owns, seems familiar with, and refers to the FBT treatment manual.
  • My therapist refers to and acknowledges the three phases of FBT:
    • Phase 1 —full parental control
    • Phase 2 — a gradual return of control to the teen
    • Phase 3 —establishing healthy independence
  • My therapist is familiar with the work of Drs. James Lock and Daniel Le Grange, developers of the FBT treatment.
  • My therapist adheres to the five principles of FBT:
    • I was specifically told I was responsible for restoring my teen nutritionally and interrupting behaviors that interfere with recovery (including bingeing, purging, and overexercise). I was specifically told I was responsible for planning, preparing, serving, and supervising all meals.
    • I was told we don’t know for sure what causes an eating disorder and it doesn’t matter.
    • Initial attention of treatment focused solely on restoring health including weight gain and stopping eating disorder behaviors.
    • Rather than being given prescriptive tasks, I was empowered to play an active role and to discover those strategies that worked best for my family and the child whom I know best.
    • I was taught to externalize the illness and see it as an outside force that has hijacked my child, threatens his or her life, and makes my child do things he or she wouldn’t normally do. My child did not choose the eating disorder.
  • I have had a family meal at the therapist’s office.
  • My therapist spends most of the time with the full family, meeting only briefly with the adolescent alone at the beginning of the session (or in the case of “separated FBT,” all of the time with parents).
  • My therapist or another member of the treatment team tracks my child’s weight and gives me feedback after every weigh-in on how he or she is doing.
  • I was specifically told I am responsible for supervising all meals and snacks to ensure completion. If purging has been a problem, I was told to supervise the child after eating to prevent purging.
  • If my child has been exercising excessively, I was told to prevent this.
  • After weight was restored and bingeing and purging and other behaviors had ceased, my therapist guided me in gradually returning my teen control over their own eating.
  • I was told it was important to be direct with my teen about eating adequate amounts of food.
  • My therapist discusses the importance of both “state” and weight to recovery—meaning my therapist explains that weight recovery is a step towards psychological recovery, but not an end goal in itself.

Dead giveaways your child did not get FBT

Below are some indicators that your child might not have “gotten FBT” and might be receiving some conflicting messages:

  • I have been told that we, the parents, had caused the eating disorder.
  • My therapist spends the majority of therapy time alone with the teen.
  • My therapist spends a lot of time talking about the past and reasons my child wanted, needed, or otherwise developed the disorder.
  • A dietitian has met alone with my teen and given him or her nutritional recommendations.
  • My child has been given a meal plan.
  • I have been told that it is an option to not supervise all meals or prevent all purging.
  • The FBT therapist has provided individual CBT, DBT, or ACT with the teen during the weight restoration phase.
  • I have been told from the start of treatment to “not be the food police” (in FBT, this might happen toward the end of treatment, or in Phase 2 with an older teen).
  • My child has been in charge of making his or her own meals from the outset of treatment.

Summary

In conclusion, FBT has been proven to be the most effective treatment for adolescents in clinical trials. That said, not every treatment works for everyone. In my opinion, it is best to start with something that has a backing and then try something else if that doesn’t work. When you have sought out an evidence-based treatment, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the treatment in its researched form.

August 2018 LACPA Eating Disorder SIG Event

Jaye Azoff, Psy.D., Los AngelesDate: Wednesday, August 22nd at 7:30 pm

Presenter: Jaye Azoff, Psy.D.

Title: The Anatomy of a Recovery

Description: Recovery from anorexia nervosa (AN) follows an unpredictable, windy path. Rarely does it come quick; there is no single trajectory, no infallible indicators of how a treatment will play out. Opinions about the recovery process vary, depending on whose perspective is being sought. The patient—the former patient—sees it one way—but there is no guarantee that the opinions of others, therapists, partners, loved ones, will concur.

This talk addresses the question in a unique fashion. A patient: a former patient, (a doctoral level psychologist) will share her account of a treatment that unfolded over roughly twenty years.

Several points will be discussed. Importantly, the former patient will consider 1) briefly, the etiology of her illness (and we will assume a basic understanding of eating disorders here); 2) briefly, how (some) of the various treatments were directed and integrated across the multi-disciplinary teams (and throughout the years) 3) how her protests and resistances—and there were many— were met, and with what explanations 4) most importantly, looking back, what aspects of this treatment are now recalled as influential, elements seen in a positive light, elements perceived as detrimental.

