Supporting Someone with an Eating Disorder during the Holidays

For many, the holidays are a time filled with celebration and enjoyment. For people struggling with eating disorders, however, the holidays can be a hard time. The focus on food and spending time with family can be a source of stress and pain. It is also common for loved ones to make comments without meaning to that can hurt a person with an eating disorder. You can be a source of support during this challenging time! Here are a few helpful tips:

  1. Ask how you can be supportive. Your family member or friend may ask for something as simple as having you sit next to them during the meal or go to a private space to talk for a few minutes. Whatever it is, make sure to ask how you can be supportive. Don’t guess.
  2. Avoid negative food talk. If you think your family member or friend is eating more or less than they should or you want to make comments about calories and how unhealthy certain food seems, don’t! These types of comments can cause them to feel more guilt and shame than they already do.
  3. Focus on being together. Sometimes it may feel stressful when you are trying to be supportive. This feeling may cause you to forget that one of the most helpful things can be to focus on the purpose of the holidays: spending time together and enjoying each other’s company. Remember to focus on the quality of your time together.
  4. Don’t let them spend too much time alone. Ask your family member or friend to join you if you notice they are spending a lot of time away from the group. When people feel anxious or ashamed, it is common to want to be alone. However, being alone can lead people to feel worse. Let them know they are loved and accepted and that you want to spend time with them.
  5. Encourage them to meet with their therapist beforehand. A great way to prepare for challenging events is to plan ahead! Therapists can help your family member or friend develop different strategies for dealing with stress.
  6. Do an activity that isn’t related to food. Whether it’s playing a game or having a good conversation, people struggling with eating disorders appreciate the distraction. A distraction can be a good way to feel better if your family member or friend is feeling distressed.
  7. Be empathetic and compassionate. Try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they feel. This simple act can go a long way in showing them you care and have a desire to be helpful.

A final note to keep in mind is that your friend or loved one may feel upset and stressed even though you tried these tips. This is okay. You are already being helpful by taking the time to read this blog and be a source of support. An additional resource is the NEDA Helpline. They have volunteers that can help talk through a tough moment or discuss different treatment options.