As a partner, family member or friend, you might be unsure about how to help your loved one during the holidays. You want to support them through this potentially tough time. But you just don’t know how to go about doing that.
Here’s some insight from the experts at Eating Recovery Center that might help.
1. Avoid being the food police. According to Bonnie Brennan, MA, LPC, clinical director of Eating Recovery Center’s Partial Hospitalization Program:
Unless a treatment team has given you a plan to monitor and portion your loved ones’ food, do not play “food police.” This can raise your loved one’s anxiety and backfire big time. So, I advise friends and loved ones to “drop the rope” and focus on enjoying the wonderful person in front of you. After all, the holidays are about connections with others and food is only one piece of that.
2. Respect their recovery. As Brennan said, “Some individuals with eating disorders are not ready for a big meal or party or eating in front of many people with so many different food choices. If that is the case with your friend or loved one, respect where he or she is at in the recovery process.”
3. Keep things simple and small. “Depending on where a friend or loved one is in the recovery process, this holiday season may be time to keep plans simple and small. When your holiday plans involve traveling and seeing many different people and relatives in different contexts, it may be too overwhelming for the individual with an eating disorder—and for you too!” Brennan said.
4. Let go of perfection. “Although you may long for an ideal holiday celebration, you have a friend or loved one who is challenged with a life threatening illness. Remember to stay recovery-focused and that things will not be perfect,” Brennan said.
5. Ask your loved one how you can help. According to Elizabeth Easton, PsyD, clinical director of child and adolescent services at Eating Recovery Center’s Behavioral Hospital for Children and Adolescents:
If you are a parent or family member of a loved one recently in recovery from an eating disorder, it is important to be aware and mindful during the holiday season. Ask your loved one questions and try to validate the possible stressors of holiday events. For example, “What can I do to support you with during tonight’s holiday party?”
6. Pay attention to your own relationship with food and your body. This can include everything from how you speak about food and yourself — “Oh, that has too many calories” or “That’ll go right to my hips” — to how you approach New Year’s resolutions. “For instance, set a New Years resolution to ‘focus on health’ as opposed to ‘lose weight’ or ‘cut out carbohydrates,'” Easton said.
There are many ways you can support someone who’s recovering from an eating disorder. Reach out, and ask them how you can help. Be compassionate, and communicate your concern and support.
If you’re not sure what else to do, contact your loved one’s treatment team or another clinician who specializes in eating disorders for insight.
Any tips you’d like to share on supporting loved ones through the holiday season?