By Megan Drake, LMHC

If you or someone you love has an eating disorder, you’ve likely experienced meals and snacks as very challenging anxiety-provoking events. That’s why we must come prepared with coping strategies to set ourselves and/or our loved ones up for success. Coping strategies are like tools in a toolbox. Let’s say you want to hang a picture on a wall. You first grab your toolbox full of a variety of tools and select the tool(s) that you think will help you to accomplish this task. It could take just a hammer, or you might find the task to be more difficult requiring a hammer, screwdriver, measuring tape and a level. Our ability to cope with a challenging moment often looks the same; sometimes one strategy is effective in reducing our anxiety and other times we need the whole toolbox.

For those wondering how to build your toolbox, here are 5 coping strategies to get you started. Tools included in this article are taken from evidence-based forms of treatment for eating disorders Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

  1. One-bite at a time. Reduce the stress of completing the entire meal or snack. Start with one-bite and then take the next one-bite, over time approaching food bite by bite will lead to accomplishing 100%.
  2. Cold temperature. (T of TIP skill in DBT) Using cold temperature changes your body chemistry to reduce high emotional arousal and feelings of being overwhelmed.
  • Place a cold object on your pressure points (ice cube, frozen orange, ice pack)
  • Splash your face with cold water
  1. Mealtimes can be inherently stressful. Focus on activities that foster calming, fun, and happy emotions.
    • Play a game at your dinner table.
    • Listen to music and sing the lyrics in your head.
    • Look at images that make you feel happy.
  1. Create a list of motivators for recovery. Your own motivators help to challenge the eating disorder’s rules and goals.
    • Ask yourself: What is the eating disorder keeping you from doing that you would like to do? Who motivates you for recovery? What are your goals for the future? How would eating this meal or snack help you to reach this goal?
    • Download images or videos that symbolize what life will look like outside of the eating disorder.
  1. Identify and challenge Eating Disorder thoughts. Separate the eating disorder from yourself.
    • Ask yourself: What’s the evidence that what the eating disorder is telling you is true or not true? What would you tell your friend if they came to you with this thought? Is there another way to look at this situation? If it is true, is it really so bad?