Everyone can agree that the holidays are both wonderful and stressful. But not everyone realizes that people with eating disorders are under extra pressure during the October to January months.
I hosted a Friendsgiving party this past week, and while I love planning events, I hate the mental preparation that goes into actual hosting them. Here are some of the thoughts that raced through my mind: What foods are people going to force me to try? If they went through the trouble of making it vegan, then I’ll have to eat a lot of it. Can I say that I’m full from tasting the food I prepped all day? Should I even eat at all? I have been snacking a lot today. What items can I eat while people are here so I seem normal? Maybe I’ll just keep a plate filled with fruits and veggies and just eat one every so often. I’ll just stay busy hosting. It’ll be fine. It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine….?
And that’s with a party that I was hosting, so I had a sense of control. That doesn’t count for all the events both with friends and family that one gets invited to. The anxiety about handling the food at such events can cause those of us with eating disorders to refuse to go altogether. I have been guilty of this countless times.
Other pressures include seeing those people we only see once a year or so and bracing ourselves for comments about our appearance. You look so beautiful or healthy can send us into a whirlwind of self-loathing, while comments like You need to put some meat on those bones can be equally harmful.
All of this to say, let’s all be a little more mindful about those with eating disorders around the holidays.
Here are some helpful tips, courtesy of EDH:
For those currently suffering from an eating disorder:
- Be mindful of the holidays and the fact that they are not for just eating. Take time to reflect on the significance of being present with loved ones and shift the focus away from food.
- Have a “buddy” that you can check in with during difficult meals or help you if you begin to struggle or panic. Ask if you can lean on them when dealing with obsessive or addictive behaviors. Knowing that there is someone who can help through tough times can be extremely powerful.
- Be honest with your family and friends about your worries and concerns. Having an open and honest dialogue can make others aware of the complexity of eating disorders especially around the holidays.
- Decrease stress by making lists, such as deciding what to spend and how much time you will commit to shopping. If you do not find the “perfect” gift, the world will not end.
- Reduce stress surrounding food-related activities. Make peace with the concept of holiday-related food reminding yourself to remain present and not become stuck in common eating disorder related thoughts. Be prepared by consuming a small meal or snack before attending parties. Allow yourself to enjoy a holiday food that you have fond memories of, and if you consume a little more than planned, it’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day. For now, remember to refocus yourself on the reason for the season!
For those currently in recovery:
- Discuss your holiday anticipations with your treatment team so that they can help you with potential stressors and triggers and enact a plan for coping and overcoming. Preparing for stressful situations and working on strategies beforehand can help you not fall into self-destructive patterns.
- Stick to your prescribed recovery program. Structure your day so that you can keep to the recovery disciplines and actions, especially when it comes to scheduled meal times.
- Avoid “overstressing” and “overbooking” yourself. Cut down on unnecessary events and obligations to give yourself time for relaxation, renewal and self-contemplation. Remember that you do not have to attend every single season-related event.
For those with a loved one suffering from an eating disorder:
- Avoid the role of “food police” unless a treatment team has given you a plan to monitor and portion your loved ones’ food. This role may backfire and cause increased anxiety.
- Offer support and words of encouragement. Ask specifically how you can help them cope with the stressors of the holidays and assist them with their treatment and recovery.
- Be respectful of the individual’s recovery process. If the person is not yet comfortable eating or celebrating in front of others let them know that you understand and are there to support them.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.