Meal Time Tips for the Family of an Individual Struggling with Anorexia

Meal times among families are generally thought to be a time of fellowship, relaxation, and enjoyment. Meant as a time to join over a meal with the company of those you love and care for, family meal time can be an incredible opportunity to share and bond.

However, if someone in the family is struggling with anorexia, meal times can be stressful, overwhelming, and tense. If you have a daughter, son, sibling, or spouse who is recovering from anorexia, meal times may even feel like a battleground if there is resistance to eating or tensions at the table.

Flex Diet

Using Meals as Family Support

How can you help support your loved one through their recovery from anorexia and make meal time a more enjoyable experience once again? This may begin by understanding the process of eating disorder recovery, particularly from anorexia. If your family member has been severely malnourished or emaciated due to restricting behaviors, it is likely that their caloric needs for refeeding are quite high.

Having an adequate balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats will ensure that your loved one is receiving the nutrients they need to reverse the process of malnutrition. If your family is not already working with a treatment team, consider enlisting the support of a Registered Dietitian who can help guide your family through this process.

Having a Meal Plan

Having a meal plan to work from can be a helpful instrument to work from and take the guesswork out of meal preparation. Planning your family meals ahead of time and having the ingredients you need ahead of time to prepare cohesive meals can significantly lower stress around meal time.

Proper nutrition is one the most important steps to take in a recovery process, and even more important to help your loved one with.

woman preparing a meal

Meeting Nutritional Needs

Planning and preparing meals that adequately meet your loved ones nutritional needs for anorexia recovery is one part of the puzzle. Another key component is meal support, which essentially will help your loved one feed themselves. Many families may struggle with this component in particular due to feeling uncertain or at a loss as to how to offer support during a meal.

Being on the same page as your other family members can help ensure that you are all able to stay unified against an eating disorder that can be manipulative at times.


Centering Around Your Family

Family-based therapy, also known as the Maudsley Approach, is an important aspect of eating disorder treatment that is an evidenced-based approach for anorexia recovery [1].

With the family-based therapy approach, family members are educated to play an active role in assisting their loved one to eat and restore weight that has been lost due to anorexia as well as take control over their own eating once again.

Many therapists are specialized in this family-based approach and can help guide your family during this period of recovery for your family member. If you are interested in learning more about family-based therapy, be sure to inquire about this approach as you search for therapists or counselors in the eating disorder community.

man passing plate of food at dinner table

Understanding Your Influence

Setting the tone for your family meal can also help stage an environment that is uplifting and supportive for your family member who is struggling with anorexia. Exuding an attitude of compassion and support to your loved one can be helpful and encouraging to their efforts.

As frustrating as it may be to observe their struggle with food, remember that anorexia is a severe psychiatric disorder and that their behaviors are not personal attacks against you or the rest of your family. Coming from this place of understanding can help set a tone of hope and support, rather than frustration and tension.

Focusing on Positive Things

Distraction methods during meal time can also be helpful, such as listening to music, reading aloud, etc. Focusing on something positive can help reduce anxiety that is often felt around meals for the person in recovery from anorexia.

Persistent effort and love will help you see your loved one through this recovery process. Over time, you will see progress being made and can look forward to a time where meals are joyous occasion again.


  1. Lock J, et al. Randomized clinical trial comparing family-based treatment with adolescent-focused individual therapy for adolescents with anorexia nervosa. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2010 Oct; 67(10):1025-32

Contributor: Article Contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Eating Disorder Hope

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 21st, 2015
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Articles on Anorexia