Holidays & Eating Disorders – 3 Simple Tips for Supporting a Loved One

The holidays are not so merry for someone suffering from an eating disorder or any form of disordered eating, for that matter. The same things that bring many of us such joy around the holidays – Christmas feasts, cookie exchanges, and candy-stuffed stockings – can be incredibly stressful and even terrifying for someone who is struggling. And given the pervasiveness of eating disorders in this country, chances are you have a loved one who falls into this category. So many of us are at a loss when it comes to knowing how to “handle” a loved one with an eating disorder, especially during the holiday season. This feeling of helplessness can cause everyone additional stress, which tends to exacerbate the situation. Well, you can breathe a sigh of relief. These 3 simple tips will help you support your loved one like a pro this holiday season:

  1. Avoid commenting on their appearance and food choices. In our culture, we’re constantly talking about our bodies, weight, and the latest diet and fitness trends. It’s common for us to discuss our own and to judge and comment on others’ bodies, food choices, and exercise habits. Such topics of discussion can be very triggering for someone with an eating disorder, so it’s best to steer the conversation in a different direction. It’s also important to avoid commenting on the appearance or food choices of someone who is struggling. While often well-intentioned, these comments are unhelpful and tend to do more harm than good, even the most seemingly benign comments such as, “You look great!”
  2. Shift the focus away from food. The holidays tend to revolve around food, which can be very nerve-wracking for someone who is struggling. To shift the focus from food to fun and family time, what the holidays are really about, put thought into planning activities that don’t revolve around food or eating. Consider playing games as a family, watching a movie, or taking a walk around the block or driving around the neighborhood to look at holiday decorations and Christmas lights.
  3. Do not offer unsolicited support or advice. When it comes to supporting someone with an eating disorder, it’s important to do so on their terms. First, don’t assume. Pull your loved one aside and ask how they’re feeling. Second, before diving into your version of supportive or doling out advice, start by telling them you care and ask how you can best support them. Sometimes this simple act of compassion is all they need; other times, they might have specific ways you can help.

By Jessica Betts, MS, RD, LD
REbeL Program Director