Holiday Tips for Family Members and Friends of People with Eating Disorders and in Recovery
Communication is key – Sometimes its so easy to think that you are planning a low stress day that you forget to check in on the needs and concerns of your loved one with an eating disorder. Don’t forget to ask about what would make that person feel comfortable and relaxed.
Make a plan – It can be helpful to know what time food is being served and what is on the menu so that a meal plan can be made in advance. Many people with eating disorders get overwhelmed when faced with surprises or in-the-moment decisions regarding food. Wherever possible, incorporate input from your loved one with the eating disorder (for example, including a food that person likes or starting the meal at a time they are comfortable with).
Don’t ask about the eating disorder during the meal...and redirect others who do – You’re just trying to be nice and want to know how your loved one is doing. But, asking about how things are going in therapy while he or she is trying to eat is counter-productive and anxiety provoking. Think about how you wouldn’t want people asking you personal questions during a stressful situation.
Provide opportunities to check in – Don’t let more than an hour or two go by without checking in. Plan in advance what is best. Some people simply need a quick moment away from everyone, others may want to step outside, use coping skills and regroup.
Prepare a help card – Work with your loved one to create a response for stressful situations. On one side of a small (think 3” x 5” card) write down 5 calming things that your loved one with an eating disorder can do in the moment if struggling. For example, step outside, take deep breaths, play with the dog, watch football, etc).
Plan to eat regular meals at regular meal times – Avoid having a large meal that encompasses many smaller meals because this will feel like a binge to someone with an eating disorder. Also, it is important for people with eating disorders and in recovery to maintain structured times for eating, and days away from this can be stressful.
Don’t stare at the plate – Instead relax, know that everyone is doing the best they can, and that food can be made up for later in the day if needed.
Respect Privacy – Don’t tell others about your loved ones’ eating disorder without his or her express permission.
Encourage Social Events – Encourage your loved one to remain active with his or her treatment team over the holidays and to spend meaningful time with friends. But, be careful not to overbook where this can cause stress. A goal of no more than one social event per day and no less than four social events per week can be a healthy range.
Take care of yourself too – Remember that you can only care for others when you are strong and secure yourself. Take this as a time to recharge and prepare for continuing to work as a team with your loved one to stop the eating disorder.