There’s no getting around it: Eating disorder recovery is hard. It takes a mental, emotional, and physical toll. And, it can be really difficult to eat enough, or figure out what to eat, every single day. (As an eating disorder dietitian, I’ve found this to be true across all eating disorders. Even folks with binge eating disorder tend to eat far too little throughout the day for recovery, which keeps them in the binge-restrict cycle.) In particular, it can be hard to figure out snacks for eating disorder recovery.
I’m often talking about snack ideas with clients who struggle to eat enough during the day. They’re busy at work or at school, or they’re running around and don’t have easy access to food. Here’s some insight into why it’s important to snack during eating disorder recovery, what a snack might look like, and some eating disorder recovery snack ideas to try.
(And psst…if you’re struggling with an eating disorder, working with a dietitian is such an important part of recovery. We offer non-diet nutrition counseling to folks across several states, and we’re in-network with most Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans! Go here to request an appointment.)
Why is it important to snack during eating disorder recovery?
Everyone’s eating disorder and recovery process is a bit different (even with the same diagnosis). That means there’s no universal meal plan that everyone follows. Everyone’s food and energy needs are different as well, so what works for one person might not work for another.
Generally, though, it’s important to eat roughly every three hours (or more, if your dietitian recommends it!). Most folks in recovery will probably eat at least six times per day to stay nourished (and to restore their weight, if that’s necessary).
Snacks provide energy and make it easier to hit your energy and nutrient goals during recovery. Having solid, energy-dense snack options can also give you a little more flexibility with meals, since you’ll be getting extra nutrients throughout the day.
What makes a good eating disorder recovery snack?
If you’re in an inpatient eating disorder treatment program, you’ll probably be assigned a meal plan based on exchanges. That means eating a certain number of servings from each food group at each meal. This approach is helpful in a treatment center and works for some people at home, but others find it too difficult to stick to.
I like using the Plate- by-Plate Approach® with most clients. Instead of building meals based on exchanges, it’s a visual approach to meals and snacks. Meals are served on a 10-inch plate. For most people, half of that plate will be filled with a starchy carb, one quarter with protein, and one quarter with fruits or vegetables, plus a visible serving of fat (like a pat of butter, spoonful of peanut butter, or handful of nuts) and a serving of dairy.
The Plate- by-Plate Approach® has a similarly simple approach to snacks. Each snack should include at least two different foods from two different food groups. For people with higher energy needs, a snack might be three different foods.
It’s also important for snacks to be energy-dense (AKA, they need to have enough calories). To make sure snacks are high enough in calories for recovery, I recommend that at least one of the foods in each snack is something more calorie-dense that contains plenty of fat (like nuts, nut butter, full-fat dairy, a higher-fat meat, or an energy bar made with nuts and seeds).
What are some good snacks for eating disorder recovery?
Here are some of the snacks I recommend that my clients keep around to support their eating disorder recovery (or their child’s eating disorder recovery). The type of snack you choose will also probably depend on the situation, so I’ve broken these ideas down into when and where you might eat them.
Eating disorder recovery snacks to keep in your locker, purse, or office drawer:
If you need non-perishable snacks that require very little prep, things like bars, nut mixes, and nut butter are your friend.
1. Clif Builders Bar with raisins
The protein bar offers protein, carbs, and fat, and the raisins add some extra carbs and fiber.
2. Big Sur Bar
Because these bars are high-calorie and made with lots of ingredients (like oats, nuts, raisins, and chocolate chips), it’s OK to eat them by themselves as a snack if you don’t have another food to pair them with. These are especially great if you have to eat a snack quickly between classes or meetings, because all you have to do is unwrap them.
3. Trail mix (made with nuts, granola, M&Ms, and dried fruit)
You can make your own trail mix at home, or buy one of the many available at the supermarket. Trail mix is a great choice because you’re getting so many different foods and nutrients in a single snack, and because it’s energy-dense.
4. Peanut butter sandwich crackers (or cheese sandwich crackers) and a banana
If you like peanut butter crackers or cheese crackers, they’re a great thing to stash in your locker or office drawer. Pair them with a banana for a good mix of nutrients and some between-meal energy.
5. Crunchy granola bar (I love the old-school crunchy Nature Valley bars) with a smear of nut butter
Granola bars are tried-and-true, but most aren’t energy-dense enough to be an adequate eating disorder recovery snack on their own. Try keeping a jar of peanut, almond, or sunflower butter stashed somewhere accessible, and smear a big spoonful on top of your granola bar.
6. Peanut butter and graham crackers
If you’re looking for something a little bit sweet, try sandwiching a big spoonful of peanut butter (or another kind of nut butter) between graham crackers for an energy-dense mix of protein, carbs, and fat.
