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Importance of Meal Support for Clients in Residential Eating Disorder Programs

While enrolled in residential eating disorder treatment programs, clients will receive meal support services to help them restructure their outlook on eating and mealtimes. The meal support services are designed to help them stick with their meal plan and overcome the challenges they might face. With meal support, clients can address their concerns and difficulties in real time to receive the support they need in finding their ideal coping mechanisms. With this level of support, they can gain the skills and confidence they need to follow their meal plans and comfortably engage in mealtimes.

For this reason, meal support services are integral to anorexia nervosa and bulimia treatment plans long-term effectiveness. Clients can begin their journey toward becoming recovered by taking a closer look at the benefits of meal support. They may get started by using this guide to learn all about how the meal support services can help them confidently overcome the challenges ahead and become recovered.

Promotes the Development of Healthy Eating Habits

Disordered eating habits can become ingrained, making it difficult for clients to return to appropriate eating patterns on their own. To challenge those destructive behaviors, it is important to replace those habits with better alternatives on a consistent basis. With time, the old destructive behaviors are replaced with ones that support their journey toward becoming and remaining recovered.

Before all this can happen, however, clients need to be able to see the destructive nature of disordered eating habits and other behaviors — and tell when they are engaging in them. Meal support aims to provide the insights needed to replace destructive behaviors with healthy eating habits. Eating disorder therapists will help their clients see the behaviors for what they are and promptly replace them to restructure their habits.

With meal support, clients will also receive help with following their individualized eating plans. With their eating disorder therapist available throughout all mealtimes, they can discuss the purpose of the plan and how it will help them become recovered. They can also learn about how they will transition to planning and managing their own meals using the skills they gained in residential eating disorder programs.

The understanding they gain through these discussions can act as their guide as they practice the skills introduced in anorexia treatment. As clients move through their programs, they can actively replace their dysfunctional behaviors with healthy eating habits that help them remain recovered.

Reframes Negative Thought Patterns About Food and Meals

Before people with eating disorders can start to replace destructive behaviors with positive alternatives, they must reframe their negative thought patterns about food and meals. This process can take some time, as it requires remaining mindful about feelings that arise while challenging any and all negativity. With mindful reframing of negative thought patterns, people with eating disorders can start to make positive associations with eating and sitting down for meals.

To make progress toward becoming recovered, clients can benefit from extra support at mealtimes while enrolled in eating disorder treatment programs. Eating disorder therapists can discuss how their clients feel in the moment and help them use coping skills to handle their strong emotions or distressing thoughts. Through this process, they can challenge the underlying thought patterns and associations that give them the most trouble in recovery. With clarity about those matters, clients can start building positive associations to reframe how they feel about this important part of life.

Allows Clients to Address Challenges as They Arise

As people with eating disorders receive meal support, they can directly address the challenges they face with guidance from their eating disorder therapists. Whenever they face difficulties in replacing destructive thought patterns and behaviors, it is possible to reach out at that moment to receive assistance. With this approach, they do not have to sit with the negative feelings clouding their mind and potentially encouraging destructive behaviors. Instead, they can receive the guidance they need to eliminate those challenges and move forward on the path to becoming recovered.

At meal support sessions, eating disorder therapists may ask leading questions and start a dialogue that promotes mindfulness and other self-monitoring behaviors. Clients can share their discoveries with the professionals leading the residential eating disorder programs to receive help getting around their main barriers to recovery. Working through these barriers allows them to build a healthy relationship with food and learn to enjoy mealtimes.

Helps Structure Mealtimes as Positive Events

For many people in residential eating disorder programs, mealtimes have turned into rather negative events due to the destructive thought patterns and behaviors that arise. The negative thoughts and feelings that come up at mealtimes can make it difficult to remain present and practice good coping skills. Some people may decide to skip mealtimes altogether to avoid those seemingly endless negative associations.

With meal support, however, eating disorder therapists do what they can to structure mealtimes as positive events. They prepare the dining room to make it feel welcoming and bright for all their clients. They also plan fun conversations and put out board games for people to play together as they work on following their meal plans. Although they are available to help their clients work through challenges, eating disorder therapists also want to help them see how enjoyable mealtimes can be.

When people with eating disorders can recognize what functional mealtimes should look and feel like, they can emulate that while practicing their skills outside the inpatient anorexia treatment center. Eating disorder therapists can help them understand where to best apply their efforts as they work toward seeing mealtimes in a positive light. Their exact approach will depend on their own unique life experiences and the feelings and thought patterns that arise as a result. With personalized anorexia treatment support, they can make progress in addressing these underlying factors and building positive associations with mealtimes.

