The holiday season is typically filled with joyous occasions spent with family, cozy nights indoors, and celebrations with delicious food. For people struggling with eating disorders, however, these winter months can bring about increased inner pain and turmoil as they navigate around meals and foods commonly enjoyed with family and friends. The stress of dealing with binge eating, restrictive eating, and compensatory behavior may be overwhelming for people who have eating disorders, and it is often compounded by the fact that overeating is normalized during the holidays.
An estimated 9% of people living in the U.S. will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, so it is important to be mindful of creating a welcoming and comforting space for the loved ones in your life who are particularly vulnerable during this time of year.¹ Here are a few ways you can support your friends and family with eating disorders as you spend time with them this holiday season:
- Refrain from making comments about weight or diets. While it may not seem like a big deal to say that you need to work out after a big meal or offhandedly comment about how you need to go on a diet for your New Year’s resolution, these remarks can cause significant distress and anxiety for someone with an eating disorder.
- Don’t comment on how much or little they eat or if they’ve lost or gained weight. While complimenting someone’s appearance after they lost weight may be done with good intentions, it can cause more harm than good as they may already be overly aware of their body image.
- Plan activities that don’t revolve around food or eating. There are many activities that can be done without involving food, such as watching holiday movies, going out to look at the Christmas lights, and decorating the house.
- Stay informed. If a loved one confides in you about having a particular eating disorder, do your research so that you can learn more about the causes and challenges of their disorder and how to approach this issue.
Along with these tips, it is essential to recognize that you cannot change their thoughts or behaviors. You can best support someone by acknowledging their autonomy and showing up for them when they make mistakes.
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Helpline:
Monday – Thursday, 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Friday, 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Online chat is also available via the NEDA website: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
1. ANAD. (2023, October 17). Eating disorder statistics: General & Diversity stats: ANAD. ANAD National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. https://anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics/
By Michelle Lee