7. Energy balls made with nuts, dried fruit and other ingredients
You can buy bags of energy bites — like these GFB chocolate-coconut ones — at the grocery store. Or, you can make your own pretty easily with ingredients like peanut butter, oats, raisins, chocolate chips, and nuts. This recipe is easy to customize.
8. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
These are best if you prep them day-of instead of letting them sit in your purse, locker or drawer for ages. But if you have the foresight, a basic PB&J makes a great on-the-go snack.
Eating disorder recovery snacks to keep around if you have a mini-fridge:
If you have access to a fridge at the office or at school, here are some snack ideas that require refrigeration but don’t take tons of prep.
9. A couple string cheeses and some nuts (and maybe a piece of fruit)
String cheese is a great thing to keep on hand if you have a refrigerator. Pair it with nuts for a filling snack, and maybe add an apple or a handful of grapes.
10. Guacamole and tortilla chips
Guacamole makes a great snack because it’s energy-dense and nutrient-rich. Keep some in your fridge at all times, so that you can easily pair it with some tortilla chips — or whatever chip, pretzel or other dipper you want.
11. Hummus and pita chips
If you love savory, crunchy snacks, hummus and pita chips deliver a good combination of protein, carbs, and fat. If you want to add some extra energy, get some flavorful olive oil and stir a big pour into your container of hummus.
12. A mini charcuterie board — cheese, crackers, and salami
Snacks don’t have to be boring or tasteless. Making yourself a mini charcuterie board with a bit of sliced cheese, some salami (or another kind of cured meat, like prosciutto or ham), and a big handful of crackers is quick and fun.
13. A readymade smoothie with protein, like the ones from Bolthouse Farms or Naked.
Smoothies are a great way to get in a blend of nutrients when you’re busy. They’re also fantastic if you don’t have time to snack between meetings or classes, because you can drink them subtly during your meeting/class. Just be sure to look for options that have protein, like the ones from Bolthouse Farms or Naked Juice linked above.
14. A ham and cheese roll-up
If you’d rather a snack that feels more like a meal, try keeping some deli meat and sliced cheese in your fridge, along with some tortillas and maybe a few condiments (like mayo, mustard, or guacamole). For a snack, pile slices of cheese and deli meat on the tortilla, top it with a condiment or two, and roll it up.
Eating disorder recovery snacks to make when you have a full kitchen:
If you’re at home or somewhere else where you have access to a full kitchen and plenty of equipment, the sky is the limit. Snacks can be made from ingredients you have on hand, or you can heat meal leftovers.
15. A plate of leftovers
There are no rules about what can and can’t be a snack. If you have tasty leftovers in the fridge — maybe a pasta dish, some leftover barbecue and beans, a stew, or a noodle stir-fry — heat up a plate or bowlful for a snack.
16. An energy-dense smoothie with nut butter, milk or yogurt, fruit, avocado, and maybe a little oil or ice cream
If you’re struggling to meet your weight restoration goals because you can’t seem to get enough energy throughout the day, a high-calorie smoothie might be just the ticket. Blend classic smoothie ingredients like banana or berries with some milk or yogurt (whole/full-fat is best), a heaping scoop of nut butter, and some ripe avocado. To get the calories higher, blend in some neutral oil (like canola) or use ice cream instead of yogurt.
17. A quesadilla
The best thing about quesadillas is that they can be as simple or as complicated as you want them to be. For a super easy one, fold a big pile of cheese inside a tortilla or two and microwave it until it’s melty. For one that’s nice and crispy, do the same thing but cook it in a pan with some oil instead of the microwave. You can also add cooked meat (like deli meat or leftover chicken/steak/pork) or sliced veggies.
18. A pizza bagel
Buy frozen pizza bagel bites that you can heat in the oven or toaster oven. Or, make your own using a bagel, baguette, naan, an English muffin, or another type of bread. Just top it with some sauce, plenty of mozzarella cheese, and maybe some pepperoni or thinly sliced veggies.
Remember, eating snacks throughout the day is so important for eating disorder recovery.
Our bodies were designed to need food every few hours. This is especially important when you’re recovering from an eating disorder. Be sure to have plenty of snacks on hand so that you’re never caught without one!
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, I can help! I’m a dietitian who takes an anti-diet, body-positive, identity-affirming approach to recovery and healing your relationship with food. . Learn more about nutrition counseling, offered in Raleigh, NC, and virtually to clients in several states. Not ready to commit to counseling but want more information about the anti-diet approach? Subscribe to my weekly newsletter.