Practical mealtime scenarios: see the tools in action and treat your child’s eating disorder

Last updated on October 11th, 2021

This is a section from Chapter 8 of 'Anorexia and other eating disorders – how to help your child eat well and be well'

And if you prefer something more 'live':

How can you 'make' your child eat? We're getting very practical here.

In this chapter I give you examples of things to say and not to say when you’re supporting your child at mealtimes. This will help you keep calm and will help your child to pick up that fork and eat. I then offer a scenario in which parents assist their child to eat for the first time. This chapter uses many of the practical and emotional tools described throughout the book.

Let’s assume you're doing everything pretty damn well. You're non-critical, accepting, determined, empathetic and at times, you have a sense of humour. Even then, it would be a miracle not to encounter resistance. We found ourselves searching high and low for answers on what to actually say and do to get our child to eat, and I hope this section helps you.

First, I’m going to offer you a very, very dull list of responses you can give to the many arguments your child may put up during a meal. It’s supposed to be dull. It’s a broken record. Once you’ve got the gist of it, you might want to skip to the following section, where I invite you to be a fly on the wall during a fictional lunchtime session. This example pulls together many of the practical and emotional tools I talk about in this book. After that I give you another example, but this time we’re much further into recovery: we’ve built trust, we have experience, and the job of exposing and desensitising to a fear is done in one short session.

So, here goes.

What to say, and what not to say when you're feeding your child

One very useful skill we got from being coached at home was to avoid the hooks that threatened to distract us from our task. It is not our normal style to ignore questions or to refuse to discuss things, so we had to be vigilant. We learned that we could be open to discussing some things but never over a meal. We saved eating-disorder-related discussions for outside mealtimes. Even then, some topics, such as 'Am I fat?' were never worth dwelling on at any time.

The whole point is to be a broken record and return the focus to the task of eating. The underlying message is that yes, our kid has some anxiety right now, but he still needs to eat, and we will support him throughout.

Eating examples anorexia
Eating in spite of the fear

Setting the scene

'Whatever you've made, I'm not having it.'
Please get off the computer, sweetheart. I want you sitting at the table before I serve lunch. It’s ready.

'Put it on the table, then, and I'll see if I want it.'
This is non-negotiable, sweetie. Please come and sit down now.

‘I’m not hungry. I’ll eat later, I promise.’
This is the time to eat. Come and sit down. I'm going to sit with you and support you.

'Leave me alone!'
You need to eat your snack. Let's get on with it. Come to the table now.

'But I need to text Carla. We're making plans to meet up at the park.'
That sounds fun! You need your lunch first. Come and eat, and then we can talk about your plans and you can text then.

'It's boring at the table. Why can't we watch telly?'
That's a good idea. Go put the telly on and I'll bring your plate over.

'I want Dad to help me with dinner, not you.'
Yes, that's fine. Dad can do it tonight.

'I want Dad to help me with dinner, not you. You're rubbish'
Dad's not going to be in for another hour. Right now you'll have to have your dinner with me. Is there a way I can make it easier for you?

'Dad makes me laugh. You're boring and you're always staring at me like this'. (Crosses her eyes).
OK, laughing helps you. How about we watch funny YouTube movies of cats while we eat?

[End of extract from the chapter]

In this chapter:

What to say, and what not to say when you are supporting your child to eat

  • Setting the scene
  • I’m not hungry
  • Quantities and ingredients
  • Calories
  • Calculations
  • The hospital/Mum/Dad don’t do it like you
  • You’ve changed my meals
  • Hiding food
  • My weight
  • Got to go
  • Hygiene
  • Self-hate
  • Lashing out
  • Emotions that distract from the task
  • Suffering and despair

Be a fly on the wall: a lunchtime scenario

  • Principles
  • The set-up
  • Preparation
  • During meal preparation
  • Getting her to the table: first attempt
  • Getting her to the table: empathy
  • Getting her to the table: escape
  • * Pause for self-connection *
  • Onwards
  • ‘I hate my life!’
  • Howling in the bedroom
  • Calling it a day … for this meal
  • Failure?
  • Sitting at the table
  • ‘I’m not eating this!’
  • Flying food
  • ‘Do I have to eat this?’
  • Eating successfully
  • Butter, hygiene, and ‘you gave me more’
  • Feeling too full
  • The last crumbs
  • A gift
  • Sticking by her
  • Finishing
  • After the meal
  • Debrief
  • How typical was that?

* Go to: Table of contents *

* Next: Chapter 9 : How to free your child of fears: exposure therapy *

4 Replies to “Practical mealtime scenarios: see the tools in action and treat your child’s eating disorder”

  1. This book is an absolute life saver! Just in the throws of refeeding and although our therapists are good I find this much more of a practical support at this difficult time. Thank you so much xxx

  2. I think you've covered it all here. I wish I had a do-over, because I can't tell whether these ideas would have worked with my daughter.. It took a hospital visit to get my daughter to eat, and when she came home, the fear of the hospital was enough to keep her eating. She had all the negative attitude and the bad habits, and she refused to eat outside the meal plan we originally agreed to, but she ate. So reading through this, I can't give critique that comes form hard one experience.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and to comment. I'm glad your daughter ate once she was home and can't imagine you ever want to be in a situation where you're putting my suggestions to the test.

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