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Family Mealtime & Disordered Eating

When family mealtimes are a source of stress and anxiety for someone suffering from an eating disorder, it creates tension and discomfort for those involved, including family members. If your loved one is suffering from disordered eating, it is critical to be aware of the behaviors that may present themselves, as well as ways to make family meals comfortable and healing.

Creating Comfort, Support and Encouragement

Disordered eating may present itself at family meals in the following ways:

  • Emotional response to eating specific foods, including increased anxiety, dissociation, sadness or rage
  • Food rituals such as excessive cutting of food, pushing food around the plate, or counting food items
  • Avoiding or restricting specific foods; hiding food
  • Binging on a large amount of food in a short period of time
  • Disappearing or spending an excessive amount of time in the restroom after eating
  • Eating only when alone or eating very little during family meals

It is important to understand that there are a range of factors that contribute to disordered eating, and that family members play a pivotal role in healing and recovery. Implement the following practices to create a space of comfort and peace for your loved one:

Allow your loved one to have some control: Offer to involve your loved one in food choices, meal planning, and prepping for the meal if he or she is interested.

Understand the root causes of the disordered eating: Eating disorders are not about food or calories. Symptoms often stem from a complex group of factors including anxiety, depression, trauma, body dysmorphia, etc. Understanding the root of the problem is helpful in supporting your loved one, so that they do not feel judged or blamed for the ways they cope. Acceptance, support, and compassion can help someone to recognize unhealthy behaviors and work toward healing them.

Create a schedule, stick to it, and cultivate calm: Create a calm ambiance by sticking to a schedule, making sure that the meal is not rushed or frantic, and allowing everyone to bring the stress of the day to the table and release it through talking or having a moment of silence together. Focus on talking and sharing positives and negatives of the day, rather than on the food itself. Mealtime rituals can be a source of connection and belonging, which may ease tension and anxiety.

Learn which foods are triggering for your loved one: By learning which foods are high sources of anxiety and avoiding bringing them to mealtime, or by providing alternatives, you can help make the family meal more enjoyable for everyone. Offer healthy, well balanced, nutrient rich meal options. If possible, eliminate unhealthy food choices all together, especially binge triggering foods.

Talk about it: Shame and denial are two factors that perpetuate behavioral health issues. It is important to approach your loved one with empathy, state that you can see they are struggling, and ask them how you can help them heal. While these conversations are not always comfortable, they allow your loved one to know they are seen, valued, and not alone. What’s more: they reinforce that your loved on has options.

Support in Healing from Mental Health Professionals

Disordered eating is a form of control; a way to manage a compartmentalized portion of an often overwhelming and stressful life. By controlling one aspect through either restricting or binging, those who suffer may feel a sense of power and reduction in helplessness.

It is important to understand that Therapeutic Solutions does not provide treatment for eating disorders as a primary behavioral health concern, but we often see symptoms of eating disorders as an extension of other behavioral health issues. Our Chico behavioral health professionals are dedicated to helping our patients find healthy tools to cope with distress and take steps toward wellness. We offer outpatient treatment options, and we are happy to discuss them with you or your loved one to determine the best treatment approach.

Contact our team today at (530) 899-3150.