Managing the Holidays: 5 tips to help support your loved one with an eating disorder

Although most of us associate the holiday season with joy and excitement, it can be an extremely challenging time of year for those suffering with an eating disorder.  People with eating disorders may experience an increase in stress, anxiety and eating disorder triggers and behaviours thanks to the large focus on food during the festive season.

Minimise Expectations

The holiday season is particularly hard for those with eating disorders. The lead up to the holiday season, as well as post-celebration, can mean there is going to be an increase in your loved one’s struggles surrounding food, weight, and body image. 

Over the holidays, it is important to minimise expectations from your loved one. It is a very difficult time of year, and it is important for them to simply get through this period and maintain recovery at best – it is probably not the time to be attempting progress.

5 tips for christmas with an eating disorder

5 tips to support your loved one over the holidays

1. Plan ahead  

  •  Plan out the day and mealtimes – there is often a lack of routine over the holidays and for some it may be important to stick to a normal eating schedule.
  •  Discuss the menu / what foods will be available if this helps to make them feel more prepared 
  •  Have a plan for if your loved one becomes distressed during a holiday event – this could include arranging a safe room for them to go to if things get too overwhelming, or having a code word/signal if they need your support and want to leave the dinner table to take some breaths.

2. Avoid excessive talk of food and diet culture

  • The holiday season and the lead up to January is often filled with harmful language toward food and exercise, making it the perfect time for diet culture to thrive.
  • Avoid using words such as ‘treat’, ‘bad’, ‘clean’, or ‘junk’ when describing food.
  • Avoid talking about diets, working off food, earning food, detoxing, or cleansing post holidays 
  • Avoid talk of anyone’s body size and weight (including your own) this is going to emphasise the ‘importance’ of body and food for your loved one. 
  • If other family members/friends present are likely to talk about any of these things or use any of this language, perhaps organising a pre-celebration phone call or catch up to set some boundaries may be a good idea.

3. Don’t comment on your loved one’s appearance or food intake

  • Avoid commenting on your loved one’s weight status or making any comments on their appearance altogether.
  • It is important to note that even comments with good intention, such as ‘you are looking much better’, or ‘you’ve done a good job eating that meal’ may cause emotional distress. 
  • Avoid making comments on what your loved one is eating/not eating – don’t comment on what is on their plate or how much is on their plate.
  • Again, some family members/friends present may need a reminder pre-celebration that these comments are not going to be helpful or appropriate.

4. Distractions after mealtimes

  • Plan for some activities after mealtimes to help distract your loved one from any difficult thoughts they may be having (they may be struggling with the feeling of fullness, or have urges to binge or purge etc.
  • It may be a good idea to clear away all the food after the meal is finished, to officially ‘close off’ the time to focus on food, and begin to do other holiday activities.
  • Some ideas may include family games, opening/wrapping presents, watching a movie together, listening or dancing to music, or walking (if appropriate).

5. Take the focus off food

  • Try to emphasise the true meaning of the holidays at your celebrations. This may be spending time with family, religion, relaxing, giving etc.
  • Shift the focus and reflect as a family on the things you are grateful for or each other’s achievements and positive moments throughout the past year.
  • By minimising talk of food and having planned activities other than sitting at the dinner table and eating – you may be able to help your loved one to focus on other aspects of the holidays.

Plan for a stress-free family festive season

With some thought and preparation, your festive season can be a joyous time. Enjoy the small moments, and relish the opportunity to spend some quality time with the ones you love.

Wishing you a peaceful, special festive season.


Author: Molly Connor, Clearcut Nutrition 

Follow Molly on Instagram:  @clear-cut-nutrition