Perhaps most important for the purposes of this discussion is the concept of the “power struggle” – that all too familiar war our patients learn over years of treatment with us to get into with themselves which then becomes acted out with their caregivers. How can we as treaters do better at not engaging, and shift the power and responsibility back into their hands?

Namely, how can we teach them that if they are to get well, it will be because they choose to get well? How do we teach them that they “win” nothing by restricting their snack for an evening or vomiting their dinner because they feel hurt over something we as clinicians might have said or done to them? These are complicated constructs, but not impossible ones, and by using Dr. Azoff’s past as a case vignette, we might be able to chisel away at some of the answers.

Bio: Jaye Azoff, Psy.D., has been practicing in the fields of clinical psychology and neuropsychology since 2008, when she graduated from the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles, where she trained under the Health Emphasis Track. Dr. Azoff did most of her field training at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Keck School of Medicine, where she practiced in the hematology/oncology neural tumors unit and trained in many roles over nearly eight years, eventually advancing to become the team’s neuropsychology fellow. It was Dr. Azoff’s own recovery from an eating disorder that propelled her forward and launched her into the eating disorders field. Currently, she is an eating disorders consultant, and she is the owner and operator of Basik Concierge, the world’s only boutique concierge firm offering wraparound services for individuals with eating disorders and their families. She is also the In-House Clinical Consultant for the Kantor and Kantor law firm, which fervently works to attain treatment for individuals with eating disorders struggling to gain access to care. Dr. Azoff is a past board member of the Eating Disorders Coalition. She is a sought-after speaker, having formally addressed the United States Congress in the Spring of 2013, and travels nationally to speak to patients and families affected by eating disorders, as well as delivers in-services to clinicians and other individuals eager to learn about various topics related to eating disorders. 

Location:  The office of Dr. Lauren Muhlheim (4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 245, Los Angeles) – free parking in the lot (enter on Highland)

RSVP to:  drmuhlheim@gmail.com

SIG meetings are open to all LACPA members.  Nonmembers wishing to attend may join LACPA by visiting our website www.lapsych.org

Are We Setting Recovery Weights Too Low?

 

At the recent International Conference on Eating Disorders in Chicago, I attended a plenary, Recovery from an Eating Disorder: How Do We Define It? What Does It Look Like? And Should It Always be the Focus? During this plenary, Anna Bardone-Cone, PhD spoke about the essential components of recovery from an eating disorder. She indicated that definitions of recovery should include the following three domains and proposed the following criteria for each domain of eating disorder recovery:

  • Physical — defined as BMI greater than 18.5
  • Behavioral— defined as absence of any binge eating, vomiting, laxative use, or fasting within the past 3 months
  • Cognitive — defined as EDE-Q subscales within 1 standard deviation of age-matched community norms.

Hold on a second—the weight criterion used to define recovery from anorexia nervosa in most studies is a BMI of only 18.5?

Most in the full plenary room agreed that for anorexia nervosa recovery, a BMI of 18.5 is too low a criterion to declare all people recovered. I agree with Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, who made the following tweets:

  • Isn’t it possible that by setting target weights at the low end of the tail we are holding patients in chronic mental illness.
  • Setting low, population-based weight targets for ALL EATING DISORDERS means weight suppression and malnourishment and prevents psychiatric recovery for all but those who are genetically designed to be in smaller bodies, IMO.

I totally agree. If we now acknowledge that anorexia can occur in people of higher weights—a phenomenon often, and problematically, called “Atypical Anorexia”—then shouldn’t a BMI target as low as 18.5 be abandoned in favor of individualized recovery weights?

In fact, weight suppression researcher Michael Lowe was present at the plenary.  During the Q&A he proposed that rather than using a categorical definition of weight recovery (a single BMI number) we should use a continuum—for example, the recovered patient’s BMI relative to their pre-illness BMI.

How Are Recovery Weights Established?

Unfortunately, there is very little consensus on how to determine whether a patient with a restrictive eating disorder is at a recovered or healthy weight. This affects research and practice. If researchers define recovery based on an 18.5 BMI and this weight is really too low for many people with anorexia, what does this mean for the research studies? For one thing, in clinical trials a lower percentage of people would be deemed “recovered”, showing our treatments to be even less successful than we believe them to be.

