Recovery from an eating disorder is hard: emotionally and physically. As a client, it sometimes feels impossible to eat what you are asked to or to keep from crying or screaming. As a parent, it feels unbearable to watch your loved one struggle to eat foods they once enjoyed. I want you to know that we are here to help you through this difficult chapter of life, but also always encourage our parents and loved ones to seek comfort and connection for themselves, including (but not limited to): personal therapy, parent's support groups, religious connection, and self care activities.
To best support your loved one’s recovery during mealtimes, I’ve provided three helpful tips to consider:
Studies show, adolescents who report more frequent family meals may be less likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors. From my experience as a clinician, eating disorders seek isolation and secretive behaviors. As we increase connection at and outside of meal time, it discourages eating disorder behaviors.
Additionally, evolutionarily we thrive in community. From discussions with my clients and from personal observation, clients are more successful when surrounded by peers or family members eating/consuming a meal with them. This normalizes the eating experience for them and models for them that we need to eat to survive, create, and connect.
In order to ensure you are supporting your loved one at meals and snacks, ask them ahead of time how they would prefer support. If they or their team have mentioned disordered patterns that arise during a meal, ask them how they would like to be redirected during the meal. “You mentioned you find it difficult not to break up your food into small pieces, how can I help if I notice that happening?” Don’t focus or draw attention to the eating disorder if possible. Make joyful connection with them. Play games at the table. Laugh about a silly TV Show. Ask them about their high of the day. Make sure that during these moments you are avoiding negative or stressful conversations and ABSOLUTELY not discussing food, bodies, or anything with numbers (calories/weight/exercise). Clients are typically already anxious about meal time due to fear or overwhelming anxiety about food, so we want to make the rest of the experience more fun or tolerable.
Lastly, we want to always ensure that although we have fun and connect with our clients, we are also providing boundaries and appropriate structure around meals and eating disorder behaviors. One of the best tips that I can give parents is to have a weekly family meeting where big events (good or anxiety-provoking) are discussed, meals are planned, and a grocery list is made. This is a great time to make sure you and your loved ones are all on the same page! You will have an open line of communication to help support your loved one in planning out what meals (composed of foods they enjoy and meet their meal plan) they are going to have throughout the week!
Now, although these tips can be incredibly helpful, there is so much more a parent or support person should know about how to support their loved one. Especially the more difficult conversations like redirection or encouragement at the table, when your loved one is having a difficult time eating or engaging with you. Lemond Registered Dietitian, Elizabeth Marshall, and Lemond Affiliate Therapist, Natalie Morse, will be hosting a “Parent and Caregiver Online Support Group” every other Wednesday through December 18th to discuss compassionate redirection, eating disorder basics, meal planning, and more! Please reach out to the front desk if this is something you or someone you know would benefit from.
No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.