How to Support Someone with an Eating Disorder During the Holidays

image of thanksgiving table to illustrate helping a loved one with an eating disorder during holidays that are centered around foodThe holiday season is upon us. It is a wonderful time of year. We gather with friends, family, and community to share joyous parties, traditions, and religious celebrations. But for someone with an eating disorder, the holidays present significant challenges. Many triggers come with social gatherings and feasts that magnify her personal struggles, and there’s powerful emotions can derail recovery. If you love someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, here are a few things you can do to help make holiday season a little brighter for her and for yourself.

Whether with family, community, or with our workmates, holiday activities are usually centered around a shared meal – a feast. If you’re having a gathering at your home, support your loved one by making sure to include foods that your loved one eats regularly, or invite her to bring a dish of her own to share with others. She can also bring a separate, individual supper for herself.

Holiday Tips to Help a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

Family dynamics, old conflicts, and current strains on communication can be overwhelming to someone in recovery. Perfectionism, feelings of inadequacy, and fears of exposure or rejection can be debilitating. Recovery takes time and a lot of support.

1. Be Supportive

Ask her how she is doing and really listen. Does she need any help? Try to not become frustrated. Be patient. Be kind. Recovery is a priority.

2. Help Her Make a Safety Plan Before Holiday Events

Before the holiday, talk with your loved one. Ask her how you can support her best. Listen. Make an agreement before-hand that she can come to you at any time for support. Create a private signal she can use if she needs help. Help her choose a place to retreat for a while if she needs a break. Offer empathy, patience, and support, not advice.

3. Help Her During Gatherings, Parties, and Feasts

During the event, don’t stare at her or hover. Treat her with love and respect. If she needs a break, she should take one. At the same time, it isn’t good to isolate. Encourage her to share with you what she’s feeling. Listen and support her as she walks through it. This is a process.

During the party, avoid pointing out or comparing what your loved one is eating with what others are enjoying. Help guide conversation in another direction if it gets focused on food, weight, or body image. The holidays can bring love, joy, comfort, and connection. Get together for the holiday, not the food. Create and emphasize other holiday activities. Play games, sing songs, share gifts, talk with each other, or watch sports or movies.

Take Care of Yourself, Too

It’s hard to watch someone you love hurt and struggle. Take care of yourself through the holiday season and make sure you have what you need. Practice self-care. Keep your own routines and get enough rest. It’s difficult to be there for someone else when you’re hurting yourself. Embrace the holiday season, the events, and the celebrations. You and your loved one can get experience the joy of the holidays together through loving support.

Haven Hills Recovery – Trauma Informed Care for Women