When you have an eating disorder or disordered eating it can lead to mealtimes becoming a stressful, hated time. For parents, carers, loved ones and friends it can become an anxious minefield. With everyone treading on eggshells, what should be a relaxing eating experience turns into an emotional melting pot.
I’ve spent a number of years eating more meals than I can count with people suffering from all types of eating disorders. In that time I’ve worked with hundreds of clients and listened to their stories of meal times, spent time finding ways to make eating more bearable and sat with them practising it. I’ve had food thrown at me, been shouted at and watched all kinds of odd food behaviours. I’m no stranger to tears at the table, tantrums and food mysteriously disappearing. I’d pretty much say I’ve seen it all and this means I know how hard it is for the sufferer and for the carer too. So here are my top tips for sufferers on making mealtimes easier.
Planning and Preparation.
Plan out in advance what is going to be eaten, don’t get caught out by the element of surprise. If you are preparing the food yourself then keep it simple as the act of preparing the food can put you off eating it.
Distraction is your Friend.
Find some good ways of distracting your mind from your food.
- Have someone sit with you and talk to you, but set boundaries such as not talking about food, diets and body image. Having a list of topics to discuss can help the person sitting with you. Good topics include holiday destinations, movies, music, topical TV shows. If you get stuck have the paper to hand to get topics or even read a quotations book aloud.
- Have “feel good” music on in the background or the radio, but not the TV.
- Read a magazine/book.
Keep Calm and Carry On Eating.
Eat in a calm, quiet and comfortable atmosphere and place. Keep it as stress free as possible. As soon as you feel anxious your “fight or flight” pathway kicks in. Think about it. Your heart beats faster, you may feel hot and sweaty, you may feel shaky and clammy, your throat constricts, your appetite gets less – so it will definitely be harder to eat!
Only put on your plate what you need to eat. Don’t overload it as it will seem overwhelming.
Keep in mind the reasons why you need to eat these foods. Either think it through in your head or have a list of reasons written out to refer to at the table or just before your meal. Use your long term goals, physical health reasons or any others that are positive.
After a meal reflect on what went well/not so well. If you struggled, think through how you could improve this for next time, what would help/did not help. There will always be highs and lows in recovery. That is normal, the trick is to not give up.
Have something planned to do afterwards to distract yourself and to help you relax. Listen to relaxing music, watch TV or phone a friend are all good options.
If you need one to one support, an individual meal plan and more guidance on this, please get in touch. An eating disorder is a very difficult illness to live with, live through and for some to let go and live without BUT it CAN be beaten,