Meal Support – What You Need To Know

Couple preparing meal together

Disordered eating habits and distorted beliefs about food are issues with which individuals with an eating disorder regularly face. Thus, clinicians must meet the challenge of developing and implementing treatment plans that foster their clients’ ability to develop a healthy relationship with food; meal support is an integral component in helping individuals with an eating disorder accomplish this goal. Meal support entails providing emotional support during meals in order to facilitate an environment in which an individual feels more comfortable consuming the food on their meal plan and redirecting unhealthy behaviors that deter from recovery. 

Meal support has been an important aspect of treatment within residential facilities, but family members and friends can also provide this form of support by sitting down to a meal with their loved ones and providing emotional support throughout the meal. Emotional support can occur in the form of giving encouragement and reassurance, helping the individual manage their anxiety and fears surrounding a meal, providing a safe space for an individual to discuss their food-related fears, distracting with a healthy conversation, and promoting relaxation techniques during the course of a meal. A variety of other techniques can be utilized when supporting an individual through a meal, such as:

  • Having light-hearted conversations about topics the person enjoys (e.g., music, movies, art, cars, books, etc.)
  • Modeling healthy eating behaviors
  • Modeling a healthy relationship with food
  • Modeling appropriate social interaction during meals
  • Discussing the best ways to support the person with their meal plan

Rather than simply monitoring an individual’s food intake, meal support should provide an individual with the opportunity to challenge their eating disorder thoughts and behaviors in a safe and structured environment in order to normalize healthy eating habits. Furthermore, meal support can help individuals with an eating disorder resolve feelings of shame and guilt that are typically associated with eating by engaging in a conversation unrelated to food, weight, exercise, etc. in order to help the individual learn to emphasize the social aspects of sitting down to a meal with others. Emotional support following a meal can also assist individuals in redirecting urges to binge, purge, or over-exercise after a meal by teaching them ways in which to exchange disordered behaviors for healthier and more effective ways of coping with food-related fear and anxiety.