Rewards Clients for Their Presence at Meals

While following an inpatient anorexia treatment plan, attendance at meals and snack periods will be naturally rewarded by a reduction of the stress clients feel about this vital activity. Clients can bring up the challenges that cause them the most problems and receive help without judgment. Through each meal support session, it is possible to actively work on personal eating disorder recovery tasks while remaining on track with the bulimia treatment plan established by the care team.

The one on one empathic support helps clients complete their meals with confidence that following their personalized treatment plan will help them move toward recovery. Through this arrangement, clients can rest assured that they always have someone to lean on when challenges arise while eating. With practice, they can also learn how to rely on their own coping skills to move toward stress-free mealtimes. Practicing these skills in a safe, monitored environment, as is found with meal support, helps improve their abilities without the risk of failing. This naturally-rewarding environment will help frame mealtimes as positive experiences that benefit all clients’ health and wellbeing.

Keeps Clients Accountable and Moving Toward Becoming Recovered

Accountability is key in becoming and remaining recovered after graduating from residential eating disorder programs. Meal support helps build this accountability through the gradual development of supportive skills. Through mealtime guidance, eating disorder therapist can help their clients increase mindfulness and self-monitoring skills, for example, to help them remain accountable through treatment and beyond.

As people with eating disorders make progress toward becoming recovered, they will show that they can be accountable for their own recovery by creating and following their own meal plans. They will continue to receive meal support throughout this process to ensure they can address their challenges head-on. As they continue to push the envelope in recovery, new challenges and setbacks are common and easy to overcome with help during meal support sessions.

Eating disorder therapist will know when their clients need help by observing mealtimes and noting when they need the extra guidance and support. When this happens, they may receive help restructuring negative thought patterns or replacing destructive behaviors to resolve those challenges.

Strengthens Social Bonds

When people with eating disorders invite family members to mealtimes, they can strengthen the bonds with those in their social network. Their attendance at these meal support groups can serve to improve their understanding of what their loved ones face in recovery. Caring family members can learn about the triggers that cause problems and healthy coping habits that help the most in the moment. They can also learn more about how to provide the best level of support as their loved ones transition from inpatient treatment to outpatient eating disorder treatment programs, and then again to home.

With a high level of support from family, clients can push past the difficulties they face and work on eliminating their eating disorder symptoms. These important individuals can help clients remain mindful and honest with themselves as they transition to home as a part of their bulimia treatment plan. The family support can also help clients better understand when they could potentially benefit from outside support services or additional treatment at the residential eating disorder program. Strong bonds with family can go a long way in helping clients remain recovered – and it often all starts at meal support groups and other events held by anorexia treatment centers.

What Clients Can Expect from Meal Support While in Eating Disorder Treatment

When people with eating disorders enter residential eating disorder programs, they can expect to receive meal support to help restructure their perceptions of food and mealtimes. Meal support comes from the dedicated eating disorder care team and their peers who attend group therapy sessions as well. Clients can also receive meal support from their family members, as their involvement is an important part of each person’s recovery journey.

With meal support, clients will simply attend mealtimes as a group led by members of the eating disorder care team. They can receive help following their eating plan through the care team’s oversight at every meal and snack period. If they have difficulties following their plan, they can share their challenges and receive help from their eating disorder therapist in getting past them. They can also discuss their successes and strengths to build up their toolbox of healthy coping skills and thought patterns.

The fully recovered staff members attend all mealtimes and arrange other helpful events that assist with meal support. These meal support events may center around family group therapy or educational workshops to help clients gain the insights and skills they need to become and remain recovered. The meal support events may center around different topics that can help the group and their family members move past barriers to recovery.

Beyond helping everyone cope with the process of becoming recovered, these meal support events also help build bonds between clients and their social network. These bonds can help clients remain on the path to recovery even as challenges come their way. They can also learn a lot about themselves and ways to eliminate their symptoms through the process of receiving meal support.

As people with eating disorders receive guidance and support from those around them, it is possible to gain immense personal insights that were likely never thought about before. These insights can really help as clients learn what makes them tick, and then use their strengths to become recovered. Therefore, meal support will likely prove invaluable as people with eating disorders move through the inpatient anorexia treatment program.









Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.