But it has bigger implications for the potential for patients to truly recover. If we set recovery weights higher, maybe more people will be treated to full recovery. Setting the BMI bar so low means we’re not insisting on full weight recovery for all people. As Laura Collins points out, the effect of this is that only those who are privileged enough to be in genetically smaller bodies may ever actually reach recovery.

And what are the ramifications for practitioners? There may not yet be an established way to determine a recovery weight—consequently, many patients may never recover. If we acknowledge that gaining to a healthy body weight is a prerequisite for full psychological recovery, then we are dooming many people in larger bodies to a life of purgatory in which they remain insufficiently sick to need intensive treatment, but never achieve full recovery.

In one recent paper, Jocelyn Lebow, Leslie A. Sim, and Erin C. Accurso survey 113 child and adolescent eating disorder treatment providers inquiring about the methods used to determine weight restoration in clinical practice. Their findings show:

  • 40.7% of practitioners used growth curve data
  • the remaining (nearly 60%) employed a diverse range of approaches
  • providers who specialize in Family-Based Treatment were significantly more likely to use an individualized approach versus considering adolescent preference

Lebow and colleagues concluded that:

Although there is a modicum of endorsement for using growth curves to predict expected body weight, this is not universal practice and is inconsistent with methods used in treatment studies. The lack of an evidence-based method to calculate expected body weight—or even a best practice consensus for calculating this number—is a major oversight in the field that requires empirical attention.

Why Might Providers Set Recovery Weights Too Low?

What are some of the reasons providers might be setting recovery weights too low?

  • No empirical consensus or guidelines on how to set target weight
  • Lack of available growth records data to determine an individualized recovery weight
  • Financial limitations—insurance companies reduce costs by lower treatment limits, which are facilitated by lower weight goals
  • Client resistance—pushing for higher weights requires overcoming greater resistance and anxiety from the patient and sometimes family over higher weights.
  • Weight stigma—even treatment providers may be susceptible to society’s war on obesity, and consequently may err on the side of under-restoring a teen in recovery.

Over twitter, one mother responded to my conference tweets about an 18.5 BMI recovery goal as being too low and tweeted the following:

  • We need all professionals to understand the need for higher recovery weights. Recovery is about state not weight. So many parents know this but are stuck with uneducated team members who undermine their work.
  • If professionals consider a return to pre-eating disorder growth patterns for height and weight to be weight restoration, we parents are saying wrong. Eating disorder voices are very loud at this weight. We recommend an additional 10% for the first few years of recovery at least. This quiets the eating disorder voice and patients are more likely to stay recovered.
  • I want all current professionals worldwide to understand this. There are so many parents in our international group whose professionals are not getting it. Maybe it has not been studied officially but anecdotally we are seeing this in high numbers. 
  • If it’s not part of their training, providers should at least listen to and support parents in this. We are committed to our kids’ recovery every bit as they are. 
  • It takes parents a while to get it too. It’s frustrating for professionals when parents undermine. I was horrified at the first proposed recovery weight and was afraid of my child being made fat. But I got educated pretty quickly, opened my eyes and realized I needed to take it further in order to achieve full recovery.

Stephanie Zerwas, Ph.D. (not at the conference) chimed in over Twitter and asked the parent:

  • What language helped you as a parent to “get it? Parents often have a belief that being a little underweight can help their child not worry about weight gain, not realizing that it keeps kids stuck in limbo and hypervigilant.

The parent responded:

  • What helped us parents “get it” was seeing those in our support group brave enough to take their kids to higher weights reporting their kids’ eating disorder voices finally quiet down. We keep repeating state, not weight = recovery and realized goal weights are set mostly too low 
  • Too many parents are upset that eating disorder professionals are saying their kids are recovered and not listening to them when they say their kids are still vulnerable, using behaviors, and need to be a higher weight. This is the power of parent groups. We know this needs to change. 
  • Parents also not understanding weight restoration is a moving target. They come to our group stating their child is weight restored and still struggling and often clinging to a weight goal given years ago. There is no “Weight Restored” in eating disorder recovery only “state restored.” 
  • We are seeing this extra 10% to be effective in many of our children who still struggle with eating disorder behaviors at 100% pre-illness percentile of growth. In the meantime, if patients are still struggling and parents want this, we should be supported. But yes, bring on the studies!!

