THE RAPEUTIC MEAL SESSIONS
You might find that you repeatedly make goals and plans to challenge or change a behavior, and you just can’t get yourself to do it. Instead of giving up, we encourage you to try having a therapeutic meal session with someone else you trust who is aware of your goals or intentions and can support you. Often, the best person for this is a professional you trust. If you are seeing a therapist or dietitian, one of them might be willing to do a meal session with you, but most have never have done these and might not understand what they are, or their value. We have found that many professionals just do not feel comfortable doing meal sessions. You might consider sharing this section or the entire Key with your professional and then see if he or she is open to scheduling a meal session. You might also consider looking into seeing a dietitian or meal coach who specifically provides meal sessions.
Meal sessions are helpful in so many ways that we can’t imagine not doing them with our clients. If someone keeps making a goal to have a piece of pizza each week and can’t seem to do it, having a meal session can change everything. Having food or a meal with our clients provides them with a trusted, safe, but also authoritative figure, who can be necessary to accomplish a difficult and sometimes even phobic task. A meal buddy, professional or otherwise, can help you eat the appropriate amount, stay with you afterwards to protect you from bingeing or purging, and help process whatever feelings might arise. Meal sessions are the fastest way we know of to bring your food issues to the surface, challenge and overcome your fears, and ultimately change your relationship to food. Eating a meal with someone can also help illuminate things unlikely to come up in a traditional talk therapy session. Meal sessions are not meant to catch you at anything, but they can provide you help and support in the moment when your food fears, rituals, and behaviors, such as cutting up your food into bits, ordering salad with no dressing for dinner, or getting up to purge after a pasta meal, are most likely to express themselves. The goal is to help you through these things, not to shame you.
Personal Reflection: GWEN
There were many key moments that led me, or pushed me to the next step in my recovery. One of those occurred during the first meal session I ever had. I had already been through a serious medical scare and although it was hard for a doctor to say for sure what caused it, I knew it was my eating disorder. It scared me enough to go to a dietitian, even though I doubted it would help. I assumed she would tell me to eat more of this or do that and I would agree, but not be able to. This is exactly what happened, so she suggested I do a meal session with her and start seeing a therapist. A meal session sounded scary, uncomfortable, and strange, but somehow she convinced me to try.
On my way to the restaurant, I was thinking, This is not going to be helpful. I knew I wasn’t going to act like I did when I was by myself. I was going to fake it through this lunch by ordering and eating normally. At first, it seemed like my plan was working. I was making small talk and really trying to keep my cool and appear unruffled while scanning the menu for something I could eat that would be considered normal. I felt my anxiety increasing, but instead of talking about that, I just said I was getting the chicken sandwich and shut the menu.
When the meal came, I felt overwhelmed immediately but determined to get through it. Quickly, my anxiety skyrocketed, and my attempts to hide it were not working. I started talking, or rather rambling. I picked up the sandwich in front of me and tried to hide my shaking hands. I do not even know how to describe what occurred in the next five minutes, but the embarrassment of it haunted me for years whenever I thought about it. While my mind was racing, my heart was pounding, and my mouth was rambling, my hands were literally pulling apart that sandwich, ripping it apart. Even to this day, as I write this, I can feel my chest tighten and my heart quicken. I was terrified, embarrassed, confused, and on the verge of having a panic attack. I can’t say how long this went on, but at some point, the dietitian reached over and held my hands to hold them still and said, Stop. Her voice was calm, but authoritative, in a way that broke through my panic. I stopped. Then, my eyes filled with tears and at that moment, I felt something crack inside me. The illusion I was living under had shattered and the reality of how sick, scared, and out of control I had become was blaringly obvious. Having a witness made it feel almost unbearable. I could not even fake it through one lunch and I was scared.
Everything changed after that meal session. I went for a couple more sessions with the dietitian and therapist, and then I agreed to go into treatment. It was clear to everyone, including me, I was sicker and more entrenched than anyone had realized and I needed more help. Because this dietitian understood eating disorders as well as she did, she was able to help and contain me in a very frightening moment, and that moment led to my getting the help I really needed. As difficult as it was then, I’m grateful to her.
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