Advice by Kaela: Eating Disorders and the Holidays
By Kaela Scott
The holidays, while a beautiful time for many, can be a really big challenge for individuals who struggle with an eating disorder. Not only is food a part of just about every event that takes place but it seems to creep into our regular day to day in ways that aren’t typical (like the never end food baskets brought to the office). All this food can make even those who don't struggle feel overwhelmed.
If you have a loved one who is struggling, here are a few tips I recommend to make the holidays feel less triggering and more Merry.
- Ask Him/Her What Type Of Support Is Helpful: Often out of our own anxiety and/or desire to help, when we know someone is struggling we play the guessing game around how best to provide support by offering a million different solutions. Instead of trying to guess, just ask your loved one what he/she feels he/she needs to make the holidays feel more manageable. Remember it isn't about what you feel would be most helpful but rather what your loved one needs to feel successful. Be sure to get really clear on exactly what is suggested as well as practical ways to implement the desired support.
- Limit Food And Body Talk As Much As Possible And Talk About Food Positively: Usually over the holidays people talk about food and their bodies pretty frequently. This can be incredibly triggering to those who are struggling and can add to the already long list of things making them anxious. Try to remember that there are no "good and bad" foods. We eat for nutrition and also for pleasure; both are important and necessary. The more we can focus on the joy of the season, and less on food and our bodies, the greater the likelihood that your loved one will be able to see the magic and warmth of the holidays through their anxiety and fears.
- Give Him/Her "Outs' So He/She Can Escape In Stressful Times: Perhaps your loved one is used to eating dinner on her own with the TV on to distract her, or maybe he is an introvert and needs his alone time to refill his tank. Whatever strategies he/she typically puts in place may not always be possible over the holidays. In this case, be sure to discuss some possible "outs" that he/she can use in moments of overwhelm. For example, maybe she an be the first one up to start cleaning up dinner as a way of not having to sit at the table anymore, or he can go and make coffee/tea for everyone as a way of removing himself for a few minutes. Let your loved one know that you support him/her prioritizing his/her wellbeing over following typical holiday protocol. After all, we want to encourage him/her to prioritize his/her recovery above all else.
The holidays really are a magical time of year and the more we can support those who struggle, the greater the likelihood of them being able to experience the holidays in a positive way. Check in with your loved one to devise a healthy and supportive plan to help them feel as successful as possible.
Do you have tricks that work for you during the holidays? Write them in the comment section below.
Kaela Scott is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who specializes in Eating Disorders. She runs her own private practice and works with the Looking Glass Foundation in both their summer camp and their Hand In Hand Program. She has been passionate about working with eating disorders since freeing herself from her own struggle and realizing what it is like to be happy and well. When she isn’t working, you can find Kaela either cozying up with a cup of tea and her friends or up in the mountains going for a hike.