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How Can RAVES Help You Normalise Your Relationship with Food in Eating Disorder Recovery?

Written by Lily Moorhouse, TCN Intern & Talia Cecchele, Highly Specialist Dietitian and TCN Founder

Talia Cecchele Nutrition - RAVES and Eating Disorder Recovery

RAVES & Eating Disorder Recovery


Developing a positive relationship with food can be an overwhelming and challenging journey when you are overcoming disordered eating. It can be difficult to know where to start and what to focus on, especially if eating flexibly is an end goal for you.


At the TCN clinic, we use the RAVES tool with many of our clients to support them to take steps towards developing a positive relationship with food.


What is RAVES?

Created by Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) Shane Jeffrey from River Oak Health in Australia, the RAVES tool is a framework for developing a positive relationship with food [1]. RAVES is designed as a step-by-step framework split into three phases. RAVES stands for:


Regularity

Adequacy

Variety

Eating socially

Spontaneity 


What are the three phases of RAVES?


PHASE ONE

In this phase the main focus is on establishing a regular and adequate dietary intake. These first steps are key to developing a positive relationship with food whether you are working on overcoming disordered eating or in recovery from any type of eating disorder. This phase helps to establish a baseline for regular meals and snacks, which assists in regulating appetite and stabilising blood sugar levels, reducing binge eating episodes (as a result of eating frequently and reducing periods of fasting) and supporting healthy digestion.   


Regularity

As it suggests, this step involves creating a regular eating pattern with three meals and snacks. This could mean eating 5-6 times a day, or more if needed. At this stage, there is no emphasis on the quantity of food eaten. 


In practice, if someone is following a restrictive eating pattern and eating once a day, the first step for establishing regularity might look like eating twice a day and building up to three meals and snacks from there. As there is no emphasis on quantity at this stage, the amount of food might be small to start (e.g. less than what would be considered a meal or snack) and gradually built on in the adequacy step. 


Alternatively, if a person is eating adequately but their eating pattern is irregular and erratic, this step might focus on providing more structure and eating according to time, rather than to hunger and fullness. For example, it might look like eating every approximately 3-4 hours, or for some people it could involve setting a timer or reminder to eat. Having a structured template for eating or a meal plan could be helpful here. 


Adequacy

As it suggests, this step involves eating enough to meet your nutritional needs in regards to the volume of food eaten. At this stage, foods can mostly be selected from ‘safer’ options, provided that adequacy can still be achieved.


In practice, the amount of food will gradually be increased over time. If knowing how much to eat or what might be considered adequate is confusing, this is where a dietitian can help to guide you on how much to eat. Some people might benefit from a template of what to eat in a day or a meal plan to guide portion sizes.


It is important to note that what is considered “adequate” can change. It depends on many things such as energy requirements, hunger, physical activity levels and other goals such as supporting weight restoration if under a healthy weight and/or weight suppression.    


If we were to use an analogy here, Phase One can be seen as the Undergraduate Degree of building a positive relationship with food. Once established, you can “graduate” to next focusing on Phase Two, the Master’s Degree.  


PHASE TWO

In this phase the main focus is on establishing variety, overcoming food rules and food fears and creating flexibility with eating. 


Variety 

In this step, the focus is on expanding the types of food included in the diet. This could range from eating different types of fruit all the way through to reintroducing entire food groups (such as carbohydrates) while overcoming food fears and challenging unhelpful beliefs about food (e.g. food eaten after a certain time turns to fat). 


In practice, this step can take some time as challenging food rules and beliefs about food takes repetition and sometimes when one food rule is broken, some others that you didn’t think you had can pop up. Try not to put pressure on yourself here, there is no timeline to adding variety into your diet. 


Eating Socially 

Sometimes, disordered eating rules can drive a person to avoid social situations such as eating out and even eating with others inside the house. In this step, the focus is on incorporating more social elements of eating such as eating food cooked by others, cooking for others comfortably, eating out (e.g. cafe and restaurants) and ordering what you truly want without guilt and being able to join in celebrations such as having cake at a birthday. Eating socially shouldn’t be a cause of stress. 


Initially, it can help to plan for social events as this can help to reduce compensatory behaviours such as restriction before/after a social occasion. 


Spontaneity 

This step encourages you to move away from a structured eating plan when it is appropriate. This flexible thinking will support the transition into phase 3 which is intuitive eating. Being spontaneous looks different in different situations. For example, knowing that you will go to a certain cafe for a coffee, but being spontaneous about the snack you choose to eat with it, or it might be letting someone choose the location for a meal out, or saying yes to last minute invitations or changes in eating occasions, such as a last minute invitation to join colleagues for a work lunch.  


As in the previous analogy, you can move on from Phase Two, the Master's Degree, into Phase Three, the PhD.  This is where you become your own expert in how to nourish your body long term.


PHASE THREE

This phase is all about building life long skills in intuitive eating. Remember, intuitive eating is not something you learn overnight, intuitive eating is for life! You will continue to learn how to nourish your body over months and years. 


Intuitive eating isn’t just about listening to your hunger and fullness (though that is an important part of it), but it is also about learning to eat for enjoyment, saying goodbye to diet culture and honouring your health through gentle nutrition, mindful movement and body kindness. 


In this phase you will continue to build trust and awareness in how to nourish your body and maintain a positive relationship with food. There is no perfect diet or way of eating. 


You can read more about the 10 principles of intuitive eating in our blog here.


How long will it take to create a positive relationship with food? 

There is no timeline to work through each of these RAVES phases as everyone is unique! It is important not to rush through the phases or skip ahead. It is also important to remember that intuitive eating (phase 3) isn’t for everyone and might not be every person's goal as part of developing a positive relationship with food.


Do I have to start at Phase 1?

Most people will start by establishing a regular and adequate intake. We know that most disordered eating includes dietary restriction, so nourishing your body with enough food is an integral first step to healing your relationship with food and body. 


You might not need much time to establish the steps in Phase 1, and move to Phase 2 quickly, or you might spend more time there. There is no right or wrong! 


Overcoming disordered eating isn’t a linear process, and sometimes you might find yourself between two phases and that’s okay. Although RAVES is split into three phases, this structure of developing a positive relationship with food might not align with what works best for you and that's okay too!


Is RAVES the same as going “All In?”

If you haven’t heard of "All In", then we’d encourage you to read our blog here. In short, the “All In” method is about giving yourself full permission to eat according to hunger, without tracking how much you eat or what you eat. 


There are benefits to both the “All In” method and the RAVES approach, what is important is that you do what works best for you. If the idea of going “All In” is overwhelming (which in our experience, is for most people), then having more structure will likely work best for you. Having the support from a specialist eating disorder dietitian can help to guide you and support you step-by-step to find food freedom.


If you need support in your recovery, we offer 1:1 nutrition counselling at the TCN clinic to help you overcome food rules and find food freedom. You can find out about more about how we can support you here.


Lily Moorhouse (TCN Intern) & Talia Cecchele (TCN Founder)


 

Talia Cecchele Nutrition is a team of registered dietitians that specialise in eating disorder recovery, disordered eating, digestive issues and sports nutrition. We aim to bring balance back to nutrition, help you to break free from food rules and find food freedom. We offer virtual consultations and group programs so whether you are based in London, the United Kingdom or around the world we would love to support you. To enquire about a private consultation please fill out a contact form.


 

REFERENCES:

[1] ​​Jeffrey, S., 2021. RAVES - A back pocket guide to developing positive food relationships. [Online] Available at: https://myrtleoakclinic.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/RAVES-A4-ROH-8.pdf [Accessed 16 January 2023].

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