What Do Parents Say About Recovery Weights?

So, believing that parents do indeed know their children best and are an untapped resource to study this further, I took to Twitter to ask parents to share their experiences about recovery weights being set too low. I got an overwhelming response. Below are some excerpts of what parents sent to me:

  • At her lowest weight, our daughter was BMI of 21.9. Our doctor told us “she is not at an anorexic weight.” She is currently BMI 31.6. We felt she was finally starting to shift her thinking when she was at around a BMI of 29.5.
  • When my daughter was 17, she lost 25 pounds. At her lowest, her BMI never fell below 20. Yet she was extremely ill. After she had regained about 14 pounds, her period returned, but her “state” was still awful. She is now in a range of BMI 25.5 to 26. The difference this last 5 pounds has made had been amazing. Her level of insight and flexibility is much higher. Amazingly, the higher her weight, the happier she is with herself and her body. Reflecting back, I am grateful that no one told us she was “recovered” when she got her period back. She needed to get and stay back up to the 80 to 85%ile as per her personal growth curve. At the age of 19.75 she grew another .25 inch. If that isn’t proof she needed more weight, I don’t know what is! I hear so many stories in our group of parents being told to stop refeeding too early. Teams are generally not comfortable pushing weights back up to or above personal growth curves. We are lucky our team was an exception! In our online support group, we have seen time and time again that higher weights make a difference. And the extra weight generally comes with little risk.
  • My daughter was diagnosed at the age of 10.5 with anorexia. The original goal was to get my daughter at a BMI of 15.5 to a BMI of 18. In the next 2.5 years my daughter needed 6000 calories a day and a very high fat diet. She grew nearly 9 inches, went through full puberty, and doubled her initial body weight. Once her growth slowed and her metabolism went down and stabilized, we were able to get her weight up to around a BMI of 22 and that is when we saw TRUE RECOVERY begin. She began to eat “extra.” She began to ask for things. She began to be able to eat independently. Over the last 4 years she has put on around 20 to 25 pounds on her own, naturally. Her BMI is now around 24 – 25 and she is in a 100% solid recovery. She eats intuitively, independently, and reports being free of the eating disorder voice. Fats, high calories, and a MUCH higher weight were essential to getting our daughter into recovery. If I would have listened to the “experts” I believe she would still be struggling.  
  • My daughter was 24.2 BMI at 13 years old when she started exercising excessively and then restricting. She lost a quarter of her body weight in 7 months and our new pediatrician told her to gain 10 pounds and come back in 6 weeks. We fed her 6 times for a total of 4000 calories a day. She finally got her period at BMI 21.8 and within a few months, her anxiety was high and the team suggested it was time to start exercising. My online support group spent a long time helping me understand my own fat phobia and really worked to help me set a higher target weight. My daughter grew another three inches. She is now BMI 23.5 and this is the healthiest I have ever seen her. If I had listened to the specialists, she would be just as sick as she was before.  
  • At her lowest weight and her sickest, my daughter’s BMI was 19.3. We saw improvements in her state once she was over 25 BMI and in the “overweight” range. Had I allowed a reduction in her food intake at 23 BMI when it was suggested to me, my daughter would have been in a perpetual eating disorder purgatory.
  • My daughter’s current BMI is 24.6. Lower than that or increasing muscle over fat, it is as if her body goes into ‘starvation mode’ and she gets all silly and cranky and her period is delayed.
  • My son was given a target BMI of 19 by his clinician. This was not from a growth chart, it was from a generic BMI chart. My son was still very unwell at that BMI. Thoughts were very strong, and the desire to restrict was high. He was living a half-life, tormented with the anorexia. He was throwing away his lunch and manipulating weight. His clinician was adamant that he did not need more weight, and did not need more food, although I could see he was actually starving. She would not support me to take his weight higher or increase his meal plan. My online support group warned me that this was a common mistake with clinicians. I got my son (with great difficulty, after the clinician had insisted lower was okay), to a BMI of 24. We have never looked back. We have our kid back, he is 16 years old, he is in very strong recovery for some time now. I know the extra weight is what he needed to see recovery. He is living a normal teen life now, is happy and fully functional. We are into year 3 now, and he still needs 3 meals and 2 snacks per day of at least 4000 calories to stay in recovery. We owe our son’s recovery to the wonderful advice from parents that had been in our situation before us. They knew from other parents before them that a generic BMI figure is not recovery. Recovery is a state and not a weight. It makes perfect sense too. After all we do not expect everybody to have the same shoe size.  
  • My daughter was diagnosed approximately 18 months ago with Atypical Anorexia and was very unwell at a BMI of 19. I joined a support group just prior to her entering into treatment. In large part due to the anecdotal advice and experience of others in the group, I was of the firm belief that we needed to weight restore my girl to her own individual weight, not to a particular BMI or any particular upper number. Fortunately, our team was happy for me to take the lead with this approach, and we encouraged weight gain to wherever her behaviors began to abate and her weight settled naturally on its own, with NO reduction in intake. This ended up being at a BMI of around 26, which I do not believe most clinicians would encourage. However, I truly do have my happy girl back and I do not regret any one of those extra kilos. Her body has settled at a weight at which her mind is very well. I believe that if we had been given an upper number that she couldn’t go above, that we would have trapped her in her anorexia needlessly for so much longer.
  • My daughter did not seem to actually begin true recovery until she was at 23.5 BMI.  This was higher than the professionals in her life seemed comfortable with, but I proceeded with semi-confidence (having seen the results of higher weights in other patients, through their carers’ stories) and was never challenged.  Before this higher BMI she struggled so much with ED thoughts and behaviors – very little could get through to her…. therapy, talking, coaching, none was very helpful… only FOOD, in larger amounts that some professionals recommend (specifically with regards to fats – avocados, ghee/butter, olive oil).  At 23.5 something seemed to just “lift”.  She began to be able to participate for herself. She still had many ED behaviors and thoughts, but could push them aside much of the time.  She lost most of her body image issues, and began asking for food outside of the meal plan – especially things she used to enjoy (chocolate, etc.).  Unbelievably, she began asking for MORE food. Consensus among carers in the groups seems to be that 22-25 BMI is where most sufferers see true strides in recovery.  It is very, very rare that BMI under 22 is successful, at least when polled on the peer-to-peer carer support groups.  Most often, it seems as though 23-24 is the “sweet spot” for many.  My daughter has remained at this BMI (just shy of 24) for almost 6 months.

