5 Challenges for Someone With an Eating Disorder During the Holidays


The last time I purged was more than a year ago on November 23, 2014. Four days later, I went to visit family for Thanksgiving. In my family and many others, Thanksgiving is the first of a little over a month-long string of holidays which involve copious amounts of food. Being put in a room with pies and meat and starches out the wazoo while attempting to control my urge to binge and purge was incredibly straining. It was an extraordinarily painful process, and I can honestly admit I didn’t think recovery would be that difficult.

While I was in recovery last year, the year before I was in the throes of my eating disorder. I have experienced Thanksgiving and Christmas while I was sick in new recovery, and this year, I will experience it in strong recovery. However, the thought of the internal, societal and familial pressures surrounding the holidays still makes me uneasy. Here are a few things we (individuals who deal or have dealt with disordered eating) struggle with during the holidays:

1. The “eating disorder voice” is constantly in our head, picking apart everything we put into our mouths.  

The concept of the “voice of our disorder” can seem like a hackneyed phrase, which can be overused within psychological circles. However, in my experience, I absolutely experience the problematic thought patterns that can function as another “voice” intermingled within my own healthy thoughts. Triggering situations, as the holidays can be, make these unhealthy thoughts incrementally louder. Even for someone in strong, steady recovery, this voice is a harmful factor, which can cause a lot of emotional turmoil and exhaustion.

2. Conflicting advice and opinions from family and friends can make the holidays a scary experience.  

Even the most well-meaning aunt who persuades you to eat more food so she will not have leftovers can be extremely overwhelming to someone struggling with eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. In my own family, I have members who encourage me to eat more than I would like while others tell me to limit how much I eat. I think both of these opinions are equally detrimental, and coupled with each other, they can cause a lot of pain and confusion for someone for whom food is a source of anxiety.

3. Your comment about how you wish you could lose weight before a company Christmas party can be triggering.  

For someone haunted by their perception of their weight, a comment about yours is the last thing they need to hear. If you don’t have great self-esteem yourself, I completely understand because I used to be this person. I understand the need to vent to someone, but finding someone who can healthily listen to your complaints and fears without jeopardizing their own mental health is wildly important.

4. Don’t make negative comments about what we do or do not eat at a family function. Don’t tell us we need to eat something to be polite.  

Chances are, if we are battling our eating disorder, we are already struggling enough with this. Particularly if we are in recovery, we are trying as hard as we possibly can. I remember last year I had strange and systemic rituals to make sure I would not binge, purge or calorie count. I had to focus on something other than my tendencies in order to stop them. Making condescending (or even well-intended) comments about my eating habits or rituals causes an abundance of shame, something which is already experienced by a wide array of people with eating disorders.

5. While the holidays may bring joy to many, they bring a much wider and more complex range of emotions to us.  

I will be 100 percent honest: I love the holidays. I love spending time with family, I love Christmas movies and I even love the food. However, this genuine joy is coupled with feelings of guilt, grief and anxiety. In the lives of others, these feelings can be present for various reasons as well. For people recovering from eating disorders, they may never go away.

Learning to cope with an eating disorder during the holidays is important. If your loved one struggles with disordered eating in any form, you possess a superpower this holiday season. You can choose to be a helpful agent or a harmful one. You may never know how much your words and actions may affect how someone views themselves and experiences the holidays.

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