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13 Foods for Anorexia Weight Gain: An Anorexia Refeeding Guide

This post provides a practical selection of foods available at Trader Joe’s to aid individuals with anorexia in gaining weight; Acknowledging the challenge of restoring a healthy weight as a crucial aspect of anorexia treatment. Keep reading to learn 13 Foods for Anorexia Weight Gain: An Anorexia Refeeding Guide.

During the recovery journey from anorexia nervosa, refeeding plays a central role in restoring a patient’s weight to a healthy level. While emotional healing is vital, gaining weight is the initial and essential step. Addressing potential medical complications arising from malnutrition and being underweight is paramount, emphasizing the need for regular medical evaluations to ensure the body’s equilibrium is maintained as weight is regained.

Behavioral Changes as a Result of Starvation: The Minnesota Starvation Experiment

Another reason why weight gain should be the first focus with anorexia (as opposed to treating underlying psychological factors) is that many behaviors associated in patients with anorexia are common in behaviors of someone who is starving. In 1944, Ancel Keys conducted an experiment on men who volunteered to participate instead of going to war. This experiment took place over 24 weeks and was designed to produce a roughly 25% weight loss over the course of a 24-week period.  Here are some behavioral changes that resulted:

1) High Increase in Food-Related Obsessions

In this study, one of the most striking changes was the dramatic increase in food preoccupations in the men. This included:

  • Experiencing challenges in maintaining focus on regular activities
  • Engaging in behaviors such as playing with food or creating unusual mixtures
  • Creating “strange concoctions”
  • Adopting prolonged and elaborate eating rituals
  • Developing a newfound fascination with reading and discussing cookbooks, menus, and related topics
  • Finding vicarious satisfaction from observing others eat
  • Devoting significant time throughout the day to meticulously planning the consumption of the allotted food for the day

2) Binge Eating

Another behavioral change that resulted was binge eating in a subgroup of men. Some key observations:

  • Serious binge eating developed in a subgroup
  • Binges were followed by self-blame for having lost control
  • Even during the refeeding phase with access to food, some continued to binge and reported being hungry after a large meal
  • For some, bingeing continued for 6 months or longer

It is important to note that the fact that binge eating was experimentally produced in some of these normal young men suggests that dietary restriction may have been responsible for the binge eating and not emotional problems. In addition, the degree of dietary restriction seen in many anorexic or bulimic individuals is not necessary to produce binge eating. Research has demonstrated that chronic dieters display “marked overcompensation” in eating behavior that is similar to the binge eating seen in ED pts.

3) Emotional and Personality Changes

While all participants were psychologically healthy before the study started, most experienced significant emotional deterioration as a result of the 24 weeks of semi-starvation. Some severe emotional changes that occurred include:

  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Irritability and outbursts of anger
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Neglecting their personal hygiene
  • Apathy
  • Some instances of psychotic symptoms (including 2 participants who required hospitalization in a psych ward)
  • Emotional disturbances that often persisted during the initial weeks of refeeding

4) Social Changes

Although participants were initially sociable, they became progressively more withdrawn and isolated as the study continued. Other social changes included:

  1. Strained relationships
  2. Drastically reduced sexual interest and decreased sexual contacts
  3. Sexual interest was slow to return during refeeding process
  4. Decreased humor
  5. Feelings of being socially inadequate
  6. Decreased participation in activities

5) Cognitive Changes

Subjects of this experiment were noted to have impairments in the following:

  • Comprehension
  • Alertness
  • Judgement
  • Concentration

6) Physical Changes

Physical changes were noted for participants including:

  • A decreased need / desire for sleep
  • Feelings of dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Hypersensitivity to noise and/or light
  • Strength reduction, lessened motor control
  • Swelling in the limbs
  • Hair loss
  • Lowered tolerance to cold temperatures
  • Feelings of pain in the eyes, seeing “spots”
  • Hearing a “ringing” noise
  • Slowed metabolism
  • Feeling low energy, tired, weak
  • Voluntary movements slowed
  • Reduced level of activity (for most)

During the anorexia refeeding process, those who ate the most showed the largest increase in metabolism.

Conclusions to this Study

  • Many of the symptoms perhaps thought to have been specific to anorexia or bulimia nervosa are actually the result of starvation and poor nutrition.
  • These symptoms are not specific to food and weight, but rather, involve virtually all areas of psychological and social functioning.
  • The human being becomes more oriented towards food when starved. Other pursuits important to the survival of the species (such as social and sexual functioning) become subordinate to the primary drive towards food.
  • The results of this study seem to suggest that one cannot “will themselves” to be a particular weight without great physical and emotional costs. The study demonstrated that the body has  certain weight level it’s meant to be at (set point theory).

