10 Tips for Mealtime Support
It is important to receive proper nourishment and relearn healthy eating patterns in eating disorder treatment and recovery. For parents, caregivers, family and friends, this can be difficult to navigate. To best support your loved one's recovery during mealtimes, Eating Recovery Center has compiled these helpful tips:
1. Talk to your loved one. A great question to ask is, "How do you prefer to be supported at meals or snacks outside of the meal/snack time?"
2. Discuss in advance. Initiate a conversation about disordered behaviors that may occur and how can you can be supportive. For example, you might say, "I’d like to support you the best way I can. I heard you say it’s sometimes hard for you to eat at a normal pace. How can I help if I notice you eating rapidly?"
3. Talk about eating out. If you’re going to a restaurant allow time for your loved one to look up the menu in advance. Talk about what emotions might come up while eating out.
4. Develop a goal or pre-meal intention. An example of an intention is, "At lunch I will not engage in discussion about calories or other food talk." Share an intention for yourself, as the caregiver, as well.
5. Role model healthy eating behaviors. Examples include: using condiments in moderation, eating food as served, not checking/playing with food, not cutting food into small pieces, not using "food talk."
6. Be aware of mealtime conversation. Mealtime is not the time for processing stressful issues or tasks. Instead, discuss enjoyable topics like movies, music, books, good experiences, or future hopes and dreams. 7. Process after mealtime together. Create a routine of discussing the meal afterward. Ask your loved one what they thought went well and what was challenging. A question could be, "How did your pre-meal intention go?" or, "What part of the meal do you feel like you struggled with the most?" 8. Share your observations after the meal. If you feel hesitant, remind yourself that looking the other way will only make things harder down the road. Example of an observation is: "I noticed you were struggling to not cut your food into tiny pieces. I know that’s something you’ve been working on not doing, and I know you’ve been getting better about it. What has helped you not do that in the past?"
9. Validate and communicate. Provide validation for the struggle, while also communicating confidence in your loved one’s ability to manage it. A caregiver could say, "I see how hard this is for you, and I know you’ve done a great job at handling hard things recently."
10. Focus on the positive. Remember, it's not about perfection. It's about progress. Remember, you do not have to do this alone. Supporting a loved one with an eating disorder can be challenging at times, and it is important to have support from a professional team and a recovery community.