Mealtime Problem Solving
Author: Breanna Mills R.D.
In recovery from an eating disorder, mealtimes may be difficult and a source of distress. Consuming regular meals is vital for recovery, but even those who do not struggle with an eating disorder have times where life circumstances may create barriers to eating. What happens when mealtimes are stressful, or life events make it harder to follow through? How can you continue to follow through with regular intake and respond in a proactive recovery way? Below are some common scenarios and some ideas for how to navigate them.
You do not Feel like Cooking
Everyone, even those who do not struggle with an eating disorder, have times where they do not want to cook. In recovery, it is important to consider whether the eating disorder is trying to convince you that you do not feel like cooking as a way to miss out on a meal or snack. If cooking is feeling too difficult for you, there are other options to ensure you are getting what you need. This could be a great opportunity to ask for support from a friend, family member, partner, roommate, etc. Support may look like asking someone to help you out and prepare something or act as your sous-chef. Takeout is also another great option for when you do not feel like cooking.
Low Hunger Cues
Hunger cues may not always be present or reliable, especially at the beginning stages of recovery. Anxiety, stress, sickness, and many other circumstances can cause hunger cues to disappear or quiet down. When we do not feel hungry, we can focus on mechanical eating. Eating mechanically helps to ensure that we are providing our bodies with the nourishment that is needed.
There are certainly going to be times in recovery where you may feel unwell. Perhaps you are tired or exhausted from a long day at work, you are experiencing physical pain, or maybe you are experiencing sickness. We may feel unwell for a variety of reasons but despite these reasons, our bodies still need fuel and nourishment. Some solutions for feeling unwell may be having quick and easy options available, having pre-prepared meals ready, or even having a menu or plan for your meals that makes the choice of what to have easier in a stressful moment. If you are sick, it is still incredibly important to continue to nourish yourself. In these times, it may be more helpful to focus on foods that feel more tolerable. One caveat to sickness is ensuring that the eating disorder is not prolonging sickness and that you are reintroducing foods as you feel able.
Recovery from an eating disorder is hard and it is very normal to experience high emotions. In these moments, the eating disorder may want you to miss out on meals or snacks to cope with emotions; however, regular intake is still essential even when our emotions are high. To navigate high emotions around meal or snack time, it may be helpful to journal, meditate, or any other activity you find helpful to help ground yourself before eating. Distraction can be another great strategy to get you through these tough moments, as well as reaching out for support.
Change of Plans
Unfortunately, no matter how well we plan, things happen. Maybe you planned a food challenge, and the restaurant does not have what you wanted to order. You might also have had a plan and find it is too stressful to follow through in the moment. Any situation where there are changes to a plan can be a great opportunity to practice flexibility. We may not have control over what happens, but the most important thing is moving forward. You may want to pause, breathe, and ground yourself to see that there are other options. For example, there may be something on the menu that is equally challenging and delicious that you could have. In these moments, we can meet ourselves halfway. If you are not able to do what you planned to do, there may still be an opportunity to challenge the eating disorder.
The eating disorder says you ate “too much”
You just finished a delicious meal or snack and are feeling full. The eating disorder may try and distort fullness and say that you ate too much and then need to compensate somehow. “Too much” is a catch-all phrase that the eating disorder likes to use, but what is too much? Often too much is difficult to define. Fullness is a temporary sensation that will pass. Even if you finish a meal or snack and do feel overly full, this will ease with time and you will be hungry again for the next meal or snack.
Throughout recovery, there will inevitably be challenging mealtimes. By taking positive recovery steps in these difficult times, you will continue to challenge the eating disorder and give your body the nourishment and fuel that it needs.