How to Care for a Loved One With an Eating Disorder This Holiday Season

While the holidaysácan be a time ofágreat joy, but they can pose a challenge forápeople who struggleáwith disordered eating. If someone in your life is dealing with anáeating disorder, here’s how you can help support them during a season of excess.

Emphasize the whole day, not just the meal

It’s undeniable that the holidays oftenáfeature big meals — and that’s especially true on Christmas day or anyátime when familyáand friends gatheráfor a party.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this tradition, and people with eating disorders mayáeven look forward to the event. However, these large mealsácan be stressful if they fear they will eat too much, or if they are having a hard time facing food at the moment.

Eating support groups and organizations recommendáemphasizing that, first and foremost, the holiday experience is about family and friends coming together — not about the food.

As such,ádiscussing the day as a whole — and ensuring that the meal is only one aspect of the fun — can help provide a sense of perspective. Taking walks together, playing games and watching films can alláserve as alternative activitiesáto emphasize. This strategy helps ease the pressureáon eating disorder sufferers.

Ensure thatáeveryone is on the same page

Remember that the arrival ofáout-of-town family membersácan prove to be a stressful moment. Extended family may not be aware ofáa relative’s relationship with food.

While we should never “out” people who have eating disorders, it is within our power to set the tone of the day. From the outset we can make it clear that the Christmas meal is an “eat what you like” event, where there is no pressure to eat a certain amount oráspecific types ofáfood.

In addition, we canáconsultáthe person with anxieties around eating. For example, they may not wish to eat in front of everyone, or they may prefer a smaller plate. These simple allowances will not be conspicuous to most guests, but they canáfacilitate greater comfort.

Keepáfood away from the main entertaining space

People with anorexia orábulimia mayástruggle with the feeling of being surrounded by food. This can be particularly stressful and may even trigger binge eating.

One way toáalleviate these concerns isáto ensure that the main entertaining area remains free of food. This can provide spaceáfor peopleáto sit and chat without foodáasáthe central activity.

Provide personal support

For people recovering from disordered eating,ámental health goals mayárequire extraáwork around the holidays.

Talking through a loved one’s aims for the day could be a wayáto show solidarity and provide opportunities to help. Some of those aims might include:

  • sitting down to a meal with everyone, even if the person won’t be eating much
  • selecting healthy portion sizes
  • not counting calories
  • helpingátoáprepare food
  • not obsessing over the preparation of food
  • not avoiding food

And if a loved one feels like they aren’t able to live up to these goals,áoffer them an escape by asking them toágo for a walk or engage in some other activity.

Be empathetic

Unfortunately, it might be that the pressures of the holidaysábecome too much, and the person dealing with an eating disorder finds themselves having an episode of either not eating, binge eating or obsessing aboutáfood.

If this happens, help them to fall back on their self-care plan, and ensure that they know you are supporting them at this time. You can find more information about specific care plans for people with eating disorders here.

Understand that everyone is different

The above points are just general guidelines and are not meantáto serve as medical advice. It’s important to talk to anyone who mayábe struggling with food to understand their particular needs and help accordingly.

By taking into account the fact that not everyone looks forward toáaáholiday meal, we canáremain sensitive and help encourage a more welcoming atmosphere that catersáto everyone’s needs.

Related Reading:
5 Ways To Prioritize Your Mental Health This Yeará
5 Ways To Help Others On Christmas Dayá
4 Ideas On How To Shop According To Your Values This Christmas

Photo Credit: David Monje/Unsplash

48 comments

Paulo R
Paulo R3 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R3 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R3 months ago

ty

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Mike R
Mike R4 months ago

Thanks

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Clare O
Clare O4 months ago

Hospitality tends to mean offering food and drink especially in the cold. If someone says no, fine.

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Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia4 months ago

Hmmm. Maybe having the person helping out with some small tasks could help dispel the stress on food. Not easy since all the enticing smells will be floating around...

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Elaine W
Elaine W4 months ago

Good to know.

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Mike R
Mike R4 months ago

Thanks

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Henry M
Henry M4 months ago

Holidays shouldn't be about food. This isn't the stone age, no one is going to starve if they wait until they get home to eat.

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Colin C
Colin C4 months ago

The trials and tribulations of that day on the 25th December

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