Taking Care of Eating Disorders During Holidays
Thanksgiving, while typically viewed as a holiday where people are free to stuff their faces, can be a difficult experience for others. It is impossible to know the details of another person’s relationship with food, and the way we talk about food can have a huge impact. Anyone who has ever been sensitive about their body can agree with this statement, but it especially rings true for those suffering with an eating disorder. At best, it can ruin a meal, and, at worse, trigger a relapse. Sometimes, the offense is obvious, but at other times it’s more innocuous, and the offender might not even know they’re saying the wrong thing.
To be on the safe side, do not offer unsolicited commentary on the food that is (or isn’t) on someone else’s plate. Steer clear of statements that imply what you ate is something you have to punish yourself for. Eating disorder patients have been struggling with punishing themselves for the duration of their illness, and hearing phrases like, “I’ve been so good until today,” and “I’d have to run for three hours just to work this off,” can trigger feelings of self-hatred and urges at best. Avoid language that categorizes certain foods as “bad for you”.
For example, steer away from phrases such as, “I’ve been trying not to eat ___,” or “Are you sure you want to eat that? It’s loaded with fat.” Instead, just keep your own diet to yourself. More than likely, the person knows what they’re eating isn’t as healthy as a salad. It doesn’t need to be pointed out.
Avoid urging someone to indulge in a food they don’t want to eat. Certain foods, especially dessert, are extremely high in sugar and fat. Urging someone to eat these foods can trigger a spiral of self-hatred, making the person feel guilty and angry with themselves for eating it. To prevent this, avoid phrases such as, “one slice of pie won’t kill you!” Try not to point out how much someone is eating.
Phrases such as, “wow, that’s a really big piece,” or “how many rolls have you had?” could trigger a relapse. The person has already been eating very little or not at all, and eating should be encouraged, not looked down upon.
Thanksgiving is a time for friends and family who are there to help and support each other. Be nice to yourself, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help if necessary. Eating disorders affect eight million people in the US alone. It’s hard to decipher what people’s relationship with food might be, so be careful this holiday season. The holidays are a time for joy, family, friends, and good food as well. Enjoy yourself and your meal- without justification or apology.
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