In Our Words: Surviving the Holidays with an Eating Disorder
content warning: eating disorders
The LETS team has put together a masterpost of wonderful resources on the web, written by individuals with lived experience of an eating disorder.
For Those in ED Recovery:
- PREPARE: Stick to your meal plan. By that, we mean eat regularly, and eat enough. If necessary, plan a holiday meal plan in advance to ease stress. Sufficient planning and preparation should prevent this and make the day more manageable for you.
- DON'T PREPARE: Meals and food during the holidays are often unpredictable and are eaten at ‘odd’ times of the day. If you are in doubt about when and what to eat, watch what other people around you are doing. Sticking to a rigid meal plan can be difficult around other family members, and so if you can, follow what other people do in relation to food.
- FEAR FOODS: If you are at a stage in recovery where fear foods are unmanageable, do not get angry with yourself for not being ‘strong enough’ to tackle them. The holidays are stressful enough without adding fear foods. Your goal is to get through the day without harming yourself or engaging in too many ED behaviors. If eating a fear food will result in ED behaviors, avoid it! Eat what you can, and if you need to, stick to what you know feels safe. This holiday season, your aim is survival and to limit ED behaviors (and hopefully, to enjoy time spent with family and friends.)
- RELATIVES, CROWDS AND STRANGERS: Locate people you know and feel comfortable with; Talk to them; Help out with preparations to distract and occupy you during the event; Find a ‘safe place’ (somewhere you can go to have a break if things are starting to get too much); Tell someone you trust about how you are feeling before the event so they can look out for you during it; Have a reason to politely leave a conversation if things are getting uncomfortable
- BODY IMAGE CONVERSATIONS: If the conversation turns to body image/weight/diets/physical appearance etc.; have prepared a few assertive lines to say if you need to. REMEMBER: YOU ARE NOT OBLIGED TO TELL ANYONE ABOUT YOUR MEDICAL/MENTAL CONDITION.
- LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: Because the holidays can be so stressful, make sure you take good care of yourself. Listen to what your body is telling you. Stresses often manifest as physical symptoms within the body, so it is important to recognize these cues and take care of them.
Some Things To Say if Family Members Say, "Did you lose weight? You look great!"
For Friends/Loved Ones of a Person with an ED:
- DO NOT: Pretend the ED does not exist; Tell the individual to 'eat' or 'be punished'; Tell the individual how much they are hurting you; Buying the individual all of their favorite junk food/candies; Tell the individual they'd look better with a few pounds on them.
- Remember that your loved one isn’t their eating disorder. They have interests, hobbies, and talents that have nothing to do with their illness. Ask about those activities instead of focusing solely on the eating disorder.
- Don’t comment on anyone’s appearance. If you tell someone in recovery “you look healthy,” they may interpret that as “you look fat.” Don’t take the risk. Instead tell them how happy you are to see them.
- Be flexible. Realize that rituals centered about large amounts of food can be difficult for people with eating disorders. Start new traditions where the focus is on spending time with each other rather than sitting around a table eating. There are many ways to bond and strengthen family ties that don’t revolve so much around food.
- Be patient. Just because someone has gone through treatment doesn’t mean they are now recovered from their eating disorder. It can take months and even years to fully recover. Let them take it at their own pace. If you feel frustrated, practice self-care and your own coping skills.
- Ask what would be most helpful. Let your loved one know you want to be supportive and ask what they need most from you. Maybe your loved one needs you to run interference with a relative who won’t stop talking about her weight. Maybe you can take a walk with them when the gathering becomes overwhelming.
- Let them know you care and want to help. Whether during the holidays or at other times of the year, people with eating disorders have a tendency to isolate themselves. Let them know in a nonjudgmental way that you’re available if they want company.
22 Things People With Eating Disorders Want Others to Know About the Holidays
- “It’s not that I don’t want to come to the family dinner. It’s not that I don’t love you. While it may be relaxing and fun for you — for me, it’s a battleground. Every bite comes with my brain yelling at me. I’m trying to smile through every bite.”