Foods for Gaining Weight with Anorexia Nervosa

Addressing the challenge of weight restoration in the treatment of anorexia nervosa is a significant hurdle, as it often requires surpassing what many may realize, even when the patient is willing to participate in the process.

For parents seeking guidance on foods that can aid their child in the journey to regain weight and overcome anorexia, I have compiled a list of 13 anorexia refeeding food options from Trader Joe’s that focus on high calorie content with low volume, striking the balance of high density. It is important to keep in mind that these recommendations specifically target weight restoration and will differ in food choices and portions once a healthy weight is achieved and maintenance becomes the focus.

1) Belgian Chocolate Pudding


Trader Joe’s Belgian Chocolate Pudding is a decadent and indulgent treat that satisfies chocolate cravings with its rich and creamy texture. Made with high-quality ingredients, this velvety dessert offers a smooth and luscious taste of premium Belgian chocolate. A serving of this chocolate pudding is only 2/3 of a cup so this can easily be increased to a full cup for a snack or dessert that will be adequately caloric.

2) Greek Whole Milk Yogurt


Trader Joe’s Greek Whole Milk Yogurt is a creamy and delicious option for anorexia refeeding. Made from whole milk, it has a thick and velvety texture that adds a luxurious feel to every spoonful. With its tangy and slightly tart flavor, this Greek yogurt is versatile and can be enjoyed on its own, mixed with fruits or granola, or used as a creamy base in various recipes. This whole mild Greek yogurt packs a lot of punch with a serving size only being 3/4 of a cup.  The key here is that this is whole milk yogurt which can be a little tricky to find sometimes.  Again, this can easily be boosted to a full cup, add some granola and honey and you’ve got yourself a quick and easy snack!

3) Brioche French Toast


Trader Joe’s Brioche French Toast is a delightful anorexia refeeding option that brings the taste of a classic French bakery to your table. Made with buttery and rich brioche bread, this French toast is perfectly indulgent and decadent. This is a great option for a quick breakfast before school when time is limited.  2 slices of this French Toast plus 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and a banana can start the day off right so you aren’t falling behind before you even get to lunch.

4) Butter Croissants


Trader Joe’s Butter Croissants are a delectable treat that embodies the essence of a classic French pastry. These flaky, golden pastries are made with real butter, resulting in a rich and indulgent flavor. They are light and you can add a multitude of options to them to make them to your taste.  You can scramble 2 eggs in 1 tbsp butter, add a slice of cheese, maybe even some ham or bacon, and make a quick breakfast sandwich that won’t take too long to finish.  You can do a sweet version with Nutella, ham and cheese with mayo and mustard, tuna salad made with regular mayo, or turkey with avocado, or try brie cheese with apple slices and honey.

5) Lace Cookies


rader Joe’s Lace Cookies are delicate and irresistible treats that offer a perfect balance of sweetness and crunch. These thin, lace-like cookies are made with a blend of butter, sugar, and a hint of vanilla, resulting in a heavenly caramelized flavor.  These lace cookies are fantastic because a serving size is only 2 relatively small cookies. This can easily be increased to 3 or 4 to meet your caloric requirements for a snack.  Add a glass of milk or juice and you are well on your way.

6) Quiche


Trader Joe’s quiches are a convenient and delicious option for anorexia refeeeding. Made with a buttery and flaky crust, these quiches are filled with a variety of flavorful ingredients, such as vegetables, cheeses, and meats.  These quiches are actually quite small, about 5 inches across and come in a few flavors.  Have a quiche with a small salad with at least 1 tbsp of dressing and a slice of crusty bread with butter and you’ve made a pretty fancy meal very quickly!  What I also like about these is that they can be kept in th freezer for when you maybe don’t have time to cook something. They can also be used as “alternate meals” meaning that if your child refuses to have what is being served, you can create a plan where sometimes he or she can ask for an alternate meal instead that will be calorically appropriate and also be relatively challenging.

7) Veggie Burgers and Angus Beef Burgers


Both of these burger options are appropriate choices but they cannot be eaten alone.  Put on a regular bun, add maybe some cheese or mayonnaise in addition to whatever else you like to top you burger with and you’ve created a reasonably dense component of a meal.  Add a couple sides like chips, fries, baked beans, or even a shake (if you are feeling brave!) and you are good to go.

8) Burritos



Trader Joe’s burritos are a delicious and convenient option for a satisfying meal on the go. These flavor-packed handheld delights come in a variety of mouthwatering options, such as chicken, beef, vegetarian, or vegan fillings. Wrapped in a soft tortilla, Trader Joe’s burritos are filled with a combination of tasty ingredients like seasoned meats, beans, rice, cheese, and flavorful sauces. These burritos are frozen so they can be kept as alternate meals or for a day when you are short on time and they are quite flavorful.  The serving size is 1 burrito but they are not big and eating 2 pretty much fulfills your needs for most lunches or dinners, depending on your meal plan. The tray appears to be a single portion so it will not be visually overwhelming to your child.   If this falls a little short calorically,  you can add a caloric beverage such as milk, juice, or Gatorade, some beans and rice, or some tortilla chips with guacamole.

