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How to Prepare for the Holidays With An Eating Disorder, Pt. II

By: Zana Van Der Smissen, LPC

(TW: Eating Disorders. This article does contain content that might be triggering for some. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, please step away from the article and take time for yourself or reach out for help at Symmetry Counseling)

Hello again and welcome back to the second part of this blog, how to prepare for the holidays with an eating disorder. In the first part, I talked all about tips on how to prepare for the holidays if you struggle with your relationship with food. In this second part, I will be exploring what loved ones, family and friends can do to make this difficult time of year a bit easier or more comfortable for their loved one with an eating disorder.  

Before diving into what actions or activities can be done on the holiday itself, check-in with the individual beforehand on how they are feeling about the holidays. By asking for their emotions and thoughts, you are trying to understand and connect with them, something that can allow the individual to notice that you are a support if need be. This can also be a great way to reassure them about any irrational beliefs they might be having or even point out the individual’s strengths. Sometimes, checking in with your loved one can give them the signal that this person cares about me and the individual won’t feel “like a burden” approaching you for future matters. On the other hand, if you are approaching the individual who struggles with their relationship with food and they decide to not confide in you, try to not take it personally. When an individual is navigating this difficult time, they might want to confide in certain people or aren’t ready to let go of that control yet and let other people in. If this happens, check in with them to show the individual that you are present but don’t press them for any further details! Most of the time, this will push people away rather than bring them closer to you! 

When it comes to the holiday itself, as a family member or friend attending the event, ensure that when you are talking to your loved one that you are not treating them as though you only see the eating disorder. Separate the person and the illness and ensure that you are asking them questions like you would anybody else. If you are concerned about the individual’s behavior or comments surrounding food, ask if they want to talk outside for a minute or in a more safe space (University of Rochester -Medical Center, 2016). The individual might feel more comfortable and open to sharing if there aren’t other people watching or certain triggers aren’t present in the room. 

If you are organizing or hosting holiday parties this year and know that one of your guests struggles with an eating disorder, try to organize some events that don’t involve food (University of Rochester – Medical Center, 2016). Whether that looks like some board games, arts and crafts or even including a karaoke night for Christmas, these activities can be inclusive for everyone and can allow some of the tunnel vision surrounding food in the holidays to dissipate. Similar to when talking to a loved one struggling with an eating disorder, as host do not call out or shame the individual for leaving the festivities early or pointing out their plate. Many times, the individual is doing these things because that is their way of coping with the stress involved in being in a room full of food and people talking about food. Let the individual do what they believe is necessary while simultaneously looking out for their safety if leaving the event.

These tips speak towards our behaviors and speech when it comes to addressing an individual struggling with an ED and are for sure limited but do serve as a starting point. Below I have included some of the ‘DON’Ts’ when preparing for the holidays this year: 

  • Don’t shame or call out the individual’s plate, or actions when it comes to their food habits. It will only make them zone in on it more while humiliating them in front of others
  • Don’t talk about your own eating habits, exercise routines, or diet plans at the holiday festivities. You don’t know who might be struggling with food and that content can be triggering. 
  • Don’t comment on body image or appearance. This isn’t helpful and again makes them focus on certain parts of their body. Instead, compliment them on their inner strengths! (University of Rochester – Medical Center, 2016).

Again, these are only a few starting points of what not to do during the holidays and can be used as a rule of thumb moving forward in daily life as you never know who might be struggling with their relationship with food. If you believe you might be struggling and would like to have more support, reach out to friends and family who you have identified as ‘safe’ individuals to figure out a plan for the holidays! If you would like additional support, feel free to reach out to a counselor so you can start finding the right tools and resources for you!

University of Rochester – Medical Center. (2016). Eating Disorders and the Holidays: Helping Loved Ones Cope. Health Matters. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/publications/health-matters/eating-disorders-and-the-holidays-helping-loved-on#:~:text=DO%20create%20new%20traditions%20that%20are%20about%20more,that%20doesn%E2%80%99t%20center%20on%20dining%20out%20or%20baking.

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