Summary of Recovery BMI

One online support group did their own survey: ” at what BMI did you see real recovery?”

Here are the responses ( note that most were given a target bmi of 19 by their clinician, and had to fight against that, or had to walk away from their provider to get their child into recovery)

BMI 21-22      4

BMI 22            3

BMI 22-23      4

BMI 23            1

BMI 23-34      5

BMI 24            4

BMI 24-25      4

BMI 25            4

So out of 29 respondents,  none got their kid into recovery at BMI 19 OR 20.

A Survey For Parents

I think this is an important issue that deserves more attention. I am working with the same researchers who did the above study to more formally study parents’ perceptions of their childrens’ recovery.

And now, I am proud to announce that study is underway, so we can continue to learn from your parental wisdom. We hope you will participate in the study.

Sources

Jocelyn Lebow, Leslie A. Sim & Erin C. Accurso (2017): Is there clinical consensus in defining weight restoration for adolescents with anorexia nervosa?, Eating Disorders, DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2017.1388664

How To Choose A Supplemental Nutrition Shake

Nutritional Supplements for Eating Disorder Recovery - Katie Grubiak, RDN By Katie Grubiak, RDN

In a previous post, we discussed the role of supplemental nutritional shakes in eating disorder recovery. Sometimes, patients in recovery will be unable to restore their nutrition entirely with food. In these cases, the use of supplements can be invaluable. If you or a loved one are restoring nutrition from an eating disorder, you should be under the care of a medical doctor (MD) & registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

In this post, we will continue the discussion about supplements, comparing different supplement brands based on caloric density per ounce, macronutrient comparison (fat, carbohydrates, protein), and label advertising. Lastly, we’ll rate them for taste and palatability.

Caloric Density

Substantial caloric density per ounce is the most important factor in the selection of a liquid supplement. To optimize replacing calories in a meal, we recommended selecting a product that delivers at least 300 calories per 8- to 11-ounce serving. Any under-300 calorie product is insufficient to replace a meal or even a majority of a meal for someone in recovery from an eating disorder, and should instead be treated as a calorically dense beverage to be added alongside a meal or snack. Alternatively, multiple shakes—2 or 3—can together replace a meal.

