Supporting your loved ones with an eating disorder during festive food celebrations.

Helping your loved one manage social eating during the holidays can be tricky.

Understanding what triggers them, and what they are feeling and thinking can help with your coping plan. Some triggering thoughts, feelings and behaviours that your loved one could be experiencing.

"I hate Christmas time because everyone is going to be watching me eat"

"I am scared that this will make me relapse"

"I am going to have to restrict on the days leading up to this big meal"

"I just can't cope I don't want the whole family to come over"

"I know that I will be judging everyone else for what they are eating"

"I am scared that once I start eating I won't be able to stop"

"How do I know how much to eat"

"I've gained weight from last year and I am petrified of the comments I will get about my body from the family I don't see often"

"I am scared of binging and feeling guilty"

"I desperately need to figure out how I am going to avoid the mealtime"

"Maybe because there are going to be so many people around I can try to make myself invisible"

"Why do we need to celebrate with so much food"

"Why can't other people see how bad this is"

"I get so angry watching people enjoy themselves eating, I just don't understand how gross they all are"

" I have to be in the kitchen helping so I know exactly what is going into each dish"

"I am 13 days behaviour free and I am scared this day will make me relapse"

"I am disgusted at the amount of food people eat, I don't know how they could do this to themselves"

"I feel so shameful to be in this situation where I have to eat in front of people"


Get a plan in place

This is a good opportunity to get a plan in place. You can utilise your treatment team to help with ideas and to set up boundaries. Here are some ideas to talk about to create your plan.

Remind your loved one that the ED is not their identity and it is an illness that is something they are going through.

What family members know about the ED? Does anyone else need to know? Would it be more supportive or less supportive if Nana and Pop knew? Is there a buddy system that can be set up with a sibling or cousin? It would be best if the buddy is not the host or chef, someone who is able to be there for the loved one during the day.

Plan for a meltdown. Using the buddy to come up with a go-to plan to help if a moment occurs. A keyword, catchphrase, a squeeze of their hand. The buddy can quietly remove your loved one from the situation by saying something like "Hey, can you come to look at something outside with me for a moment"

Diet talk! If there are members who do not know about the ED diet talk could easily come up- someone needs to be the ringleader to change of subject in a cool calm way that does not cause more discussion. As we know diet talk can bring about heated conversation, its become worse than talking about politics or religion. Have some conversation topics ready for if and when this happens. Diet culture talk is out! Click here for diet Vs non-diet mentality

Think of some meaningful conversation starters. It can create an opportunity to learn about deeper issues and create more meaningful connections.

Teach family about triggers- not talking about weight, shape, size, health, portions, or to overbearingly caring or smothering will help make the day be less stressful.

Call on the skills that have been taught in therapy sessions. CBT, DBT, ACT and anything else that has been taught. Practice some mindfulness before the meal.

Create distractions, games that build connections, interactive activities that can help get out of the head space.

Plan the meal before the event. Talk about the foods that will be served, ensure there are safe foods to help your loved one cope. Although it is a good opportunity for challenge, it is going to depend what stage of recovery your loved one is at as to what is going to be achievable. A buffet can be overwhelming, however with the buddy system they can help with diverting attention to what is being served on the plate. When it is time to serve the food being in the middle of the line can be less stressful as people will be then focused on their own plates.

This is a great opportunity to do some good work. Practice acceptance if something radical and unexpected happens. Let go of expectations of perfection. Put trust in other people. Stay in the moment.

It is still important to stick to the plan, eat your meals, and your snacks. At the end of the day it is just another day.

Social connectedness is one of the important elements to recovery. It seems hard right now, but with planning and team work this can become a beautiful day to create memories and family bonding.


Words from your loved ones

Listen to their struggles- it can help you become more empathetic and understanding

Comments like ‘you look so much healthier/better’ are difficult but common when you see family/friends you haven’t seen in a while. Instead, people could make non appearance based comments, or just don’t comment at all.

Comments regarding food choices such as ‘wow, that’s a lot of food for a little tummy’ or ‘how are you going to eat all of that’ are unhelpful. Equally, comments like ‘is that all you’re having’ or pushiness to have more make things more stressful. If the main support person is concerned they could privately remind you of your meal plan requirements if you have one, but no one else should be commenting.

Another common one is ‘wow I’m so full, I’m not going to eat for a year now’ or ‘diet starts tomorrow’ etc are unnecessary.

Don’t assume everyone likes hugs/being embraced/touched. This can be uncomfortable and triggering too