“Just because I’ve been in active recovery for years, doesn’t mean I don’t constantly fight my disordered thoughts, especially when people are constantly talking about eating — then I keep picturing myself eating non-stop, which scares me.”
“Just because I’m doing well and at a healthy weight doesn’t mean my disorder is ‘cured.’ Eating in front of people is still hard and embarrassing. Even though I’ve been in recovery for two years I still struggle. Especially around the holidays.”
“Please don’t get angry with me when eating disorder thoughts and behaviors are highly present. I’m more than my eating disorder. We are two distinct beings united by heavy chains. When you get angry at me, I feel guilty and retreat inside my mind.”
“It’s hard to do all the things people find fun around the holidays when you have an eating disorder screaming in your head every moment.”
“I wish my friends and family understood that the holidays make me feel pressured to eat food I’m not necessarily comfortable eating. If I don’t eat what everyone else is eating, I get asked a million questions and it makes me feel like a spectacle.”
“The holidays are extremely stressful. When you say, ‘It’s the holidays, you deserve to have just one,’ it’s not that simple.”
“Even though it’s the holidays, commenting on food, weight, diets, anyone’s body appearance or eating habits are still off limits and very triggering.”
“Talking about your post-holiday diet is super triggering. Calling the holiday food ‘bad’ or ‘fattening’ is triggering. Talking about how much you’re going to ‘stuff your face,’ or how ‘fat’ you’re going to be, or that you wore your ‘fat’ pants… please, just don’t.”
“I struggled because my family didn’t understand that during holiday celebration or meal, you should not bring up the eating disorder. Don’t ask me why I’m not eating the stuffing. Don’t tell me I should eat the dessert. You just need to love me. Give me my space and have hope that by next year, maybe I’ll be in a better place.”
“It’s the holiday, but for me and food it’s one more day we’re getting along. I’m not going to mess up the journey I’m on to make you feel more comfortable.”
“Stop telling me to be happy. Let me feel my feelings. Ignoring them is part of what brought me to an eating disorder in the first place.”
“It hurts every single time someone refers to holiday weight gain or how they’ll have to hit the gym in the New Year.”
“During the holidays, I wish for others not to judge, but to simply understand. I wish for patience, a touch on the shoulder and for us to talk about things other than my eating disorder. It’s not about wanting attention, it’s about just wanting that acceptance and support… to know that those around you love you regardless.”
“Even when it appears I’m handling things really well, I’m still fighting the disordered thoughts. They have not gone away, but I’ve learned how to get through them. Holidays are emotional times with family and food — anytime I’m not at my normal emotional baseline, things are harder to handle.”
“When you go to a party with lots of food, the urge to binge or the fear that you will is scary and overwhelming.”
“Just because it’s a holiday, where you’re expected to be cheerful, doesn’t mean the eating disorder or other illnesses we struggle with can just disappear.”
“A holiday is just another day filled with struggles that need to be overcome. It becomes even more difficult because you’re surrounded by people you rarely see and strange foods you rarely eat. It gets exhausting ‘playing’ a part. Please be kind and patient so we can all get through the difficult challenges together.”
“If we’re looking sad or angry, it’s not because we want to spoil the holidays. It’s because it’s really hard for us to face a Christmas dinner table. We’re trying our best.”
“I truly want to enjoy all the holiday food without feeling guilty, but it’s extremely difficult.”
“When social interactions become more about the food than the interaction, it becomes very difficult for me to think outside of numbers and exercise. Please be patient with me.”
“Treatment taught me to deal with everyday eating, but it can hardly prepare me for the holidays and all the extra occasions that revolve around food. Don’t be offended or worried if I turn down one cookie or an office party; I just need to keep my head in the right place. I want to enjoy the holidays, too.”