Serving size is important. Any product that comes in serving sizes larger than 11 ounces has the risk of being too filling—someone recovering from an eating disorder may not finish it, meaning that the precious calories will never be delivered.

Macronutrient Comparison

A comprehensive liquid supplement should be evaluated against the same dietary recommendations as a normal meal. The caloric nutrients or “macronutrients” that we hope to balance in a meal are protein, carbohydrates (carbs), and dietary fat. The goal is that supplements have a macronutrient profile similar to a balanced plate.

Macronutrients are often measured in terms of “exchanges”:

  • Fats: One dietary fat exchange equals 5 grams of fat. A recovery meal is often recommended to include at least two to four fat exchanges. Aim for 10-20 grams fat in an 8-11 ounce supplement.
  • Carbohydrates: One carb exchange equates to 15 grams of total carbohydrates. Meals in recovery are recommended to include at least two to four carb exchanges. Aim for 30-60 grams total carbs in an 8-11 ounce supplement.
  • Protein: One ounce of meat, chicken, or fish equates to one protein exchange, or 7 grams of protein. Meal building suggestions for animal or vegetarian protein sources are usually anywhere from two to four exchanges. Aim for 14-28 grams protein in an 8-11 ounce supplement serving.

I don’t advise comparing micronutrients—the trace amounts of added vitamins and minerals—among products because this is not important when the goal is increased intake. Instead, stay focused on the caloric constitution of a supplement including its macronutrient profile so that the primary objective of ensuring weight gain or maintenance is achieved.

Ingredients

Products labels can sometimes bear so much “health” messaging that it can be difficult to pull out what is truly important. One product label claims a better, more natural ingredient; another vouches it is more “non”-something than any other product…. This can get confusing!

To streamline the process, we recommend starting off with identifying whether or not the product is dairy free. This is an important concern for people who keep Kosher, are lactose intolerant, or have a milk protein allergy. Look specifically to see if the product says dairy-free, or suitable for lactose intolerance (might have dairy/lactose but in low concentrations). If you have a milk protein allergy, specifically screen for such ingredients as milk protein concentrate, casein (all forms), whey (in all forms), & milk (in all forms).

Second: identify whether or not gluten is an issue for you. You only need to do this if you have a known gluten issue diagnosed by a medical professional—for most people, gluten is a harmless component of a normal diet. If gluten is an issue, check to see whether the supplement is labeled gluten-free.

Third: check the label for any other known food allergy ingredient.

Last, check the “Nutrition Facts” on the back label for calorie and macronutrient comparison. I suggest stopping there and not diving into a deeper ingredient comparison. Any scrutinizing beyond this is unimportant and likely giving the eating disorder too much power. In the end, this kind of label attention diverts from the true function of the use of supplementation in eating disorder recovery—to replace calorically a substantial meal with a concentrated liquid when all or partial meal cannot be consumed.

To reiterate, your primary considerations when choosing a supplement are caloric density and macronutrient profile. Weight maintenance and weight gain comes from calories—not from the presence of more natural ingredients or the absence of processed ones. It’s understandable to want to use a supplement that checks off every box marked “healthy”—but this can add fuel to the eating disorder’s fire.

Labeling is part of the product—you can’t avoid it. But you don’t have to let the eating disorder make choices based on irrelevant labeling information that appeases its instincts. When you provide a supplement to a family member in recovery, you can always remove or cover up the label, or simply pour it into a cup, to reduce a triggering reaction.

 

EDTLA reviewed a number of supplement brands and taste-tested some of them. Taste was rated on a scale of 1 (yuck) to 10 (yum). Each brand has numerous product variations in its lineup—we were not able to review every variety. Note that many drugstore and grocery chains carry their own store brands – of these, we included Rite Aid, CVS, and Kroger in our analysis and tasting.

 

Ensure Product Family

Ensure brand nutritional supplementsEnsure Original

Product positioning: #1 doctor recommended brand, kosher, gluten-free, suitable for lactose intolerance, not for people with galactosemia

Calories: 220 calories per 8-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 6 g fat, 33 g total carbs, 9 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: corn maltodextrin, sugar. Protein sources: milk protein concentrate. Fat sources: canola oil, corn oil

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Not tasted

Ensure Plus

Product positioning: 50% more calories than Ensure Original, gluten-free, suitable for lactose intolerance, not for people with galactosemia, balanced nutrition to help gain or maintain a healthy weight, kosher, gluten-free, suitable for lactose intolerance

Calories: 350 calories per 8-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 11 g fat, 50 g total carbs, 13 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: corn maltodextrin, sugar. Protein sources: milk protein concentrate, soy protein isolate. Fat sources: blend of vegetable oils (canola, corn).