9) Ice Cream



Trader Joe’s ice cream is a delightful treat that caters to a variety of taste preferences. From classic flavors like chocolate and vanilla to unique combinations, Trader Joe’s offers a wide range of options to satisfy any ice cream lover. The serving size of this ice cream is only a half cup so it’s pretty easy to increase the portion to a cup and not appear to be too much.  Add 2 tablespoons of the fudge sauce to this ice cream or any ice cream you have to pack a little more punch without it becoming more filling. These are particularly good options for when you need to do some food challenges.  Also a bonus is that they are frozen and won’t go bad quickly.

10) Maple Syrup


Trader Joe’s maple syrup is a delicious and natural sweetener that brings the authentic taste of maple to your breakfast table. Sourced from the finest maple trees, their maple syrup offers a rich and distinct flavor that adds a delightful sweetness to pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, and more. Syrup is something that many people with eating disorders say they “don’t like” although most people use it when eating certain breakfast foods. If you child used to use syrup prior to the eating disorder, it’s important to add it back into the appropriate meals. Make your food challenge more meaningful by having your child eat it in the way he or she used to eat it.  Don’t allow the eating disorder to feel any sense of victory by allowing your child to eat dry pancakes.  The good news is that just 2 tablespoons makes a really nice contribution calorically without making the meal more voluminous.  Adding this to oatmeal, pancakes and waffles will be really helpful.

11) Mango Juice


Trader Joe’s mango juice is a tropical delight bursting with the sweet and refreshing flavor of ripe mangoes. Made from real mangoes, their juice is a vibrant and natural option for those craving a taste of the tropics. With its smooth and luscious texture, Trader Joe’s mango juice is perfect for sipping on its own or mixing into smoothies This mango juice is a lifesaver.  Each can is only 8.4 ounces so it’s a great addition to any meal or snack.  They are highly portable so they can be used when you are on the run or mixed into a smoothie for extra flavor and caloric density.

12) Trail Mix


Trader Joe’s trail mix is a perfect blend of savory and sweet flavors, making it a satisfying and energizing snack option. Packed with a variety of nuts, dried fruits, and sometimes even chocolate or yogurt-covered treats, their trail mixes offer a delightful mix of textures and tastes. Trader Joe’s trail mix is individually portioned so it’s great to send to school or have in the car for after school.  The packages are quite small, just 1.5 ounces each and come in a variety of flavors.  A single packet probably won’t be enough for most weight restoration meal plans but add a mango juice or a whole milk yogurt and you are probably where you need to be.

13) Chocolate Peanut Candy and Wafer Cookies



Both of these dessert options are excellent choices. They are small portions and alone, are nearly enough for a snack depending on your meal plan.  If you need to add some to this snack, you could add a caloric beverage, perhaps even a frozen coffee drink, to meet your meal plan requirements.  These are also great because they can be thrown into a bag when you are traveling and often can serve as excellent food challenges.

Final Thoughts on Foods for Anorexia Weight Gain

Thank you for reading this resource on Foods for Anorexia Weight Gain: An Anorexia Refeeding Guide. Overcoming anorexia requires a comprehensive and individualized approach that includes refeeding as a crucial component. Refeeding, the process of reintroducing and increasing food intake, is essential for restoring a healthy weight, replenishing vital nutrients, and repairing the physical and psychological damage caused by anorexia. While refeeding can be challenging and may elicit anxiety, a supportive treatment team, including healthcare professionals, dietitians, therapists, and loved ones, can provide the necessary guidance, education, and emotional support to navigate the journey to recovery. With consistent refeeding and a holistic treatment approach, individuals can reclaim their health, rebuild their relationship with food, and gradually regain a fulfilling and nourishing life.

If you need help with gaining weight, an eating disorder dietitian can help. Find a dietitian to help you with your eating disorder.

Amy Boyers
Author: Amy Boyers

Dr. Amy Boyers has run a busy private practice in South Miami since 2001 where she provides therapy to adolescents and adults, with a focus on women’s health, eating disorders, anxiety and mood disorders, and behavioral medicine. Five years ago, she opened Boyers Recovery Support Services to address the needs of clients who require more intensive support at the outpatient level of care. Between the two, she has been able to stabilize and treat individuals in their homes and in the community, either keeping them out of treatment centers or helping them to stabilize successfully after a residential stay.

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