Supporting Those with Eating Disorders During the Festive Period

By Brian Belko posted 16 Dec, 2021 19:38

Supporting Those with Eating Disorders During the Festive Period

                                              Four Innovative Perspectives on Managing the Holiday Season

Here we are with the festive season already upon us, and a New Year just around the corner! Such a busy and often emotional time of year can be challenging, and for those ill with an eating disorder, this time of year can prove very difficult to handle. So, we thought that we might share some tips on how to cope with festive times when caring for loved ones recovering from eating disorders. With a focus on positivity, there are several ways of not only supporting, but also of creating positive times and memories to last and generate hope for the New Year ahead.

“It’s not about the food”

The emphasis on food at this time of year can be overwhelming for anyone let alone those who are struggling with disordering eating thought patterns. Finding pleasure in being together at a family table without food as the main focus can alleviate the anxiety that comes with sitting down at the table to eat. Using family games, ranging from the traditional card games to the latest board games, can unite the family in friendly competition and conversation, bringing with it laughter, fun challenges, and a common goal when games are played cooperatively or in teams! These skills are a fabulous means of building connections that last well beyond the actual game. Furthermore, these skills are translatable as capabilities in eating disorder recovery.

Reducing Anxiety Around Special Events

The anticipation of big family events, the stress around the thought of large food-focused occasions, and the potential pressure to cope with exchanging gifts can all be triggering leading to heightened anxiety. Helping a loved one to plan ahead as to how they might manage these situations will give them more confidence in their self-efficacy. Knowing that they are supported ahead of time also brings with it the knowledge that they are not alone and that their wellbeing matters. Such measures as looking at menus ahead of time or bringing a “safe food” supply to a restaurant, as well as discussion on a broader family level about the suitability of gifts (clothes or food focused presents) can ensure that everyone gets to enjoy the festivities.

Working with the Hidden Emotions and Thoughts

Gift giving on a surface level is a generous act. However, for someone who has low self-esteem and low self worth they may struggle to feel they deserve gifts. Moreover, as the festive season comes to an end, feelings of disappointment, shame, and fear of the future may arise. Taking time to talk through these emotions and feelings can help those struggling with such thoughts to feel validated in their concerns. Including your loved ones in the planning of when to talk about big issues will guarantee that any conversation is collaborative and away from heightened anxiety periods (e.g. meal times). Furthermore, encouraging talk about the future in a positive way (for instance planning holidays) will help to provide hope.

Holidays Can Disrupt Routines

During eating disorder recovery, routines help scaffold the days as well as provide structure for any set goals. It is important not to let holiday excitement completely disregard established routines and safe behaviour management processes. Without taking away from the social nature of family and holiday plans, mindful planning for necessary eating disorder recovery routines will allow for loved ones to continue their progress in an optimistic and practical manner.

Across all these reflections, there is the notion that there may be the need to take a break from what is planned during this busy and often overloaded holiday period. By everyone giving themselves permission to “take five” or “step away” from what is going on allows for each person to regroup and to be ready to join in again when feeling recharged. Keeping in mind that breaks help to compartmentalise the day into manageable segments, having break opportunities built into planned events normalises this process and so assists in fatigue and anxiety management.

Ideally the holiday period is a time to focus on family and connections with others. Therefore, we hope these perspectives on how to best accomplish a happy and restorative holiday time may resonate and bring some festive joy along the way.

Brian and Elizabeth