What's in Your Kitchen? How the Emotional Eating Track Works Via Telehealth

Behavioral Health Behavioral Health
How the Emotional Eating Track Works Via Telehealth
For individuals suffering from mood disorders and disordered eating, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in distinct challenges. A trip to the grocery store can compound anxiety due to safety concerns. Loss of structure and the need to rely mainly on foods available at home can generate additional eating-related stress. And for those in outpatient treatment programs, in-person supported meals came to a halt. 

Despite these challenges, the Emotional Eating Track (EET) at Princeton House has adapted to provide teens and adult women with psychotherapy, psychoeducation, and supported meals via telehealth.

“It might seem awkward to participate in a supported meal over a screen, but flexibility has been a key to progress,” says Jamie Benjamin, MA, LPC, NCC, ACS, Clinical Manager of the Women’s Program at the Princeton outpatient site. According to Benjamin and colleague Michelle Reuben, MEd, LPC, ACS, Clinical Manager of the Child and Adolescent Program at the North Brunswick site, this has included:

  • Splitting into smaller groups for supportive virtual meals.
  • Recognizing limitations of at-home therapy, allowing for gradual progress, and assisting with technical issues.
  • Providing opportunities for casual conversation during the meal, such as discussing favorite movies.
  • Leading grounding or mindfulness exercises during the meal.
  • Providing incentives for timely meal completion, such as working together on a word puzzle or other activity to build mastery.
  • Offering a virtual supported lunch option in addition to breakfast for adult women patients.

The virtual approach has even yielded a few benefits:

Built-in mastery opportunities. As patients work with foods they have at home, the experience has further immersed them in learning how to plan, shop for, and prepare meals in a supported yet real-life setting.

Enhanced dietitian support. Beyond facilitating individual and group meetings, registered dietitian Katie Gaffney provides detailed assistance for navigating the stress of grocery store visits. Tips include aligning the list with the store aisles to avoid backtracking and using headphones to listen to soothing music while shopping. She also suggests items that can be easily ordered online and provides food pantry recommendations.

Greater parent engagement. Parents of adolescents in the EET program now participate in a weekly session with a dietitian or therapist via telehealth to learn how to best support their children. The convenience of this virtual option has led to increased parent engagement, since they no longer need to leave work or other obligations to drive to a meeting.

“Overall, we’ve been able to adapt the EET program to help people succeed even during these challenging times,” says Benjamin. “We’re proud to offer this level of specialized service.”


When to Refer Where

Teens ages 13 to 17 and adult women with mood disorders and disordered eating behaviors who are at least 90 percent of their ideal body weight and have a BMI of at least 20, with some exceptions, may be candidates for the Emotional Eating Track. Patients ages 8 and older with disordered eating who are under 85 percent of their ideal body weight and have medical comorbidities may be candidates for inpatient treatment at Princeton Center for Eating Disorders (princetonhcs.org/eatingdisorders). Admissions staff, available at 609.853.7575, can help discern which program may be appropriate for a particular patient.

Article as seen in the Winter 2021 issue of Princeton House Behavioral Health Today.