Eating Food …
As my child spiraled into severe ongoing Anxiety and Depression their appetite became greatly reduced, and the idea of eating with people was overwhelming. Food is important for health and well-being, it provides the nutrients for the body and brain to function. It is also a social occasion when family connections are made and affirmed. This is even more difficult if the child has sought to become nocturnal. This will be dealt with separately. So we had two frontiers to contend with.
1. How do you get nutritious food eaten?
A large plate of food can be overwhelming for a child experiencing anxiety. Especially if there has been a need to finish everything on your plate in the past. So creating a selection of small amounts of food on a small rectangular plate (not the usual dinner plate), that could easily be eaten with fingers can quickly counter this. It frees the child up to eat and enjoy something.
Sliced meat, fruit, veggie sticks, cake, biscuits, sushi, party foods, sandwiches, yogurt etc. can all made appearances at different times. The objective was to stimulate the act of eating with a variety of textures, flavors, colors, and shapes. The food was not always fully consumed. It was important to include the things that the child was partial to but with something else a bit different. Avoiding lollies and preservatives and food coloring’s will probably assist the move towards health and well being, but there are special occasions so it’s as much as is do-able.
Some foods can be eaten to excess. The chocolate chip cookies were one such example in our household. So to ensure other members of the family got to sample them, and the child did not over indulge too badly, a small stock needed to be hidden.
2. When and where is it okay to eat?
The belief system that you have to eat at the table with the family needed a radical overhaul in our family…it just didn’t work! This meant providing food when the child was playing computer games, unable to speak and in their room. The food was provided in small portions that were hand friendly. Minimal conversation was made, just a simple placing of the food. I found that usually everything was eaten as the child was often preoccupied with what they were doing.
3. Special Occasions and extended Family
Occasionally the invitation was extended to join the family…no expectations. As time went on the food was provided but left on the bench to encourage eating in the family area. This didn’t always work and then the food would be taken into them. At times the family sat at the table and the child sat at the bench or took the food with them…no judgement was expressed, only acceptance.
By accepting where the child was and what their anxiety levels allowed them to do, created an atmosphere where they knew they were loved and could join the family at any time in any way without a “big deal” being made of it. Even their own birthday was often too big to be with family for a meal, yet a cake may draw them out for a couple of minutes. Do it their way and they may just develop the confidence to join in more frequently in time, slowly building the connections.
When there were special occasions with extended family and friends we always let the child know what was happening and that they were welcome to join in. It was also expressed explicitly that there was no expectation and if they choose to stay in their room that was okay. Now this was not easy as sometimes family and friends can be very judgmental of your child and you. Be the adult and explain that’s how it is and that is what is needed at this stage. No arguments or in-depth justifications required, simply ask for acceptance. Sending a link such as “Beyond Blue” explaining what anxiety and depression is may help.
There is a great power in gentleness and just as you ask others to accept the situation your child is in, you too can assist by accepting that other people sometimes cannot cope with their own feelings about the situation and may express them at times and in ways that are un-supportive. My best advice is to understand and forgive, then preemptively create the structures and space so that interactions can be as positive as possible. You are not alone, and people want to help you. Reach out and accept all that you can.