For many people, the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year! Nothing says cheer like family gatherings, gift shopping, holiday music, and lots and lots of food. However, for some, this time of year can be a nightmare. From mid-November to the new year, there is a large emphasis on food; the holiday season can feel like an eternity for those who are in recovery from their eating disorder. It is important to be supportive of those in recovery all year long; however, acknowledging and empathizing with loved ones is an important step that needs to be taken in order to make the holidays a bit more jolly for all. Luckily, there are easy things we can do to help.
Focus the celebrations on the gathering, not the food
This sounds difficult, especially on Thanksgiving, but it can be extremely helpful to those in recovery. If the central focus of the holidays is on family time and activities, it can make someone in recovery feel a lot less worried about the food (1). Feasting, like many people do on thanksgiving, is a frightening thought for anyone in recovery, so it is important to be aware of this before going into the holidays. In Randy Hardman’s article, “Coping with a Loved Ones’ Eating Disorder During the Holidays”, he states “let food become a support to the holiday, rather than its central focus” (1). I think this is a great reminder that can help people be supportive during the holidays. Food is important, but the real reason for the season is family gathering—so let’s work on emphasizing that!
Take steps to avoid conflict and controversy
Many eating disorders can be triggered by discomfort (1). Sometimes, during the holidays when families are gathered, there is some sort of argument or conflict, whether it be political or personal disputes. This kind of altercation can be difficult for people in recovery to handle. These uncomfortable situations can be completely avoidable, which would be a huge relief for anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder. Taking up issues in private or avoiding these kinds of uncomfortable situations can make all the difference for someone whose eating disorder is triggered by the mayhem of uncomfortable, awkward, or painful situations.
Eating Disorders are often something that people keep very private (2), so if it is not something that someone is willing to talk about, it is important not to reference it in front of others (1). This may seem obvious but being empathetic and showing support is often harder than one may think. Phrases like “I can’t believe you’re eating all of that”, “you barely touched your food”, or any comment about weight or appearance must be completely avoided (1). Respecting your loved one’s boundaries and being empathetic will make the holidays a bit less stressful for them!
Recovering from an eating disorder is difficult enough, so it is vital to try our best to be understanding, supportive and respectful of boundaries around the holidays. There are some great resources for more information about this topic, on the NEDA website (nationaleatingdisorders.org) and center for change (centerforchange.com). The past few holiday seasons have been hard due to COVID-19 restrictions, so let’s make an effort to make the 2021 holiday season better for everyone!
Edited by PreRD intern, Lauren Gatto
Written by Emily Hoy: Hi! I'm Emily and I am a sophomore in my DPD program at SUNY Oneonta! My favorite things to do (excluding studying nutrition!) include running, making friendship bracelets, baking and reading! I am so excited to write more on the PreRD blog as well as finding nutrition opportunities and experiences.
Hartman, R. K. (2006, October). Coping With A Loved Ones' Eating Disorder During
the Holidays. Center for Change. Retrieved October, 2021, from
What to say and do. (n.d.). National Eating Disorder Collaboration. Retrieved
October, 2021, from https://nedc.com.au/support-and-services-2/
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