Top Ten Strategies to Use at Meal and Snack Times

 

Until you are fairly far along in the recovery process, you may need varying degrees of strategies to help with your eating. Ultimately, you will be able to achieve a more peaceful relationship with food and your body, but until then, here are ten strategies to use. Also remember that you are very vulnerable to the “voice” of your eating disorder in the moments before, during, and after you eat, so mentally “arm” yourself for the possibility of hearing negative, critical, and catastrophizing statements during these times. Take your power back!

 

 

1.  Write down and use positive healthy statements for eating times, such as “I am going to do what is best for my recovery at this meal, no matter what negative thoughts I have.” “I need this food to help my body stay strong.” “By eating this meal, I am helping to gain clarity.” “There is no such thing as a perfect meal, but I will do the best I can to eat well.” “I need food for my organs to function at 100%.” “Even if I eat more than I set out to eat, I will not beat myself up because I am doing the best I can.” “Nothing bad can possibly happen to me by eating this meal right now. Only good things can result from giving my body nourishment.” “I will not base what my nutritional needs are on the negative feelings I have about my body. I will eat what I know to be the best meal for my overall health, and my psychological well-being.

2.  Try not to go longer than 4 waking hours without food. The body is designed to be fed at regular intervals and going too long without food may create heightened food obsessions, cravings, and extremes in hunger. By sticking to a fairly regular schedule of eating, you will be better able to think clearly and tune into your body’s needs better.

3.  Make sure you are in a calm emotional place when you sit down to eat. Eating while upset, angry, anxious, or in any negative emotional state can alter your hunger and fullness cues, and increase eating disordered thoughts, urges, and behaviors.

4.  If you need meal time support from a family member, friend, or other loved one, ask for it before you sit down to eat. Once you sit down with food in front of you, you are already too vulnerable. Sometimes a supportive person can distract you from the negative eating disordered voice and can help make the meal/snack a more enjoyable experience overall.

5.  There’s a saying that goes “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Try to think about what your day is going to look like in terms of schedule, activities, places you will be, and people you will be with. Think about, and plan for how you will meet your nutritional needs. You don’t have to obsessively plan everything you will eat, but be prepared for the day. Clients often say to me “I didn’t have time to eat this food or that food.” “I didn’t have time to prepare my food.” “I didn’t have xxx food in the house, so I just grabbed something at the last minute.” “I didn’t know what I wanted so I didn’t eat.” “I didn’t have anything I liked to I just ate random stuff.” “I ran short on time so I just grabbed something and ate it in my car.” These are excuses, justifications that are not putting recovery as the top priority. Decisions like these will ultimately set your recovery back. Recovery must come first, and having a plan to eat well, and often, must be priority #1.  (I am very busy during the week, and I never ever go to work or anywhere without either bringing plenty of food with me or knowing where I can buy a very satisfying meal/snack. Planning to be well fed reduces my anxiety and assures me that I will be able to meet my needs as well as I possibly can.

6.  Try your best not to multitask while eating. Even if you need distractions while eating, try to be as present as possible. The more mindful you are, the more you can be attuned to what your food needs are. Try not to eat while driving, watching TV, on the computer, or working?

7.  Make sure the meal/snack “counts” psychologically. Too often, people with eating disorders make food choices based on rigid rules, not based on what they like. If you are on a meal plan, or if you are working on intuitive eating, choose foods that appeal to you. Choose foods that you are in the mood for, not foods that you think you “should” have. Eating the same exact foods every day, eating by strict rules, eliminating certain food groups or nutrients, eating less than you know is best for you, are all forms of restriction and will potentially backfire sooner or later.

8.  Make sure you are working on incorporating a wide variety of foods and all the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat). The human body has a need for all the nutrients, to work optimally. It is best to have at least three or four food groups at meal time, and at least two food groups at snack time. By having a variety of food groups, and having foods that appeal to you psychologically (strategy #7), your body will be well fueled and you will feel satisfied. By accomplishing both physical and psychological satiety, you will also get food off your mind a bit easier, obsessions may diminish, and your mind will be freed up to focus on your passions and other pleasures. Remember though, that your eating disordered “voice” will try to beat you up for eating foods that give you pleasure. Tell that negative voice that by eating foods you like, you are getting stronger and closer to recover

9.  Eat sitting down at a table or counter, with as pleasing of surroundings as possible. Use appealing tableware, tablecloth or placemat, and utensils. It is optimal to have all the conditions possible to have a pleasant, mindful meal. You could even make your own special placemat, bowl, or plate. Try not to eat standing up. Food eaten while multitasking or standing up doesn’t “count” psychologically, sets you up for feeling dissatisfied, and increases urges to crave more food.

10.  If one meal or snack doesn’t go well, or if you have used an eating disordered behavior at any time during the day, don’t write the entire day off as a “failure”. At the very next time you need to eat, in order to maintain your structure, you have the opportunity to turn things around. Try to never, ever, end the day with an eating disordered behavior or disordered meal. Make sure you end your day doing something positive with your food. There is no stronger statement you can make regarding recovery than going to bed having done the best you could at the end of the day.

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2 thoughts on “Top Ten Strategies to Use at Meal and Snack Times

  1. Donna, I love the way you clarify things. These are exactly the strategies that helped me in my recovery and brought me to the strong place I stand in today. As difficult as it was in the moment, when I look back at the journey, I am so glad I made the right choices. Life is beautiful without my eating disorder!

  2. I love these things. I think they have all been very helpful during my recovery, especially the one about planning ahead of time. There are so many excuses that people with eating disorders can come up with but this was the most common for me, ‘I didn’t find anything for me to eat, so I didn’t” Planning out meals when you know you are going somewhere is a HUGE help!

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