Unidine’s Innovative Programs Emphasize Nutrition and Its Importance for Treatment of Eating Disorders

Malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies, caused by reduced caloric and nutritional intake, can have severe consequences on physical and mental health, such as loss of lean body mass, altered brain function, and increased risk of chronic diseases.

Characterized by a severe and persistent disturbances in behavior, eating disorders are affecting up to five percent of the population. This number is significant and is prompting even more consideration and need for wellness-centric treatment approaches as it pertains to addressing the behaviors associated with this specific health condition.

Eating disorders are second only to substance-abuse disorders in having the highest mental illness mortality rate.1 The statistics compiled by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders2 are alarming:

  • Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the population worldwide.
  • 9% of the U.S. population will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.
  • Fewer than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight.”
  • 28% – 74% of risk for eating disorders is through genetic heritability.
  • 10,200 deaths each year in the U.S. are the direct result of an eating disorder.
  • About 26% of people with eating disorders attempt suicide.
  • The economic cost of eating disorders is $64.7 billion every year.

A balanced, nutritious diet is a critical component of health and well-being for everyone, and nutrition specifically keeps growing as a key influence in the prevalence and incidence of mental health disorders. With mental illnesses on the rise, it is essential to assess treatment strategies that combine multiple therapies with enhanced nutritional support.

Health Impacts of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are medical and psychiatric illnesses. They are complex by nature due to the confluence of biological, psychological and sociological causes resulting in compromised organ systems and overall physical and mental health.

Malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies are serious consequences of eating disorders that manifest in chronic fatigue, reduced immunity against illness, loss of lean body mass and altered brain function. Additional and elevated risks include inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

Health risks expand significantly as the severity and duration of the disorder increases, some of which are not reversible despite treatment. In addition to the increased risk of chronic disease, longstanding eating disorders are associated with osteoporosis, decreased gray matter, electrolyte imbalance, metabolic abnormalities, gastrointestinal dysfunction, dental erosion, and infertility.5 More than half of those suffering from serious eating disorders also struggle with psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Reduced caloric and nutritional intake wreak havoc on bodily systems that keep us physically and mentally healthy and alive. For peak performance, the body requires proper care and attention – energy to fuel healthy functionality, natural elimination of harmful waste, proper treatment of bodily processes and systems, and rest. The lack of proper nutrition and pattern of unhealthy behaviors have compromising effects on the organs and systems that contribute to our health and well-being.

Nutrition’s Role in Eating Disorder Recovery

Eating disorder complications affect multiple organ systems related to nutrition. The fact that eating disorders are biologically (as well as mentally) based underscores the key role nutrition plays in vulnerability, onset, severity, and duration.

Eating disorders have countless consequences on well-being due to the constant stress on physical and mental health. The lack of adequate nutrition compromises healthy bodily function and performance as a result of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormone loss and electrolyte imbalances.

Malnutrition results from the inadequate consumption of energy-producing macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) and/or micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Nutrition therapy is, therefore, recommended for patients with eating disorders, which may include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder.

Studies have shown that people suffering from eating disorders may have limited knowledge about what a healthful diet truly is. The treatment and recovery process should include education that speaks to nutrition, optimal energy intake, digestion and the physiological effects caused by an eating disorder.

Nutrition counseling is nutrition therapy. Providing evidence-based and data-driven nutritional knowledge, while incorporating healthy eating habits into a holistic treatment approach to eating disorders, helps to support recovery and reduce the likelihood of relapse.

Unidine Supportive Food Programs

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders are serious, biologically influenced medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to one’s eating behaviors.6 Common eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder are associated with different but sometimes overlapping symptoms. Treatment is very personalized but can successfully help people recover completely.

Eating disorders are about much more than food; however, relevant food strategies can positively impact the recovery journey and help patients reestablish a healthy relationship with food and dining behaviors. Unidine supports the treatment process with programs customized through the collaboration of its senior culinary and clinical staff.

Fresh Benefits:
A culinary and clinical collaboration resulting in an array of recipes of super smoothies, enriched snacks and fortified foods using fresh ingredients to replace the commercial supplements used in many healthcare settings. Healthy eating habits start with foods that are visually appealing and delicious. Fresh Benefits delivers high-quality, nutrition-packed foods for physical health and mental well-being.

Fresh Bites:
Fresh Bites combines art and science to support nutritional intake for patients who have conditions that cause obstacles to adequate food consumption. Portion sizes can be intimidating to individuals suffering from certain eating disorders. Unidine clinical and culinary leaders transform everyday menus into nutritionally dense bite-sized portions that are easily consumed, including the use of edible vessels. Fresh ingredients are natural healers and integral to cognitive function. Fresh Bites is another way Unidine chefs and dietitians have harnessed the power of our Fresh Food Pledge and commitment to food first over commercial supplements.

Hydrate for Health:
Hydrate for Health is an innovative program that offers a natural way to combat thirst through visually intriguing displays featuring water infused with fresh fruit, vegetables, or herbs to offer a fresh alternative to staying hydrated. Patients can enjoy a natural, flavorful alternative to conventional options from more than 50 unique recipes. The displays can be positioned strategically throughout the facility, and everyone will not only feel refreshed, but also happier and healthier. To enhance electrolyte balance, unflavored electrolyte powders can be added to Hydrate for Health recipes.

Culinary Explorations:
With a focus on health and wellness, Culinary Explorations is a platform for patients to explore food, culinary and nutrition literacy to promote positive cooking and dining experiences. Culinary Explorations features course variety that will be adapted to meet the specific needs of any treatment center and its patients. Unidine chefs and registered dietitians work as a team to develop and promote patient health and education through engaging hands-on meal creations and cooking demonstrations. Culinary Explorations is versatile, supporting the care delivered by treatment professionals and including them as active participants in the teaching and learning process.

Shop & Prepare:
Complementing the Culinary Explorations program is Unidine’s commitment to support patients who may be transitioning to an outpatient program or fully returning to an independent, daily life. Unidine understands grocery shopping, meal planning and preparation can be overwhelming and intimidating for individuals recovering from an eating disorder. Unidine’s Shop & Prepare concept is intended to simulate the experience of these tasks to ensure the journey to full recovery continues beyond the walls of the treatment facility.

The capabilities and resources of Unidine enable patients to employ what is learned during treatment through practical application in a safe environment and while still being supported by a recovery coach. Unidine culinary and clinical staff develop easy-to-use recipes so patients can follow the path from choosing the necessary ingredients to the preparation of meals and snacks. Unidine can create an actual in-house market, appropriately stocked with both fresh and packaged ingredients where patients can “shop.” The shopping experience is followed by an interactive session with Unidine’s culinary and clinical leaders so patients can actively participate in meal preparation utilizing the ingredients they selected and knowing their choices will guide them to healthier and happier lives.


Submitted by Kevin Tilton | Vice President, Business Development 

Inspired by family, I learned early on how food influences life. Food and dining experiences bring joy, comfort and health. It’s what drives my passion and guided me into the career that I love. I commenced a successful business career in private clubs and restaurants after graduating from Lehigh University but my path became mission-oriented 30 years ago when an opportunity surfaced in a healthcare environment. It was then that I became acutely aware of the impact that food and dining has on patients, their families, the treatment providers and community. Proudly, I now have decades of experience that enable me to give back for the benefit of others. Since that first experience working at NYU Medical Center in New York City, I continue to enjoy the privilege of developing healthcare food and dining programs around the country, improving lives one meal at a time.