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Chocolate flavor 8; Strawberry flavor 7; Vanilla flavor 8

 

Ensure Enlive

Product positioning: designed to help rebuild your strength and energy from the inside, with an ALL-IN-ONE blend to support your health. The label claims bone, muscle, heart, digestion, & immune support, flavored-natural & artificially flavored, suitable for lactose intolerance, gluten-free, kosher, not for people with galactosemia

Calories: 350 calories per 8-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 11 g fat, 44 g total carbs, 20 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: corn syrup, sugar, short chain fructo-oligosaccharides. Protein sources: milk protein concentrate, sodium caseinate, soy protein isolate, whey protein concentrate. Fat sources: corn oil, canola oil.

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Strawberry flavor 8

 

Ensure Clear

Product positioning: great-tasting, clear liquid nutrition drink that contains high-quality protein and essential nutrients, fat free, gluten-free, suitable for lactose intolerance

Calories: 200 calories per 6.8-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 0 g fat, 43 g total carbs, 7 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: sugar, corn syrup solids. Protein sources: whey protein isolate

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Apple flavor 8. Also available in mixed berry (not tasted)

 

Boost brand nutritional supplementsBoost Product Family

Boost

Product positioning: a great-tasting nutritional drink as a mini-meal or between-meal snack with 26 vitamins & minerals, 3 g of fiber, & 10 g of high quality protein, gluten-free, suitable for lactose intolerance, not for individuals with galactosemia, kosher

Calories: 240 calories per 8-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 4 g fat, 41 g total carbs, 10 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: corn syrup, sugar, fructo-oligosaccharides. Protein sources: milk protein concentrate, soy protein isolate. Fat sources: vegetable oil (canola, high oleic sunflower, corn)

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Not tasted

 

Boost Plus

Product positioning: helping to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, 3 g fiber, 26 vitamins & minerals, gluten-free, suitable for lactose intolerance, not suitable for people with galactosemia, kosher

Calories: 360 calories per 8-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 14 g fat, 45 g total carbs, 14 g protein.

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: corn syrup, sugar. Protein sources: protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, fructo-oligosaccharides. Fat sources: vegetable oil (canola, high oleic sunflower oil, corn)

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Chocolate flavored 6; Vanilla flavored 5

 

Boost Breeze

Product positioning: a convenient source of additional protein & calories in a fruit-flavored drink, suitable for lactose intolerance, gluten-free, kosher, not for individuals with galactosemia

Calories: 250 calories per 8-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 0 g fat, 54 g total carbs, 9 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: sugar, corn syrup. Protein sources: whey protein isolate (milk)

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Peach flavored 7 (“like peach Snapple”); Berry flavored 6 (“like Hi-C”), Orange flavor 3 (“medicine like”)

 

Store brand nutritional supplementsStore Brands

Rite Aid Original Nutrition Shake

Product positioning: advertised compare to Ensure, natural & artificial flavors, gluten free, suitable for lactose intolerance, not for people with galactosemia, kosher

Calories: 220 calories per 8-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 6 g fat, 33 g total carbs, 9 g protein.

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: corn maltodextrin, sugar, sucromalt. Protein sources: milk protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, pea protein concentrate. Fat sources: soy oil, canola oil

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Chocolate flavored 6

 

CVS Nutritional Shake

Product positioning: – naturally & artificially flavored, made with real diafiltered milk, gluten free, suitable for lactose intolerance, kosher

Calories: 220 calories per 8-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 6 g fat, 33 g total carbs, 9 g protein.

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: sugar, brown rice syrup, corn maltodextrin, sucromalt. Protein sources: milk protein concentrate, soy protein concentrate. Fat sources: soy oil, canola oil, corn oil. Diafiltered skim milk contributes to carbs & protein amount simultaneously.

