The holidays can be tricky when dealing with family stress and expectations. And if you’re suffering from an eating disorder, or have a loved one with one, this can be an overwhelming time of year, considering that the holidays tend to focus heavily on food.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder, there are some things you can do to navigate the holidays with confidence, including:
1) Choose a go-to support person. For each holiday celebration, select a designated person for support and accountability. Choose someone who is willing, available, and, if possible, can attend each event with you.
2) Face the food. For the most part, holiday food is often the same year after year, so you can easily plan ahead by consulting with your dietitian or a trusted support person. If you don’t know what is going to be served, consider asking beforehand. Be sure to also ask your friends and family not to comment about what you are eating.
3) Take the focus off of food. The holidays are really about spending quality time with the people you love. That said, take the focus off food and place it on connecting with family and friends. Plan events that do not involve food, but instead strengthen your relationships with others.
If you suspect that someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, there are a few warning signs to look out for, including:
• Depression, isolation, withdrawal and avoiding social activities
• Obsession over appearance, size or food
• Helping with the preparation of holiday meals, but not eating them
• Excessive exercise, even outdoors, and in poor winter weather conditions
• Disappearance after meals
The best thing you can do is approach them in a concerned, but supportive manner. If you know your loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, there are some simple things you can do to make sure they have a healthy holiday:
1) Make a plan. Plan for the holiday season in a way that is sensitive to the struggles of your loved one. Encourage them and engage people who are supportive of their recovery.
2) Recognize that being overwhelmed is normal. Be sensitive if your loved one with an eating disorder needs to skip some activities because they need a break and would benefit from some self-care. It’s important that you are patient, tolerant and flexible if someone needs some time away from the activities.
3) Be mindful about comments made around someone with an eating disorder. Again, they are already hypersensitive to what others think of them, so certain comments can create more distress for someone with an eating disorder. Stay away from excessive talk about food, weight/body image, dieting or anything else you think could be triggering for your loved one. Instead, focus on strengths and things that you appreciate about one another.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, remember that recovery is possible — and worth it.
Dr. Neeru Bakshi, MD, FAPA, is the medical director of the Eating Recovery Center of Washington in Bellevue, a local resource that can provide support for recovery from an eating disorder. For information, visit eatingrecoverycenter.com or call 425-689-5593.