Building off our last posts I thought today I would cover a common question asked by parents or partners of someone who is struggling with an eating disorder. That question is ‘should I force my loved one to eat?’ or ‘How can I get them to eat?’ Essentially, what is being asked here is how can I encourage someone to eat. I wont lie, this is a tricky question to answer. My answers will be slightly different than a dietitian or a physician, but I will try my best to share my clinical experience and knowledge as a social worker.
First and foremost, there are many things that you can do that can help, even if our loved one isn’t willing to get help at the time you are reading this. The things you do, may not seem like they are helping in the moment, but I promise you they will make a difference in the long run. The first point is being a positive food role model. What does this mean? For those working in the area of eating disorders this means, avoid making comments about food, labelling them as good or bad or otherwise. I prefer to call food by what it is, like a cupcake, instead of ‘junk.’ Next, eat a variety of foods that are nutritious and balanced – this includes more energy dense foods such as a piece of cake or an ice cream on a hot summer day or a sandwich and an apple for lunch. This shows the sufferer that eating a variety of foods without anxiety or fear is possible! Also, avoid commenting on what others are eating, their plate is their business, no one else’s.
Next, try and make mealtimes as fun as possible and eat together. Even if someone isn’t willing to eat, encourage them to join you at the dinner table. Spend mealtime talking about something other than stressors, maybe come up with a list of fun questions to ask each other or talk about a favorite show you both watch – mine would be The Mandalorian 😊 Remember, never force someone to eat, this will only create tension and will lead to more lying and hiding food. Think about it this way, would you like to be forced to eat? The answer is probably no. You can encourage someone to eat, by praising them for taking one bite and noting how scary that must have been, and share you are very proud of them. Another great option is extending gratitude towards the person suffering by thanking them for showing up at the dinner table even though they didn’t want too. If you are parent who supporting a child, you will want to make natural consequences for not eating. If your child is weak from not eating, then they can not attend class field trip or gymnastics because it would not be safe for them, emphasizing the natural medical consequences from not eating.
Also, be mindful to take care of yourself. The dinner table can be a very stressful place. An eating disorder is no one’s fault and try not be overcome with should, must and oughts. Everyone is trying their best, and its an extremely difficult situation to be involved in. Take time for yourself away from the eating disorder if needed so you can come back a bit more rested. Seek counselling and support for yourself or even find a local support group for those who are supporting someone with an eating disorder. You are not alone in this. At GSW Counselling we have developed a caregiver support group to provide education, support and a safe place for those caring for someone with an eating disorder. For more information check out our website and consider joining this much needed support in our local community.
Dr. Nikita Yeryomenko graduated with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Windsor in 2017, where he then worked for a number of years. He gained most of his experience in various university counselling centers. These settings are fast-paced, high-volume, and see individuals with a very wide variety of concerns…
Ms. Dana Dupuis has been a registered Social Worker in good standing with The Ontario College of Social Workers & Social Services Workers for the last 11 years. Most of that time she worked as an intake specialist at Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa Association, where she had carried significant caseloads and completed over….
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