Eating Disorders – 8 Tips for Navigating Virtual Meal Support
How to virtually support those with eating disorders
In the age of
COVID-19, we are connected virtually now more than ever!
In changing how we connect with one another, eating disorder support has also shifted and changed.
With online support groups, clinician Zoom sessions, and virtual resources abounding, we’ll talk about navigating virtual meal support and discuss some helpful tips to support your loved one in their recovery journey.
When it comes to supporting an individual living with an eating disorder, I strongly believe that parents, caregivers, and close supports can be some of the most influential forces on the path towards recovery. I consider the family an essential part of the eating disorder team, as parents and caregivers are often taking on an active and direct role in restoring their loved one’s health.
Caregiver support for older teens and young adults can feel sticky and challenging, as these individuals are trying to build independence and may even be living away from the home, yet are still in need of structure, support, and compassion to heal from their eating disorder. It can make sense that we want our loved ones to foster their independence and take on responsibilities of their own, however we also need to recognize that eating disorders thrive in isolation, and it can be an incredibly large burden for our loved one to navigate grocery shopping, food prep AND eating meals without consistent support.
So how can parents and caregivers help? Enter virtual meal support – this can be a helpful tool to support your loved one (even from a distance!) and continue to encourage them and love on them as they fight for recovery.
The 4C’s of Meal Support
In general, keep in mind the “4C’s of Meal Support” as defined by Kelty Mental Health:
- Remain Calm: your loved one can pick up on your anxiety, which can make them feel more anxious!
- Be Confident: even if you have to “fake it ‘til you make it!”. This helps to reassure your loved one.
- Be Consistent: stick to your decisions and avoid negotiating
- Be Compassionate: remember that your loved one is doing something that is incredibly hard for them
8 Helpful tips for Navigating Virtual Meal Support
1) Choose your Virtual Platform: Consider what platform would be most helpful for both of you. Is it a quick snack check in? Maybe a video call on your phone will work. Is it a full meal where more support and distraction is needed? I would opt for a video platform that allows screen sharing and other features to allow you to distract, connect, and support your loved one as needed.
2) Agree on your Timeline: Determine ahead of time how long your call will be and book it into your calendars. I typically plan ~15-20 minutes for eating snacks, and ~30 minutes for eating meals, with planned time for distraction activities afterward.
3) Consider your Set Up: Ideally, both of you should position your video set up so that you can clearly see your place setting and food. This will make it easier to model positive eating behaviors for your loved one, and also gives you the opportunity to check in and name what you are seeing if your loved one appears to be struggling – it’s a great opportunity to practice some emotion coaching!
4) Start with a Check In: When I run virtual meal support groups, I always start with a light-hearted check in question, as often anxiety can be very high at the beginning of a meal. Try an ice breaker question, or an emotion check in – like this fun dog themed one! This can also be an opportunity to “show and tell” what you’ve brought to a meal – chat with your dietitian to determine if this is supportive for you!
5) Keep the Conversation Light: The goal here is to make it easier for your loved one to eat, so drive the conversation forward with light and fun topics to provide distraction while they eat. In general, aim to avoid conversations about bodies, exercise, nutrition, diets, or body sensations (for example “wow, I feel so full!”). It may be helpful to make a plan ahead of time as to what conversation topics are helpful for your loved one.
6) Create a Plan for Flagging Conversations: I often implement a practice called “Change the Channel”. If at any point during the meal, your loved one, who is doing their best to finish their meal, can say “change the channel!” or any other code word you choose to come up with. In this way, it is straightforward for your loved one to communicate that this particular conversation is not making it easier for them to eat and we need a new topic. I often suggest keeping conversation cards on the table (or make your own list of ideas on post-it notes and keep them handy in a jar), so that at this point the parent or caregiver can pull out a topic card and easily switch the conversation, no questions asked or explanation needed.
7) Allow Space for Distractions Post-Meal: This is where we get to be creative! If you are able to share your screen, consider playing some online games together, such as virtual Scattergories or online jeopardy. Or plan to bring some art supplies to your virtual meal so you can use your hands while you watch a funny video together (you can share the video and audio on your screen!).
8) Consider Making a Plan Post-Call: Before you hang up, check in with your loved one again. Notice what has shifted over the course of your shared meal together and plan as needed for continued activities and distractions after you hang up.
In summary, parents and caregivers play a vital role in the recovery of their loved one and can be titans when it comes to supportive meals at home both in person or virtually! Try these tips for meal support and continue to show up for your loved one as they do the hard work of challenging their eating disorder. You are making a difference!
If you find you’re struggling with meal times or want more guidance on how to support your loved one in their recovery, work with an eating disorder dietitian. Our team at Health Stand is always happy to involve, coach, and empower families.
Looking for an Eating Disorder Dietitian that “gets it”? We can help.
If you are seeking support for an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, ARFID or disordered eating behavior, we can help.
We have Eating Disorder Dietitians on our team that can help provide you with the confidential supportive care to meet you where you are at and work with you to progress recovery at a pace you can manage.
We also work collaboratively with your physician and therapist to ensure we are helping you move forward with the right type of support needed to assist you.
Read more eating disorder information, tips, and resources:
Disordered eating, intuitive eating, mental health, digestive health, emotional eating, chronic disease
One of the first things you’ll notice about Britney is her energy, zest for life and love of food! Britney is passionate about supporting her clients in developing a healthy and satisfying relationship with food and their bodies, allowing them to live life to the fullest. Britney specializes in disordered eating, intuitive eating, mental health, digestive health, emotional eating, and chronic disease.