Oh, the holidays. They can be filled with joy and excitement … or stress and frustration … or all of those things at once. For people with eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating, this time of year can be particularly upsetting. Constant exposure to lots of food and lots of people can raise great fears and challenges.
If you know someone with an eating disorder, here are some ways to support them during this tough season (and really, at any time of year):
- Don’t have conversations about weight, food, or diets. It’s easy to make offhand remarks about how “stuffed” you are or how you’re going to need a workout after that turkey dinner. But for someone with an eating disorder, these kinds of comments can cause great anxiety.
- Don’t pressure them to eat, comment on how much or how little they eat, or talk about their appearance (even if it’s complimentary). Again, these behaviors can be hurtful rather than helpful.
- Plan activities that don’t center around eating. Playing board games, going out to look at holiday lights, watching movies—all of these can be done without focusing on food.
- Be informed. Learn about the person’s particular disorder—the causes, the challenges, and the coping strategies. Knowing more will help you be more understanding of their behavior.
- Ask how they are feeling and whether there is anything you can do to help (if you have the kind of relationship where you feel comfortable doing so).
- Remind them that you love and care about them. You can offer hugs or kind words, or make a more subtle gesture like making sure they’re included in activities and conversations.
Above all, remember that you cannot change their behavior—you can only change yours. Part of being an ally means letting the person go on their own journey, which may include mistakes or setbacks. Support them at every step by being as thoughtful, compassionate, and aware as possible.
Want to learn more about eating disorders and body image issues? Check out our Helpful Links section for a list of websites and organizations that offer in-depth information and resources for support.