Eating with others can feel very overwhelming when suffering from an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are secretive and isolating illnesses and eating with others – even those you love and who love you – can be shaming, embarrassing, stressful or annoying. On the flip side, family and friends may unintentionally increase the stress and anxiety by trying to help in a way that is actually not that supportive. Additionally, loved ones may get frustrated or bored with your eating disorder frequently joining the dinner party!
However, eating socially; with family, friends, your kids or even in our breakfast and lunch food groups can play a vital part by not allowing the eating disorder win. Eating socially can:
- Re-educate you on normal portions and food combinations and well behaviours
- Show you that the act of eating is not shameful or wrong or a failure
- Help keep you safe when you are fearful of eating or changing or diet
- Actually push the eating disorder anxiety aside by proving that you can eat and have a nice conversation or learn something from someone else
Eventually, social eating can become a place to share experiences, stories and humour that can help you discover who you are and what you love about life.
Eating socially is not just about eating main meals at a dinner table. It can include eating popcorn in the cinema or snacking on crisps at a party or sharing a chocolate while walking down the street! These experiences are a part of what makes life colourful and enjoyable. Yet, they can be even more challenging than eating set meals with your family. It is important to not distance yourself from these experiences as well.
Hopefully the tips below will help break down some of the boring barriers to social eating.
Tips for Eating with Others:
- Don’t hide your food in a deep bowl or take away container – hiding food is just another way of avoiding eating with others
- Instead, be open about how much you are going to eat and what you are OK about eating
- Don’t talk about the food – either your food or other’s food or food / diets / food programmes on TV in general. Talk about other things that interest you or even listen to the radio or music if talking does not feel that comfortable.
- Look at people in the eye when they talk and don’t stare at what you or others are eating
- Try not to compare your food or eating to others
Tips for Family and Friends:
- Don’t talk about the food
- Don’t tell the person with an eating disorder what they should or should not be eating. Or how much/little they should be eating
- Do not give nutritional advice and NEVER talk about diets or unwell behaviours. The ill client does not need to know what exercise you are doing at the gym or that you only like to buy organic foods!
- If the person with an eating disorder is not eating what you want her to / or in the way you want her to, then save that conversation for another time
- Don’t look at the ill client’s food or plate. Look at them in the eye when they talk
- Keep the conversation light and joyful
Finally remember that every ill person is an individual with an individual eating disorder. Their needs may change over time. For example the ill client may need you to eat what she eats to feel safe. Yet after a while, she may want more independence – recognize this, and, as much as possible, go with it.