Setting (the Table) Up for Success

By Camille Williams, MA, NCC, LCPC, Timberline Knolls Eating Disorder Program Coordinator

In our overwhelmingly fast-paced culture it seems the days of peaceful family dinners are long gone. Unfortunately, this affects eating disorder (ED) behaviors. It makes it easier to skip a meal or use the excuse of already eating. It can also result in eating alone or eating on the go. An ED loves this chaos and commotion. The detrimental effects this can have on the relationship and experience with food makes it a significant factor to consider in relapse prevention planning and overall recovery.

Let’s break it down into some investigative questions.

What: What are you eating? This is where a dietitian’s work comes into play by identifying an appropriate meal plan for recovery. It is easy to spend a lot of time on this question because ED recovery tends to focus on what is or isn’t being eaten. Yes, this is vital and needs significant attention. However, there are other components that are just as significant.
When: When are you eating? Specific set times for meals and snacks provide structure through a schedule until eating becomes more natural. Further interventions to support this question could include setting timers or notifications to avoid forgetting or disregarding.

Where: Where are you eating? It can be very uncomfortable for those in treatment to eat at a table with others because it may be different from what was happening when the ED was in charge. Often food is consumed alone, in a bedroom, in front of the TV, standing at the counter, and rarely, if ever, at a table. Location and environment have an influence on overall experience with the meal and this may need significant overhaul for success in recovery. It is time to clear the cobwebs off the kitchen table. Simply eating in a new space from where behaviors happened can already decrease behaviors. Take it one step further by creating an inviting and calm space for meals and snacks. Candles may help with lighting or aromas to help soothe anxiety at meals. Or possibly a new look could prove beneficial such as some pretty placemats or a picture hung on the wall to evoke a positive emotion during a potentially stressful experience.

Who: Who are you eating with? Ideally having meals and snacks with other people is helpful for accountability and support. However, it can have the opposite effective if it is someone who is not supportive or has misconceptions or judgements about ED and food. If eating alone is the only option, there are ways to get creative such as facetiming a friend during a meal or snack.

How: How are you eating? ED behaviors are often mindless and in recovery it is important to be mindful. This includes noticing pacing and rituals. These changes may take time and being aware of patterns that coincide with ED behaviors helps to challenge them in the recovery process. Mindful eating also includes noticing emotions and physical sensations. Being aware when the process of eating begins to turn increasingly emotional could be an indicator of a binge urge and may be a time to pause and reflect on the support needed.

Why: Why are you eating? While the ED may be screaming all the reasons to resort to unhealthy behaviors, it is important to reconnect with recovery values at meals and snacks. Maybe the motivation to follow a recovery meal plan is to have energy to spend time with loved ones. Maybe the motivation is to nourish the body appropriately to help the brain work effectively at school or a job. Pay attention to these things and stay connected to them because they are far more meaningful than the lies your ED is telling you.

A well-rounded approach to recovery that takes into consideration more than just what is being eaten can provide many more opportunities for success and support. EDs go well beyond food alone; therefore making a recovery plan that supports meal times can enhance the experience.

TK Contributor: As the Timberline Knolls Eating Disorder Program Coordinator, Camille Williams MA, NCC, LCPC, supports the development of curriculum, supervises the eating disorder specialists, and provides group therapy. She also educates and trains all staff on campus and advocates for eating disorder awareness through publications. Timberline Knolls serves as an iaedpPresidents Council Member.

*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*

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