Eating Disorders and the Holidays :: How to Cope and How to Help

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The holiday season is upon us, and that often means celebratory meals with our loved ones and plates upon plates of homemade goodies to further demonstrate those warm and fuzzy feelings.

Simultaneously, it can also be filled with apprehension and dread for those recovering from or currently dealing with an eating disorder.

eating disorder

Anorexia and I became acquainted at a very young age. Bulimia was a coping mechanism that I turned to during my twenties. Eating disorders are very secret and, as a result, very scary. I am very open about my battles with eating disorders because I want others to know they are not alone.

Eating disorders come in many forms and does not discriminate. Most people are aware of anorexia and bulimia, but binge eating and restrictive food intake disorders are also common and can effect ALL people physically, psychologically and socially. Eating disorders do not care what your race, gender or socioeconomic background are. Much like mental health, an eating disorder can be caused by genetics, biology, culture or personality. You do not need a diagnosis to have an eating disorder.

I am, by no means, an expert on eating disorders but I was recently asked by a loved one as to what they could do this holiday season to help me. I give them a lot of credit for recognizing my past and for wanting to help me, but I need to take responsibility as well. I am sharing what I told them, and what I am telling myself as well.

How to Cope with an Eating Disorder around the Holidays:

  1. Set boundaries – for yourself and others. Use your voice and tell others (even ahead of time) that you do not want comments on how you look or what you are eating. Formulate responses to questions or statements that could make you feel uncomfortable, guilty or shamed. remember that this includes you as well. Try to limit or even eliminate the negative self-talk because if you’re anything like me, the things that you say to yourself are worse than anything anyone else could ever say. Remember that you can excuse yourself from any situation you are not comfortable in, even if it is just temporary.
  2.  Live. Eat the meal. Try not to count calories in your head, and do not step on the scale after. You are so much more than any number and those numbers do not encompass your life. If you do find yourself struggling, reach out to someone you know you can talk to and who can help you through that feeling of fullness without heading to the bathroom or the feelings of guilt before you lift your fork. Have that support system ready and do not be afraid to utilize it.

How to Help:

  1. Remember that words have power. If you haven’t seen someone in a while, do not comment on their weight or what is on their plate. Comment on how happy they look or ask them how they have been. Tell them how delicious the (insert dish here) looks or how you are looking forward to conversation at the table.Even if someone isn’t “officially” diagnosed with an eating disorder, keeping your comments about what someone else is eating to yourself is just good practice in general. Also be mindful of what you post on social media. New Year’s Resolutions are coming up and the push for weight loss often comes with it. Charts with calorie counts and how to burn it all off can be very triggering. 
  2. Be part of their support system. If someone reaches out to you, do not shun or shame them. Validate their feelings and help them through it. Negate their self-depreciating talk and remind them of their value. Hold their hand. Do not be offended if someone walks away or becomes silent suddenly. Give them some space but also show that you care.

I am not recovered by any means. I can pinpoint the beginning of my bulimia to the Thanksgiving after my godfather passed away unexpectedly. I still think about purging from time to time, and especially during the holiday meals that are centered in eating and drinking.

A friend recently commented and nailed my feelings about eating and the holidays by saying, “I’m already feeling guilt and shame about holiday food and I haven’t eaten a bite of it yet.”

No one is bulletproof when it comes to holiday anxiety; it just comes to us all differently. Remember to give yourself grace. Remember that regardless of what you consumed or dealt with the day before that you must continue on.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder this holiday season, please reach out to NEDA. They have been a great resource for me. Also know that I am here for you as well. Please reach out to me here or find me on social media.

You are not alone.

Eating Disorders and the holidays

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