A Seat at the Table: Rebuilding the Family Over Meals


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Sitting around the table for family dinner was a common custom for many as they grew up. With the accelerated pace of the world, it has become easier to push family dinner to the back burner when we’re focused on managing the fine balancing act of kids, school, extracurricular activities, our jobs, and more.

If we manage to gather the family around the dinner table, distractions are still abounding. At least one doesn’t care for the meal, small bouts of bickering between the kids, and it probably feels like playing whack-a-mole to keep cell phones and electronics off the table.

Professionals insist sharing meals as a family is worth the additional time commitment. Family meals offer a perfect way to come together in the evenings. During a time when so many things are chaotic and unpredictable, family dinner can provide an ongoing way to keep the family united. It fosters connections between family members and holds everyone together.

Family dinners are even more important when someone is in eating disorder recovery. Families tend to develop dysfunctional patterns when a loved one struggles with an eating disorder. Learning to navigate your loved one’s recovery is a challenge for the entire family. Working through strained family dynamics is a vital part of the process. Having meals together is a great way to work on communication and reunite family members.

It helps to ensure everyone has a seat at the table when it comes to eating disorder recovery. Each member of the family has a role to play in the process, not only the person struggling with the disorder. How do eating disorders impact the family unit? What can you do to ensure your family communicates effectively and stays connected during your loved one’s recovery?

Eating Disorders and Family Dysfunction

Family dysfunction plays a significant role not only in the development of an eating disorder, but also in the recovery process. According to research, when someone has an eating disorder, there tend to be greater issues within the family. Most come from a family that has serious trouble with boundaries, also referred to as enmeshment.

Enmeshment refers to the lack of separation between family members, usually parents and their children. Children are not allowed appropriate space to develop their sense of self and become enmeshed with their parents. They lack proper boundaries, expectations are unclear, and roles are confused. Eating disorders develop in these situations because it provides a sense of autonomy and control that is otherwise missing.

Other studies investigate the specifics of family dysfunction surrounding those with an eating disorder. Someone with the condition tends to come from a family that has higher levels of disengagement, chaos, enmeshment, and rigidity. These families also have lower levels of cohesion and flexibility.

Overprotectiveness and a lack of conflict resolution skills are two key components of family dysfunction and eating disorders. Addressing these issues is crucial in recovering from disordered eating behaviors. Family support is needed paired with the need to develop autonomy and sense of self separate from the family.

The Family’s Role in Recovery

When your loved one has an eating disorder their condition affects everyone in the family. Each family member has their way of responding to the stress the disorder introduces. The success of your loved one’s recovery, as well as their overall well-being, depends not only on their treatment but on the response of all family members.

When one member of the family has an eating disorder, it creates rifts in various relationships. Parents struggle to understand the reasoning behind their child’s disordered eating while still trying to help. Siblings feel pushed to the side when their parents’ attention centers around the sibling with the disorder.

To heal these damaged relationships, each member must come to terms with the reality of their loved one’s condition. There are no easy or straightforward solutions to healing the rifts between family members. It’s a slow process but well worth the effort. Your loved one has a much better chance of overcoming their disorder when they’re surrounded by familial support. Seeking help from a licensed therapist or family therapist is a great place to start.

Healing Through Family Meals

Working through family dysfunction is a long process, but it’s important to find ways to connect and bond along the way. The path to wellness isn’t a straight line and gathering together for family dinner can be a positive step forward. It provides space for you to support your loved one as well as the other members of your family. Family meals offer a space to reconnect, create fellowship, and talk openly with each other.

Knowing where to start can be confusing, though. Eating disorder treatment programs often initiate this process of familial healing. Facilities like Selah House offer flexible programs that provide support for your loved one wherever they are in their journey. Their long-term success is our primary goal, as well as showing your family how to heal along the way.

We’re here to answer any questions you may have or help you find the option that’s the best fit for your loved one. If you’re interested in learning more about the programs we offer, reach out to us today!

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