Growing up in the South, food was often the focus of my family’s celebrations during the holiday season, but there were also many holiday traditions that didn’t revolve around eating: taking turns opening one present at a time, decorating the tree, reuniting with out-of-town family members. However, as I reflect, I can’t help but wonder if there was too much emphasis on food at times- in spending so much time cooking and eating, did we call attention to aspects of this festive season that are not truly important?
The good news is that it’s not too late to make changes. The holiday season can be a difficult time for many, but it can be particularly stressful for those affected by eating disorders (ED). The period between Thanksgiving and the New Year can be especially challenging due to the emphasis on food and meals. We have compiled some tips and recommendations for giving and receiving support this holiday season, whether you or someone you love is or has suffered from an eating disorder.
For those suffering from an eating disorder:
– Remember to be mindful of the holidays, as they are more than holidays for just eating. Take time to reflect on the significance of the holidays to shift the focus away from food. If you are currently in treatment, follow the meal plan provided to you by the treatment team.
– Have a “buddy” that you can check in with during difficult meals or help you if you begin to struggle or panic. Knowing that there is someone who can help you through tough times can be extremely beneficial and supportive.
– Be frank with your family and friends about your worries and concerns. Having an open and honest dialogue can make others aware of the complexity of ED around the holidays.
(Source: Eating Disorder Network of Maryland)
For those in recovery:
– Try to closely stick to your assigned recovery program. Structure your day so that you can keep to the recovery disciplines and actions.
– Discuss your holiday anticipations with your therapist, physician, dietitian, or other members of your treatment team so that they can help you with potential stressors and triggers and enact a plan for coping and overcoming.
– Avoid “overstressing” and “overbooking” yourself. Cut down on unnecessary events and obligations to give yourself time for relaxation, renewal and self-contemplation.
For those with a loved one suffering from an eating disorder:
– Don’t play the role of the “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 anxiety in the person suffering from an ED.
– Offer support and words of encouragement. Ask specifically how you can help them cope with the stressors of the holiday season and assist them with their treatment and recovery, such as avoiding any potentially triggering topics or activities.
– 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 support their decision.
Lastly, remember that there is support available for anyone this time of year to help them cope with the challenges and difficulties of battling eating disorders. The Information and Referral Helpline of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) and the Information HelpLine of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can provide support, advice and treatment options in your area. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is staffed 24/7, including holidays, to provide callers with a trained crisis counselor in their area.
NEDA Information and Referral Helpline: (800) 931-2237
NAMI Information HelpLine: (800) 950-NAMI (6264)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK (8255)
How are some ways that you have coped with the holidays with an eating disorder , or helped a loved one? We welcome your comments and suggestions below!
Lately I’ve been immersed in watching old TV shows. One of the shows I’ve gotten caught up in is the spectacularly cheesy yet oh so fun “Make it or Break It”. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about a group of gymnasts training for the Olympics and involves awesome scenes of gymnastic prowess (which is why I watch) and the typical teenage melodrama of a nighttime soap. One of the girl’s storylines in the second season, however, dealt with her developing an eating disorder in response to both the stress of a life of training and her parent’s impending divorce. Seeing this led me into a train of thought about the way eating disorders are portrayed in fictionalized media.
In “Make It or Break It”, Kaylee starts exhibiting disordered eating over several shows with the behavior becoming more prominent when a coach mentions that her competitor is “X pounds lighter”. Slowly people start realizing something’s wrong and they start to confront her. Eventually after passing out at an event, she enters a treatment program. Insisting nothing is wrong with her, she goes through the motions so she can get discharged. It’s not until her roommate in the program dies that she realizes she does indeed need help and from there she sets about on her journey of recovery. What struck me most about this was that before each commercial break the actress playing Kaylee is shown talking about eating disorders – how they are a disease and are nothing to be ashamed of with a listing of NEDA contact information. I definitely gave them kudos for that.
But was her eating disorder struggle accurately portrayed? At times, I think it was and at others it seemed a bit contrived. However, it made me think of other shows and movies where I’ve seen eating disorders portrayed. This was definitely more realistic than when Emma from “Degrassi” had an eating disorder (that took about two episodes to be revealed and resolved and was rarely mentioned again).
So how do eating disorders portrayed in fictionalized media affect us? Do you think they help create talking points for teens and their parents or among women and men? Or do you think they create more of a negative social stigma? With “Make It or Break It”, I think it was handled reasonably well and I think the fact that NEDA was involved (or at least mentioned) was definitely a step in the right direction. Do you think more shows should tackle this issue or would you rather see the issue left alone unless it’s handled by professionals? We’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave us a comment and let us know what you think.