Eating Disorders – 8 Tips for Navigating Virtual Meal Support
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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

Tips to virtually support those with eating disorders

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.   

PS. If you’re interested in gaining the support, knowledge, and confidence you need to guide your loved one towards recovery, check out my online program, Caregivers United.

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, get in touch with our eating disorder dietitian team! Caregivers United is a 6-week online program designed especially for parents, partners, and caregivers to provide the tools, knowledge, and support to guide your loved one towards recovery. We also offer eating disorder nutrition counselling for individuals or families.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:

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Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
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Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

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I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
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Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

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Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
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Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
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