In eating disorder recovery meal times can be overwhelming with intrusive thoughts going against your rational brain fighting for recovery. Which makes sense, as there is a lot of cognitive dissonance at play. Conflicting thoughts can cause food to become too overwhelming and lead to mealtime struggles. This can create barriers in your treatment process and lead to you feeling stuck in your eating disorder.
This struggle that you are experiencing is real. Eating disorders are fueled from irrational thoughts or beliefs about food or your body leading to an intense fear around foods. When you are dealing with intrusive thoughts, it can sometimes feel like too much to even try to approach your meal.
In our 1:1 nutrition sessions with clients and our 24/7 Eating Disorder PATH we talk a lot about how to make mealtimes more manageable, especially when there are intrusive thoughts at play. Everyone’s process is different but there are ways to challenge the eating disorder and allow yourself to nourish your body.
10 ways to challenge intrusive thoughts
use your social supports
When meals feel like too much it can be helpful to look elsewhere for support so it doesn’t feel that you’re dealing with intrusive thoughts alone. This could look like FaceTiming friends, asking family to sit with you or coming up with a mealtime game plan with your dietitian to work through more difficult meals. Having someone by your side to help guide and support you can help remind you that you can do hard things.
check the facts
Recognize that eating disorder thoughts are irrational and often rooted in incorrect information or rules about food. Checking the facts before meal times when intrusive thoughts are present can be helpful in challenging the eating disorder. Ask yourself - where is this thought coming from? Is this rooted in truth? What are the facts that I know to be true about x food? And, as always, you are allowed to eat.
use meal time distractions
Sometimes, when meals feel like too much, it’s helpful to give yourself something else to focus on during your meal times. This could look like playing a game on your phone or with friends or watching a movie or show. In the ED PATH we break down the best meal time game plans you can work on with your provider. Giving your brain a little something different to focus on that helps you remember that meal times can be enjoyable.
remember your why
When the process feels overwhelming it can be helpful in taking a step back for a moment and remembering why you are engaging in recovery in the first place. Check in with your values and what you are working towards. Maybe write it down, wherever you can. Hold onto your why and remember that you are fighting against your eating disorder for a reason. You deserve a life without intrusive thoughts at meal times - hold onto that.
repeat your favorite affirmations
Before meal times it can be helpful to remember and repeat recovery phrases that feel true to you. These can be anything that helps you feel more grounded when recovery feels overwhelming.
While sometimes distractions can be helpful to get through meal times, ultimately thoughts will arise. Mindfulness helps to bring you back into your body and help you to notice and recognize ED thoughts and call them out for what they are. Try imagining the thoughts are like train cars and you are standing on a platform - the train cars will come and go but you have the option to step into them or not. Using mindfulness allows you to notice your thoughts without having to actively engage in them and it can be helpful in recognizing, noticing and calling out your eating disorder.
have a game plan
We have talked about brainstorming a game plan with your dietitian a few times before. And that's because it is SO important when dealing with intrusive thoughts. We find that our clients who go in with a client are able to follow through effectively with their meals and snacks.
Have a plan for what the before, during and after will look like maybe at the start of the day. Give yourself a set time frame to enjoy the meal as well as some helpful tips or tools to use before you start (see all the above recommendations). Have a plan for during the meal - are you eating with someone? Can you FaceTime a friend or engage in other techniques to help you get through the meal.
After the meal have something planned for yourself - how can you take care of you? Maybe a nice journal session or a warm shower or try water coloring. Whatever it is, making sure you have a plan around your more challenging meals gives less room for the eating disorder to take over.
relabel and rephrase
Similarly to mindfulness discussed above, when we are able to label the thoughts we’re experiencing as eating disorder thoughts we are more able to challenge and rephrase them. Once you have labeled the thoughts as the eating disorder, tune into your healthy self (see #9) and rephrase this thought in a way that feels good for your recovery process. It can even be helpful to write these thoughts down, maybe in a chart, for you to look at and reference when the ED voice is strong.
tune into your healthy self
Recognizing that the eating disorder is only one part of you can be helpful in then tuning into your healthy self (or rational mind) when the intrusive thoughts get loud.
Sometimes, to tune into your healthy self, it can be helpful to ask yourself what you would say if a very close person in your life was experiencing the same eating disorder thought you were. What would you say to them? How would you talk them through it? How could they challenge it?
self compassion, always
This is a big one. Be gentle with yourself. You are doing a lot of really hard work by challenging these intrusive thoughts and incorporating new, difficult foods. Remember, recovery is hard AND you can do hard things. You are worth the fight and are deserving of a life without your eating disorder.
We understand how challenging meal times can be when in eating disorder recovery, and dealing with intrusive thoughts is not easy! We want you to know that you are not alone in this battle. If this post resonated with you, check out how we can support your further with 1:1 services as well as 24/7 eating disorder support.