While many of us look forward to the holiday season, for some, like those impacted by a mental health condition like eating disorders, it can be an incredibly difficult time.
Cooking for large groups of people, seeing relatives that we haven’t seen since last year, and commuting to destinations that may not be the comfort of our own home, can understandably be stressful and challenging.
Loved ones can be an instrumental support system in helping to ease concerns and reduce anxiety this holiday season. If you’re wondering how exactly you can help, here are some tips that have proven beneficial for the loved ones of someone struggling with an eating disorder.
1). Planning ahead and Check-ins
Be observant of your loved one’s behavior. Prior to getting together with family or traveling, designate a ‘code word’ to prompt a check-in or notice any shifts/changes in mood or action. Prepare together how these check-ins will go and how often they may be needed. Identify the possible triggers and what may be helpful in navigating and working through them.
2). Keep the day structured
Most individuals who struggle with eating disordered thoughts or behaviors use a meal plan or have structured meal times. While flexibility is a goal for many in eating disorder treatment, the more structure that can be provided, the more at ease your loved one will feel. If they’ve been recommended to have three meals and three snacks, help them stick to these portion amounts and the time they will be served to the best of your ability.
3). Devise escape plans
Escape plans are important for multiple reasons. Sometimes emotional charge may come from what is served for dinner, conversation, environment, or other triggers. When an individual is at an emotional break down point, it may be time to leave the dinner or family party. Plan in advance: you might want to take two cars or set and adhere to a specific time to leave. Again, planning ahead is key in minimizing distress.
Validation is about understanding. There may be times throughout this season that your loved one’s eating disorder may create conflict within the family/friend system. Remember this is not them; it’s their eating disorder. Validate that the holidays and food-focused activities are difficult to navigate and that you are in this together. Most importantly, validate yourself. As a family member or friend who is helping someone struggling with an eating disorder, you have the right to notice that the recovery process is not just hard for your loved one; it’s hard for you too! Have some compassion for yourself and realize all the things in your life that you are doing well and getting through the holidays is absolutely one of those.
5). Remember the meaning of the holidays and have fun!
The holidays are a time to be appreciative of the gifts we have and those around us. It is difficult to find meaning in the moments that cause us stress; however, this may be time to reflect and identify what the holiday spirit means for you and your family. Find non-food focused activities to engage in with your family; word games, outings to a favorite winter activity, or watching family-favorite movies.
This holiday season, Walden would like to thank our clients’ loved ones for their unrelenting devotion and hope that you offer every day to those who struggle. Recovery from eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder really does take a village, and you are an integral and valued member of your loved one’s recovery tribe.
If you or someone you love need some extra support this holiday season, we’re always here to help.