Points to note during the meal
- Those supporting meal times can be good role models. By modelling normal eating behaviour you will encourage your loved one to do the same. Eat your own snack or lunch with your loved one.
- It is best to keep meal times as relaxed as possible. In order to do this, avoid discussing feelings at meal times.
- It is also unhelpful to discuss food during meals. This is because your loved one has a distorted view of food and being drawn into discussion about portion size or food content and arguing at meal times will not change their views or persuade them to eat. Try to change the subject; distract them from the topic and stay firm and encouraging.
- Try to stay calm throughout the meal. It’s normal to find this difficult at times. You may need to find a way of managing your stress and frustration. For example, silently counting to 10. You need to be understanding while also being remaining firm. It helps your loved one to feel understood while at the same time challenging their thinking and behaviour. This is a difficult balance and takes time and practice. This is a time where you may need two people for meal support, so when one person gets tired, saturated or burned out, the other can step in before it gets to that point. If you are a single parent, you may want to explore if other family members or friends could support you with this task.
Here are some conversations that may crop up during meals and how to shut them down:
Person: “I can’t eat that! It will make me feel fat and disgusting.”
Supportive person: “It must be really hard for you. You need to sit down and take the first mouthful; I know you can do it and will be OK, come on…” Continue to distract the person, change the subject but continue to be firm and encouraging.
Hints for helpful things to say during the meal.
Chat about every day things to help make the young person less anxious and to distract them. Encourage them, but do not overpraise. Try and keep the wording positive, for example say, “I know you can do it” rather than, “Why have you not eaten it all?”.
Some examples of encouraging statements are:
“I am here for you; you know you can do it.”
“You will be OK.”
“Nothing awful is going to happen.”
“Concentrate only on now and eating this meal/snack.”
“How can I help, what can I say?”
“You can do it; your health is the most important thing.”
There is a small amount of evidence that suggests that young people will eat more during meals if they are given “direct prompts” during meal time. For example, telling the young person to pick up cutlery or eat all of the food. You can read about this research by White et al (2015) in a summarised version here at Eating Disorder Theapy LA.
Eva Musby has two videos that may be helpful to watch to support you with meal times. You can view them here, at Eva’s youtube page.
Between meals, talk to your loved ones about what they find helpful.