Part One Recovery Around the Kitchen: Family Work

Director of Nutrition Services Mary Dye, MPH, RD, CEDRD, LD/N and Director of Food Services Lissa Garcia, RD, LD/N come together to share an important series for cultivating recovery around the kitchen. Mary and Lissa will discuss ways to ensure that the family is providing a safe space around mealtime for eating disorder recovery. 

As families well know, kitchens and dining areas can become a battle zone when an eating disorder is present. Since they are so often such places of conflict, we need to prep them for the  fragile early stage of returning home from treatment, when things as simple as the color of the placemats, type of milk and shape of the bowls can serve to increase urges to engage in maladaptive patterns or reinforce recovery oriented behaviors.

This two-part series will discuss different facets related recovery around the kitchen.

When I start this discussion with clients I ask them to describe their kitchen and dining area and we talk about how certain parts may trigger old ways of thinking or serve as an opportunity to facilitate new recovery oriented behaviors. Often this leads to exploring the size of their dishes, view from their designated spot at the table or when we need to, we get creative at thinking of how to create a table in small spaces where this is none. From all these discussions I’ve compiled a list of things to consider as you prepare to go home or to welcome your loved one home.

Now, don’t think that keeping old placemats is going to risk a loved one’s recovery; it certainly is not. But it is an opportunity to discuss with your loved one the environment that they’ll be returning to and what small changes might help them to reduce the pull toward old ways of thinking in regard to food. There are some common themes that tend to come up and are worth addressing before discharging from treatment. Keep in mind, this is certainly not to suggest a costly kitchen overhaul. As fun as it may be for some to re-decorate, things as simple as changing a few items or swapping a tablecloth can make a world of difference.

Ensure that dishes can accommodate recovery oriented portions

A common situation clients find themselves in is comparing the portions they ate in their eating disorder to those their body needs for a life in recovery. For instance, if a person’s body needs three times the serving of cereal that they had been allowing themselves previously, that portion difference the familiar bowl is going to look pretty different. This difference can spark negative thoughts and comparisons, fueling restrictive urges. Replacing the bowl with a new size or shaped version that can better accommodate the portions or just simply serves as a new visual point of reference can help to reduce this internal critique and comparison, leaving them with more energy to eat (and hopefully enjoy) the cereal rather than question it.

Ensure that furniture can accommodate all bodies at the table

Sitting through meals can be hard enough in a comfortable seat, so just think of how challenging it is in an uncomfortable one. Questions to consider are: can the chairs comfortably accommodate the weight, stature and space needed for all who may dine here?  Is the seat too hard or soft, wide or narrow and what body image thoughts and judgments might this be fueling in myself or my loved one? For some in treatment, there are changes to the body and for some their are not. Take the time to consider if furniture has been used in “body checking” and take steps to remove the baseline measure and promote a comfortable and if needed, new, experience at the table.


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