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!
As I quietly opened the theater door at the end of the last screening of Someday Melissa at the California Independent Film Festival, I could see the last image of Melissa scrolling on the screen as the final credits ran. It’s a black and white video clip of Melissa, laughing at the camera as she sat on a staircase. I don’t remember exactly when the video was made. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it was a time when she was happy. A time before she was crushed by the bulimia and depression that ultimately took her life.
That’s how I like to remember her.
There was total silence for half a minute before the lights were turned on. I was grateful for those 30 seconds that would allow the audience time to catch their breath. As the lights came on, I walked to the front of the theater. I knew from past screenings that there would be a lot of questions, but they wouldn’t come for a few minutes. So I began to speak. I told them that I understood the impact that Melissa’s story, my family’s story, is having on audiences. Jeff Cobelli, the remarkable young man who directed the film was standing beside me and I told them how the idea for making the film was born and how we met.
I told them about the impact that Someday Melissa is having on the world of eating disorders. About the emails I get from around the world: from Germany, England, Australia, Chile and more. From across the country. From people who had been struggling in silence but Melissa’s story finally gave them the courage to tell someone. From others who finally admitted they had a problem and reached out for help. And from others who were inspired by Melissa’s dreams of “Someday…” and how her story had given them encouragement and the determination to keep fighting. Given them hope. I told them about the messages of recovery. From people who continue to write to tell me of their recovery and the healthy lives they’re living that they never dreamed possible.
The first hand tentatively went up and then others followed, one after another. What advice would I give other parents at the start of the journey? How can we get the message into schools? Why are eating disorders so difficult to treat? I was asked what the process of making the film was like for me and Jeff was asked what it was like to film such emotional interviews. The questions continued. I told them to download the Parent, Educator, Coach & Athletic Trainer Toolkits that have been developed by the National Eating Disorders Association and give copies to their children’s teachers, guidance counselors and coaches.
There were several therapists in the audience who treat eating disorders. I deferred to their expertise in responding to some of the questions since I make it clear that I’m a mom, not a professional. One of the most powerful moments, echoed by others, was when one therapist expressed her gratitude that Someday Melissa is a documentary about bulimia, because most films are about anorexia and people don’t understand how deadly bulimia is.
It had to be about bulimia.
That was Melissa’s story.