When your child is in recovery from an eating disorder, meals can be an incredibly stressful time for you, your child, and the whole family. That's why we are here to talk about the 5 C's of meal times for caregivers to help ease some of that stress and anxiety.
First, let’s set the scene. It’s time for dinner. You just finished preparing a stir fry. The whole family sits down and prepares for the meal ahead. Your child knows they need to finish their meal, but seem to be playing with their food. You start to nudge them to try to eat, but they say they’re not hungry. You start to panic. You know they need to eat this meal for their recovery. You nudge them again, more forcefully this time. Your child starts to get defensive. Your child is scared to eat the stir fry. You are scared that they won’t get better if they don’t eat the stir fry. You restrain yourself from yelling. You say nothing and fume silently. Everyone at the table feels the tension. Your child doesn’t finish the meal. The family leaves the table and puts the dishes away, but your child hides away in their room for the rest of the evening. The family is silent, frustrated, and upset. Overall, this makes dinner (and all meals) a very unpleasant experience.
If this sounds familiar, we want to help ease some of your emotions so you can better support your child through their mandatory recovery meals and snacks. In the Family Based Therapy approach, a great deal of the responsibility for your child’s recovery comes from the parents and caregivers. With all this responsibility, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and panic when things aren’t going exactly as planned. We’re here to say; take a deep breath! You’ve got this, and we are here to help.
What is Family Based Treatment (FBT)?
This article from VeryWellMind does a nice job of explaining the history and the practice of the FBT approach to the treatment of eating disorders. In practice, FBT takes the stance that recovery can only happen when we normalize eating. Food and rest are the medicine of FBT! Parents and caregivers take control of meals and snacks and your child is expected to eat 100% of their meals.
This may sound like a daunting and impossible task! Do not panic, we are here to help. One of the first tips we have to help you through this journey is to separate your child from their eating disorder. The eating disorder is thoughts and behaviors playing out in their mind. It does not represent your child’s true self or their values. They are not their eating disorder! When tension is running high at meals and snacks, remember that you are fighting with the eating disorder, not your true child.
If you’re feeling stuck, we see you. That’s why we have created the parent and caregiver membership program coming soon for weekly lessons, and group coaching so you and other caregivers can feel comfortable and confident helping your loved one fight back against their eating disorder. But for now, here are five tools to keep the anxiety at bay during meals so you and your child can focus on recovery.
Five C’s of Meal Time for Caregivers
Stay calm. It’s easy to let our emotions get the better of us, especially when your child is suffering and you desperately want them to feel better. Expect to feel frustrated, worried, and guilty. Staying calm might feel like extra pressure on your already stressful life.
Check in with yourself. Are you maintaining any self-care routines? Do you need more help? Check out this article for tips on staying calm and suggestions for coping tools. Ask for more help if needed! This is a very stressful time. Trying to maintain a semblance of calm during meal times will help your child have the confidence to recover. Take a deep breath. Challenging meal times and conversations are much easier to navigate after some deep breathing. You got this!
Caregivers must present a “united front” against the eating disorder. If caregivers seem to have different ideas about recovery, your child’s eating disorder may use this to its advantage. Caregivers should agree on meal choice, portions, meal expectations, time cues, and coaching before each meal and snack to avoid any disagreements in front of your child.
If expectations are the same every meal and snack, your child will understand the structure and be able to follow directions more effectively. Remember, you do not have to come up with these expectations alone. Use your loved one’s treatment team to help support you in establishing consistent parameters that you can reinforce in the home.
3. Committed to the process
At times it may seem like recovery is futile, or that treatment isn’t working. You may feel like giving up. We’re here to support you through these times, and remind you to stay committed and positive. Recovery takes time. Every child is different, and some may need more time and support than others.
To stay positive for what may be a long time, we have a few tips. First, try not to let the eating disorder control your family’s life, and try to keep a positive home environment despite unsuccessful meals. It may be helpful to schedule regular time and activities with each of your children. Take stock of your own needs and your own stressors. Try to model healthy coping strategies and self care. This will take time! As long as you can stay committed to the process, your child can stay committed to the process. It may not be easy, but we believe in you!
Studies show that family-based treatment of eating disorders for adolescents is an effective strategy in achieving full remission and weight restoration. The attached study shows that adolescents with anorexia nervosa restored more weight in a shorter period of time, and had higher rates of full remission using an FBT approach, when compared to other kinds of family therapy.
Though there is less research regarding FBT and bulimia nervosa, early findings have indicated that abstinence from binge eating and purging episodes was up to 44% higher after 6 months of FBT when compared to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for adolescents. It may be hard to believe at the moment, but FBT is possible. Remain confident in your child’s ability to bounce back. Also, have confidence in yourself that you have the tools and knowledge to support your child. If you feel like you need more support, we’ve got your back.
When tension is running high during meal time and emotions are beginning to escalate, it’s hard to remember that your child is going through a rough time. Instead of dinner ending up in a shouting match, try listening to your child. Try to understand why they are being triggered during the meal. Use a coping skill for yourself, such as taking deep breaths. Your child is just as scared, confused, frustrated and anxious as you are. They are looking to you for support. Try to remember compassion to help ease emotions through rough times for you and your child.
Supporting your loved one with an eating disorder is a challenging task but remember, you do not have to go through it alone. For more support, check out the resources on our blog and stay tuned for our Parent and Caregiver Membership Program that will walk you through all the tools you need to help your child successfully navigate recovery. We are here for you and your family during this time - drop us a line so we can better understand how to support you.