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How to Prepare for The Holidays When Your Loved One is Recovering from an Eating Disorder

Blog post written by,

Yaneth Beltran, RD/LDN, CEDS-S

Carolina Gaviria, LMHC, NCC, CEDS-S


The holiday season is a special time of the year to celebrate and find joy in the presence of family and friends. However, this can be a very challenging time for people who are undergoing the process of recovering from an eating disorder. In general, they might experience feelings of concern, unease, and added pressure during this time, as numerous festive get-togethers are centered around the consumption of food, taking pictures, and giving updates on how one’s life is going. Social media and topics related to diet culture and the emphasis of weight loss are common themes of conversation during gatherings and could lead to feelings of shame and appearance-related anxiety (Chami, et al., 2019).


As we know, stress and anxiety have a notable impact on various types of eating disorders. Studies have suggested that stress may be a precipitating factor in the etiology and maintenance of eating disorders. Additionally, when stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are elevated, they can affect appetite and eating behaviors (Kennedy, et al., 2022). The restriction of foods due to stress also can lead to overeating on the next meal. Maintaining balance becomes challenging for everybody during the holiday season. This blog post aims to shed light on the importance of helping your loved one stay grounded in their eating recovery during the holidays season by helping them manage stress effectively. Preparing for the holidays can help your loved one feel empowered and supported. Here are some effective strategies that will help you celebrate using both balance with food and being present celebrating with your loved ones:


1. Increase Awareness: talking prior to celebrations about how feelings affect eating habits and identifying potential triggers of stress and red flags is important. Have check ins and ongoing conversations with your loved one about challenges, their feelings, and current struggles. Share some of your observations in a kind and supportive way.

2. Understand Triggers: Identifying triggers together that contribute to the use of eating disorder symptoms can help them cope better. By understanding these triggers, they can use healthier coping mechanisms and strategies.

3. Validate their Experience: Validation can provide so much relief to a person who is struggling. You don’t need to understand their emotions or agree with your loved one to validate them. You can say something like: “I can see how eating holiday foods is difficult for you. It makes sense because they are some of your fear foods and you haven’t had them in a while.” Ask them: How can I support you?

4. Plan Ahead: help your loved one identify potential challenges and brainstorm ways to face them. Encourage them to seek support from their treatment team as well. They can provide some insight into ways to plan for meals during the holidays and offer strategies on how to deal with diet culture topics of conversations or comments, how to manage anxiety around food and certain family members.

5. Educate Guests: if your loved one thinks this can help, ask family members and friends to avoid topics related to diet culture, weight, calories, ingredients, “good or bad food”, physical appearance as well as making comments about the way others eat or look. Encourage family members to focus on the spirit of the holidays and keep conversation fun and light. Also remind them to purchase gifts that are thoughtful and not to ask for their size.

6. Take A Break: It is important to recognize when a break is necessary. Help your loved one identify when it’s time to leave a situation. Removing your loved one from situations that will increase distressful feelings is necessary and much appreciated in recovery. It is also vital to acknowledge when you need to take a break as a family member or friend to revise the plan or just to recharge to continue providing support.

7. Practice Mindfulness: Practice staying in the present moment and paying attention to thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. In this way you can be more aware of when you need a moment to respond to your loved one and not react when they are struggling. You will also be more present to support them paying attention to their body's hunger and fullness cues. Mindful eating can help both of you stay in grounded in the present and make conscious choices around food to enjoy the moment.

8. Set Reminders: Being an ally in recovery can be challenging. Set some reminders to stay in the present moment and remind yourself that your sweet child or friend is fighting an eating disorder. They are NOT the eating disorder. When they are angry and refuse to eat their meal or snack, it helps to think that you are talking to the eating disorder, not your child or friend. Externalizing the eating disorder is a helpful strategy to decrease blame and empowering them to challenge it. Other reminders for self-care and personal time can help care givers at this time.

9. Be Patient: Avoid reacting – do not blame or judge your loved one, just focus on how they're feeling and validate their emotions. For example, you can say: “I can see how completing this meal is really hard for you right now.” Ask them: “What can I do to support you and make it easier?”. Eating disorders are complex and a lot of feelings come out before, during and after meals. Take a moment to take a deep breath and regroup.

10. Show Compassion: Just like validation, compassion helps individuals feel better and build emotional resilience. Instead of dwelling on past mistakes, set-backs or regrets, they can focus on their strengths and develop the capacity to bounce back from difficulties and face challenges with a compassionate mindset.


Unique challenges are faced during the holidays, but with a proactive and mindful approach to nutrition and the adequate support from friends, family, and a specialized treatment team, it's possible for your loved one to celebrate the festivities without compromising their health and emotional well-being. By incorporating the strategies that we shared into this holiday season, you can create a more balanced and supportive environment for your loved one.


If you have additional questions or need more information about how to support a loved one overcome an eating disorder, please contact us today at info@homeforbalance.com or at 561.600.1424 for a FREE 30-minute consultation! At Home For Balance, we understand the challenges that the holidays can arise especially in those affected by an eating disorder or in eating disorder recovery. Our dedicated team of therapists are committed to supporting and helping you navigate the holidays. Some of our clinicians can provide services in different states and languages besides English including Spanish, Ukrainian, and Russian. Online sessions are also available.



References:


· Chami, R., Monteleone, A. M., Treasure, J., & Monteleone, P. (2019). Stress hormones and eating disorders. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, 497, 110349. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mce.2018.12.009

· Kennedy, H., Dinkler, L., Kennedy, M. A., Bulik, C. M., & Jordan, J. (2022). How genetic analysis may contribute to the understanding of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). Journal of Eating Disorders, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-022-00578-x

 

YANETH BELTRAN, RD/LDN, CEDS

Eating Disorder and OCD Registered Dietitian


I take a holistic approach to wellness by providing nutritional counseling to clients that want to establish a healthy relationship with food. I am a compassionate person, who believes in the power of the therapeutic relationship between clients and professionals. For a FREE phone consultation and more information about nutritional counseling, please call me directly at 954.773.3139. Services available in English/Spanish and Online.



CAROLINA GAVIRIA, LMHC, NCC, CEDS-S Eating Disorders, Addictions, and Trauma Specialist (EMDR Certified)


​Please give me a call today for a FREE 30-minute phone consult at 561.305.2497, I’d be happy to provide more information about my services and discuss setting up a session! For more information about my services, you can also visit my website at www.solutionsintherapy.com or email me at carolinagaviriamhc@gmail.com. I look forward to speaking with you!


Services available in English/Spanish, in person and Online

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