Therapist Blog

Mangaing the holidays with an eating disorder

Here is a guide on what to do during the holiday:

First off, have a support system in place: It can be a therapist, a dietitian or a family member (a safe, non-triggering family member). If someone who you consider a part of your support system is with you during the holiday, talk with them in advance and let them know, "I need your help."

Steer clear of negative body talk: Negative body talk at the holidays is as American as apple pie (diet culture has seeped in all aspects of our lives, for example things like saying "the diet starts tomorrow" or "this stuffing is going straight to my thighs"). Honestly, anyone and everyone should avoid this kind of body talk.

If you have a meal plan, follow it:  This doesn't mean you have to skip dessert. It does mean you shouldn't starve yourself all day in advance of the big meal. You can work through the holidays  and still stay on your meal plan and have that structure, and a dietitian can help you figure out what that looks like.

Have coping mechanisms ready: It's important to develop a plan for what to do when you feel emotionally overwhelmed. Write down your coping skills and keep them handy, like a safety plan. So you don't have to scramble when you're triggered and you can take care of yourself.

Focus on gratitude: The holidays are "supposed to be about gratitude", so try to embrace that.  Focus on enjoying yourself and your loved ones as much as you can. It can help shift the focus away from food.

What loved ones can do

Make sure you understand the disease: The food and the weight obsession — that’s the surface part of it —  but there’s so much else going on. Eating disorders are influenced by "a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors," according to NEDA.

Don't be afraid to ask: People don't always know how to ask for help, so before the holiday meal ask how you can support.

If you see behavior that's concerning, talk to the person. It could be on that day, but it may be at a later time. It's important to find a quiet, private space, and to gauge how the person is feeling, Mysko said. Does the person seem especially anxious? Then wait for another time.

Remember is about feelings. Often times the person is experiencing a lot of shame, so you want to approach the conversation and be very clear that you’re not judging that person, that you care about them.

Quit the "food moralizing":  Things like saying "good foods" (turkey) and "bad foods" (pie) and "I'm being so bad." Sadly, these conversations have become commonplace, and we must make an effort to avoid them.