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From our blog.

Helping a Loved One with an Eating Disorder Through the Holidays

Amy Gardner / November 20, 2023

Holidays are a hard time for individuals with eating disorders.  They are also hard for families and friends who want to support them.  It’s so hard to watch a loved one suffer and you just want to do the “right” thing.

We understand how much strain an eating disorder can put on holidays for the individual struggling and those who love them.

Which is why we want to share some helpful tips that may help make the holidays a little easier.  If you are someone who’s struggling, we encourage you to share some of these ideas with your loved ones.

We want to share some helpful tips that may help make the holidays a little easier.

  • Do not make a big issue about what your loved one is eating. A little bit of encouragement is okay.
  • Do not focus too much on food, it may only fuel the eating disorder.
  • Ask them what they are needing and how you can support them around meals.
  • Ask them how they are doing and see if they need any help.
  • Do not become angry about how they feel, just do your best to support them.
  • Offer a lot of support and be aware of what may be creating anxiety and try and understand what they feel. Be understanding, kind, and supportive.
  • Spend quality time with your loved one outside of meals.
  • Make sure that the primary focus of the holiday is not on the food but rather on the family and the valued time you will share together.
  • Plan fun activities outside of meals such as games, singing carols together, opening gifts, decorating, and spending time just talking together.
  • Allow them to make a dish that they would feel comfortable eating.
  • Before the holiday itself, and before family gatherings, make agreements about how you can best help your loved one with food. Honor the agreements you make.
  • Do not give them loud and attention drawing praise when they do eat.
  • Do not talk about diets, weight loss, or weight gain. It causes great anxiety and may increase a felt need to engage in eating disorder behavior.
  • Do not stare and help deflect others’ comments or attention to your loved one’s eating.
  • Learn enough about the illness and the triggers to help your loved one develop skills as well as strategies to defy eating disorder thoughts and urges.
  • Know something about their struggles, triggers, and behaviors. Then, if you see those, you can approach them in private after a meal and suggest ways they might be helped in some of those behaviors and learn ways you can be helpful and supportive.
  • If you see them struggling, ask if they want to talk, but ask this in private.
  • Focus on how they are feeling inside, what issues they are worrying about, what their fears are, what they need, rather than just how much they are eating or not eating.
  • Try not to focus too much attention on the eating disordered behaviors.
  • Be patient and nurturing.
  • Treat them with love and respect no matter what is going on.
  • Let them know that they are loved.
  • Help them take their mind off of food by generating a conversation with them about general or important topics.
  • Don’t allow them to excessively isolate.
  • Be there for them emotionally with messages of love.

We hope these ideas offer some solace to you and your loved one with an eating disorder during the holidays!