Supporting Your Loved One During the Holiday Season

For many people, the holiday season is a source of great joy. It often provides a time for socializing, celebration, and reunion, and instills happiness. Often for those who have eating disorders, this can be a particularly stressful and dreaded time of year. The following are suggestions from your loved ones and clinical professionals as to how to help your loved one this holiday season.

  1. Ensure that your primary focus is not on the food but rather on family and the time you’re spending together.
  2. Let go of expectations. Sometimes family traditions involve a lot of food, or you might have expectations that your loved one might not be able to commit to at this point in time. Allow yourself to let go of expectations, and meet your loved one where they are. By letting go of expectations, you free yourself up to enjoy your loved one and all they are capable of. More than anything else, it can be beneficial to express warmth, kindness, and acceptance toward your loved one.
  3. Don’t feel responsible or guilty for the eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex illnesses that are not caused by a person, a relationship, or a failure on your part.
  4. Validate feelings. Do your best to support your loved one with their feelings, even if you don’t understand them.
  5. Create new traditions! Allow for other activities that your loved one can fully participate in. Try your hand at singing carols, playing board games, doing a white elephant gift exchange, decorating, volunteering, etc.
  6. Know what to say. Have a conversation with your loved one about how best to support them. Some may want your support, while others may want to advocate for themselves. By engaging in healthy communication with your loved one, you can eliminate in-the-moment stress on both sides.
  7. Offer caregiving and not caretaking. Taking on the role of nurse, doctor, dietitian, or detective takes you out of your most important role: loved one. It is not your job to fix or solve the eating disorder. If your loved one knows that your heart is on their side, you can become a source of comfort, support, and safety along this journey.
  8. Keep conversations focused on topics other than treatment, body, weight, exercise, etc., particularly during meals.
  9. Trust your instincts and be you. Your loved ones know when you’re walking on eggshells. If you become hyperfocused on everything being OK, or acting like things are fine, you can unintentionally increase expectations that can make your loved ones feel they have failed.
  10. Remember that “the struggle is real.” Eating disorders are serious medical and psychiatric illnesses that your loved ones aren’t choosing and YOU did not cause. Even though you may not understand the significance of your loved one’s struggle, recognizing that they ARE struggling and fighting this illness can help them to feel validated, supported, and able to receive the support you are offering.