Meal Support Is a Powerful Treatment Tool

Therapeutic meal support is a powerful treatment tool at Columbus Park. Learn more about the when, what, and how.

Mealtime is inherently challenging if you have an eating disorder. Disordered eating behaviors—like avoidance of certain foods, eating food types in a certain order, cutting food into small pieces, eating at an especially slow or markedly fast pace etc.— develop over time and can become second nature and difficult to change. Addressing these patterns or rituals is central to recovery, but can feel very difficult and overwhelming.

Therapeutic meal support is a powerful treatment tool at Columbus Park.

At breakfast, lunch and dinner, clients dine in a small group setting with a therapist facilitator. The meals are structured to increase awareness of problematic eating styles or patterns and to support more flexibility and comfort with food overall.

The four most important objectives of meal support include:

  • Decreasing disordered eating rituals and rules
  • Decreasing fear of food
  • Reinforcing balanced eating and appropriate portioning
  • Re-establishing mealtime as a normal, pleasant, and social experience

Many of our patients find that meal support is especially helpful when they are having a hard time establishing better when, what and how skills:

The When: Establishing a Consistent Meal Schedule

Some individuals struggle with overly rigid rules about when to eat (only before 7pm, only when starving etc). Others stray away from structure all together which can result in chaotic eating, grazing or a starving/over-eating cycle. Recovery starts with establishing a stable and consistent meal schedule—breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with snacks in between.

At Columbus Park, clients frequently describe an experience of safety within the reliable and stable structure of our daily supported meals. Additionally, treatment goals like weight stabilization or the extinction of bingeing and/or purging behaviors are more attainable when this healthy structure is provided.

The What: Food Mix and Portions

A balanced meal includes a mix of food types—carbohydrate, vegetables, fruit, protein, and fat—with sufficient calories to meet body needs. Columbus Park supported meals are designed to model a balanced, healthful approach to nourishment. Different food types are presented or encouraged and appropriate portions modeled at each and every meal. Participants can practice their own food selection, portioning and connecting with body cues of hunger and fullness.

The How: Safe, Supported, and Relaxed

Many of our clients confirm that the very thought of a meal, much less actually sitting down to it, creates anxiety. For this reason, at Columbus Park, we work hard to establish a safe, supportive and relaxed dining setting. Conversation is encouraged and directed in such a way that topics remain neutral and non-triggering. Therapists are present – eating as well – to provide extra support and direction if someone is struggling through. After the meal portion of the therapeutic hour, participants process feelings (physical and emotional) and share impressions under the guidance of the meal facilitator.

Whether it’s a single weekly meal to work on a particular goal or multiple supported meals daily, the therapeutic meal intervention empowers each participant to choose to honor and care for his/her body with every adequate meal completed. There is truly no better exposure experience than therapeutic meals in the treatment setting.