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Milk chocolate flavor (not tasted)

 

Kroger Nutrition Shake Fortify Plus

Product positioning: -advertised as to help gain or maintain a healthy weight & kosher, naturally & artificially sweetened milk chocolate

Calories: 350 calories per 8-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 11g fat, 50 g total carbs, 13 g protein.

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: corn maltodextrin, sugar. Protein sources: milk protein, soy protein isolate. Fat sources: corn oil, canola oil.

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Chocolate flavored 6

 

Orgain brand nutritional supplementsOrgain Organic Nutrition Product Family

Product positioning: weight management, meal replacement, or for medical needs;-also gluten-free, soy-free, non-GMO, high protein, organic & kosher.

Complete Protein Shake-Sweet Vanilla Bean

Designated as Grass Fed Dairy

Calories: 250 calories per 11-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 7 g fat, 32 g total carbs, 16 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: organic brown rice syrup, organic cane sugar, organic rice dextrins. Protein sources: organic grass fed milk, protein concentrate, organic whey protein concentrate. Fat sources: organic high oleic sunflower oil

EDTLA TASTE RATING: 4

 

Plant Based Protein Shake-Smooth Chocolate

Designated as Vegan & Dairy Free

Calories: 220 calories per 11-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 6 g fat, 25 g total carbs, 16 g protein.

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: organic rice dextrins, organic cane sugar. Protein sources: organic brown rice protein concentrate, organic hemp protein concentrate, organic chia seeds, organic flax powder. Fat sources: organic high oleic sunflower oil

EDTLA TASTE RATING: 4

 

Kate Farms Product Family

Product Positioning: certified gluten free, free of common allergens (no milk, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish), corn-free, 18 g plant based protein, MCT oil in some varieties, 29 superfoods, kosher. Contains organic ingredients. Kate Farms is a family start-up company based on the love and re-nourishment of a daughter with Cerebral Palsy. This is a great choice if looking for a multi-tiered caloric supplement company that is non-dairy and has alternative macronutrient sources than the mainstream brands. Kate Farms Core Essential Formulas may be covered by insurance for oral use and tube feeding. Coverage depends on the patient’s diagnosis and insurance plan.

 

Komplete

Calories: 290 calories per 11-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 8 g fat, 41 g total carbs, 16 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: brown rice syrup solids, organic agave syrup. Protein sources: organic pea protein, organic rice protein. Fat sources: organic high oleic sunflower oil

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Available in Chocolate/Coffee/Vanilla (not tasted).

 

Core Essentials Standard Formula 1.0 cal/mL:

Calories: 325 calories per 11-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 10 g fat, 41 g total carbs, 18 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: brown rice syrup solids, organic agave syrup. Protein sources: organic pea protein, organic rice protein. Fat sources: organic high linoleic sunflower oil, medium chain triglycerides (MCT) derived from coconut oil.

EDTLA TASTE RATING: 4 chocolate flavor, 2 vanilla flavor “chalky”

 

Core Essentials Peptide Plus 1.5 cal/mL:

Calories: 500 calories per 11-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 25 g fat, 41 g total carbs, 24 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: brown rice syrup solids, organic agave syrup. Protein sources: organic hyrolyzed pea protein, organic rice protein. Fat sources: organic sunflower oil, medium chain triglycerides (MCT) derived from coconut oil, organic flax seed oil.

EDTLA TASTE RATING: Plain flavor 1 (perhaps best not to drink alone but add to a shake or mix in foods for extreme nutrient density or just use in tube feedings)

 

Other Brands/Products

Benecalorie brand nutritional supplementsBenecalorie

Product positioning: calorie and protein food enhancer, mixes easily into most foods & beverages including milkshakes/yogurt/hot cereal/mash potatoes, unflavored, suitable for lactose intolerance, gluten-free, kosher, not for people with galactosemia, not recommended for tube feeding (not a liquid)

Calories: 330 calories per 1.5-ounce serving

Macronutrients: 33 g fat, 0 g total carbs, 7 g protein

Ingredients: Carbohydrate sources: no carbohydrates but does contain the artificial sweetener sucralose. Protein sources: calcium caseinate from milk. Fat sources: high oleic sunflower oil

EDTLA TASTE RATING: By itself: not tasted. Mixed into oatmeal as suggested 7 (“not a significant change in taste or texture of oatmeal”)

 

I hope this review is helpful and provides encouragement to venture into supplements if recommended by your treatment team.