Mealtimes can be challenging for someone with an eating disorder. There can be a lot of anxiety around food and particularly when we are with other people or in an unfamiliar place, such as a new restaurant.
Whilst mealtimes might be extremely daunting, there are things that we can do to prepare ourselves.
Here are our tips for dealing with difficult mealtimes:
Where possible, plan ahead
People with eating disorders can struggle to tolerate the feeling of uncertainty, especially around food. The preoccupation around food exists as a means of helping individuals to feel a sense of certainty and control over their life when otherwise they’d feel out of control.
Because of this, it is very important to plan ahead when confronting challenging situations like mealtimes. Planning ahead works to provide us with a degree of certainty and predictability, which helps to pre-empt any feelings of overwhelm.
When we have a plan we can feel more control over situations and therefore more present and grounded. You might want to work with an eating disorder specialist to put together a meal plan that feels achievable but also challenges your eating disorder. When visiting restaurants, you may want to look at the menu in advance to plan what you will have.
All of these will help you to feel more prepared and in control.
Sit near someone supportive
Whether you’re having a meal at home with your family, or meeting people at a restaurant, it can help to sit next to (or near) someone who is supportive and knows what you’re going through.
Being able to have someone close by whose hand you can squeeze if things get difficult means that we can share our experience with someone else, and give them the opportunity to support us through it. Perhaps prepare a secret signal with that special person and remember that if things start to get overwhelming, you can do the signal and they will know that it’s time to offer you some support.
It’s important to recognise that people will want to help and support you through challenging times, and a big part of recovery involves allowing people to do that.
Have an escape plan
Mealtimes can be especially difficult in social settings, for instance at Christmas or birthdays or anything that involves lots of people with food at centre stage.
Know that you are allowed to take a breather if things get very overwhelming or too much.
Think of a place (perhaps a room or a garden) that you can sneak off to and take a few minutes to reflect and ground yourself. It’s ok to give yourself the space that you need.
Remember to be kind to yourself
Lastly, it’s important that we recognise just how challenging mealtimes can be and respond to yourself with kindness and compassion.
It can be very frustrating to not feel totally comfortable with food, especially around other people, and you may be tempted to blame yourself for finding it difficult. However, remember that eating disorders are not a choice and it’s important to recognise that you are trying your best.
Learning how to be compassionate is a huge part of the recovery journey, so it’s important to recognise that in the midst of challenge, offering yourself compassion can be a really big step in itself.