For many people, the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year, a time to surround yourself with loved ones, honor traditions and gather around the dining table for a celebratory meal.However, for individuals who struggle with or are recovering from an eating disorder, the holidays may not always be merry and bright.
For people with avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), anxiety over whether or not they can eat what is on the menu will be difficult. If someone struggles with anorexia, the holidays can exacerbate the anxiety they already have about food and can perpetuate feelings of guilt around what and how much they are putting on their plate.
On the opposite end of the eating disorder spectrum, people with bulimia and binge eating disorders also experience anxiety and stress when faced with abundance of food that accompanies the holidays and the tendency for almost everyone to overeat. Feelings of shame and guilt can result. And a time when homes are filled with family and friends, it is likely that multiple trips to the bathroom won’t go unnoticed.
But while the holidays are challenging for people with eating disorders, the season can also be difficult for friends and family who know their loved one is struggling and want to help. To that end, here are ways support a loved one with an eating disorder during the holidays.
Food and drinks are often a large part of holiday celebrations, but they do not have to be the primary reason for coming together.
Instead, focus on spending quality time together. Revisit happy memories and start new traditions, such as watching a movie, looking at holiday lights, playing board games, or decorating. Spend time together talking and discussing non-food related, non-body-related accomplishments. Share points of gratitude not related to food.
Prior to the gathering, discuss with your loved one their struggles and triggers, which can be comments or discussions about how many calories a food contains, weight, clothing size, exercise routines, diets and how some people are picky eaters and ruin it for others. Identify healthy means of coping with triggers, such as going for a walk, getting some fresh air or employing distress tolerance skills like TIPP, which stands for:
Temperature. Splashing cold water on your face can help bring the temperature of your body — and mind — down quickly.
Intense exercise. A short burst of intense exercise, such as a quick set of jumping jacks or a sprint to the corner of the street, is a fast way to bring stress levels down.
Paced breathing. Focusing on your breath can calm your mind and bring you back to center.
Paired muscle relaxation. Tightening and then relaxing your muscles can relieve tension and bring down your heart and breathing rates.