There will be times when you’re still tempted to go back to old behaviours or eating disordered thinking. Don’t panic. Recovery can involve recognising ED thoughts and feelings but not acting on them. Meal planning is a vital part of this and one where others can help.
For Carers: How to help with eating:
Routine will help sufferers feel safer, especially in the early stages of recovery. Work out when you will eat, where, with whom and what you’ll be having. Agree portion sizes, how the food will be prepared, and whether or not you will include sauces or seasoning. Once you have planned a meal, don’t renegotiate whilst eating.
The calmer the meal, the easier it will be for the person to eat. Talk about things that are easy and not stressful. Don’t’ make them feel guilty or make critical comments about their food. They will pick up their cues from you, so if you can model a relaxed and healthy attitude to eating that will be a big help. So don’t talk about your diet or label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
After the meal if the person is getting stressed, you can help to talk them down. Remind them that one meal will not make their weight change and of the ways that their life will improve with normal eating. Don’t try and rationalise their fears, e.g; ‘I’m fat’ – instead focus on feelings e.g; ‘I’m sorry this is so hard; I can see it’s making you feel very anxious’. Be encouraging and supportive – but don’t bargain or plead. The goal is to help the person return to normal eating on their own; as this gets easier you can phase out your support, e.g; instead of always eating together, text to check they’ve remembered to have lunch. Offer to go shopping with them and plan meals ahead of time – it can also be useful to prepare them together or for you to provide meals during especially stressful times.
Apart from meals, if you’re caring for someone recovering, remember – they’re probably feeling like a failure: some will have had to drop out of school or uni or work and instead of being incredibly successful, they’ve dropped off the planet for a bit. Let them know you’re pleased to see them. Don’t comment on weight or appearance: but do share what’s been happening to you, or ask about things like new friends, pets, films etc. Make sure they know you’re there for the long haul and be patient.
Self-care: For those recovering:
After starving/restricting your stomach shrinks: for a long time you’ve overridden your body’s hunger cues, and so you forget what a ‘normal’ plate of food looks like. Mechanical eating is the best way round this, and is basically eating meals even when you don’t feel hungry. It may take several weeks or months before your appetite returns and in the early days you might feel bloated or unwell, but it’s just your body getting used to normal feeding.
Regular planned meals are also a vital part of breaking the binge-purge cycle. If you starve yourself for long periods your blood sugar will drop and you’re setting yourself up for a binge. This is much less likely when your body knows it will be fed regularly with a variety of foods. You should be snacking every three hours and eating meals with a variety of food groups.
If you miss meals or have a binge, have the next snack/meal as planned. Don’t panic. Remember that having bad days does not mean you’re not getting better or moving forward. It’s ok to feel out of control: this is when you’re actually taking it back.
Things to remember if you’re recovering:
- there are ways of handling stress outside of food – it’ll take time to learn these, but you can
- you don’t have to earn food or earn fun: you’re a human being and it’s allowed
- you are not a burden
- it’s fine to have needs
- you don’t have to be perfect. Let it go.
- you don’t need to make the ‘right’ choices
- it’s okay to change your mind
- not everyone will understand – but some will. That’s enough.