22 things people with eating disorders want others to know about the holidays

22 Things People With Eating Disorders Want Others to Know About the Holidays

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For someone living with an eating disorder — no matter how far he or she is on a recovery journey — day-to-day eating can be daunting. The holidays pose extra challenges with work parties and family gatherings that sometimes seem to revolve around food.

So, we teamed up with the National Eating Disorder Association to ask people who live with an eating disorder what they wish others understood about the holidays.

Here’s what they want you to know:

1. “It’s not that I don’t want to come to the family dinner. It’s not that I don’t love you. While it may be relaxing and fun for you — for me, it’s a battleground. Every bite comes with my brain yelling at me. I’m trying to smile through every bite.”

it's not that I don't want to come to the family dinner. it's not that I don't love you. while it may be relaxing and fun for you - for me, it's a battleground.

2. “Just because I’ve been in active recovery for years, doesn’t mean I don’t constantly fight my disordered thoughts, especially when people are constantly talking about eating — then I keep picturing myself eating non-stop, which scares me.”

3. “Just because I’m doing well and at a healthy weight doesn’t mean my disorder is ‘cured.’ Eating in front of people is still hard and embarrassing. Even though I’ve been in recovery for two years I still struggle. Especially around the holidays.”

4. “Please don’t get angry with me when eating disorder thoughts and behaviors are highly present. I’m more than my eating disorder. We are two distinct beings united by heavy chains. When you get angry at me, I feel guilty and retreat inside my mind.”

5. “It’s hard to do all the things people find fun around the holidays when you have an eating disorder screaming in your head every moment.”

it's hard to do all the things people find fun around the holidays when you have an eating disorder screaming in your head every moment.

6. “I wish my friends and family understood that the holidays make me feel pressured to eat food I’m not necessarily comfortable eating. If I don’t eat what everyone else is eating, I get asked a million questions and it makes me feel like a spectacle.”

7. “The holidays are extremely stressful. When you say, ‘It’s the holidays, you deserve to have just one,’ it’s not that simple.”

8. “Even though it’s the holidays, commenting on food, weight, diets, anyone’s body appearance or eating habits are still off limits and very triggering.”

9. “Talking about your post-holiday diet is super triggering. Calling the holiday food ‘bad’ or ‘fattening’ is triggering. Talking about how much you’re going to ‘stuff your face,’ or how ‘fat’ you’re going to be, or that you wore your ‘fat’ pants… please, just don’t.”

talking about your post-holiday diet is super triggering.

10. “I struggled because my family didn’t understand that during holiday celebration or meal, you should not bring up the eating disorder. Don’t ask me why I’m not eating the stuffing. Don’t tell me I should eat the dessert. You just need to love me. Give me my space and have hope that by next year, maybe I’ll be in a better place.”

11. “It’s the holiday, but for me and food it’s one more day we’re getting along. I’m not going to mess up the journey I’m on to make you feel more comfortable.”

12. “Stop telling me to be happy. Let me feel my feelings. Ignoring them is part of what brought me to an eating disorder in the first place.”

stop telling me to be happy. let me feel my feelings. ignoring them is part of what brought me to an eating disorder in the first place.

13. “It hurts every single time someone refers to holiday weight gain or how they’ll have to hit the gym in the New Year.”

14. “During the holidays, I wish for others not to judge, but to simply understand. I wish for patience, a touch on the shoulder and for us to talk about things other than my eating disorder. It’s not about wanting attention, it’s about just wanting that acceptance and support… to know that those around you love you regardless.”

15. “Even when it appears I’m handling things really well, I’m still fighting the disordered thoughts. They have not gone away, but I’ve learned how to get through them. Holidays are emotional times with family and food — anytime I’m not at my normal emotional baseline, things are harder to handle.”

16. “When you go to a party with lots of food, the urge to binge or the fear that you will is scary and overwhelming.”

when you go to a party with lots of food, the urge to binge or the fear that you will is scary and overwhelming.

17. “Just because it’s a holiday, where you’re expected to be cheerful, doesn’t mean the eating disorder or other illnesses we struggle with can just disappear.”

18. “A holiday is just another day filled with struggles that need to be overcome. It becomes even more difficult because you’re surrounded by people you rarely see and strange foods you rarely eat. It gets exhausting ‘playing’ a part. Please be kind and patient so we can all get through the difficult challenges together.”

19. “If we’re looking sad or angry, it’s not because we want to spoil the holidays. It’s because it’s really hard for us to face a Christmas dinner table. We’re trying our best.”

if we're looking sad or angry, it's not because we want to spoil the holidays.

20. “I truly want to enjoy all the holiday food without feeling guilty, but it’s extremely difficult.”

21. “When social interactions become more about the food than the interaction, it becomes very difficult for me to think outside of numbers and exercise. Please be patient with me.”

22. “Treatment taught me to deal with everyday eating, but it can hardly prepare me for the holidays and all the extra occasions that revolve around food. Don’t be offended or worried if I turn down one cookie or an office party; I just need to keep my head in the right place. I want to enjoy the holidays, too.”

treatment taught me to deal with everyday eating, but it can hardly prepare me for the holidays.

*Some answers have been edited and shortened.

Related: 5 Comments to Avoid on Thanksgiving if Someone You Love Has an Eating Disorder 

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

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The Moment I Made Peace With My Bones

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Every so often, I experience a moment that drops me into a space of clear, pure and complete trust that recovery is mine for the taking. My recent relapse threatened to eat me alive, and so my work the past 18 months has been as much of a therapeutic deep dive as it has a coup against my biological drive to starve myself. Like addiction, anorexia and other types of eating disorders have a genetic component. So many of us who endure these diseases do so in part out of genetic predisposition.

Yoga has been a source of steadiness in my recovery process, and has led me to teach as well as train to become a yoga therapist. I recently took an immersion course in anatomy. The weekend started with a palpation exercise. I was paired up with a classmate, and by following the instructor’s lead, we took turns palpating — or examining by touch — each other’s skeleton. We started at the feet and worked our way to the head.

Because of my eating disorder, I’ve been driven to wear my bones. Strangely and surprisingly, as my partner palpated my skeleton, I was not preoccupied with concerns over whether my hipbones jut out, if my ribs could be sensed just under the surface of skin or whether my collarbones were abnormally pronounced. The very moment I realized my mind was calm and my body was receptive to the educational objectives of the exercise, I experienced a moment of blissful clarity.

In that moment, I recognized my bones not as an outward sign of my illness, but as an inward system that supports life — my life. I understood my skeleton as the origin of movement, stability, rotation and flexion. As the force from which I flow through sun salutations and expand gloriously in backbends. As the force that allows me to hold my daughters and husband close, and embrace those who are special to me.

In that powerful moment, I made peace with my bones and the layers of my humanity that cover them. I also made peace with my biology. I accepted my illness as one part of my life experience rather than the entirety of my identity.

Since that moment of clarity at the anatomy immersion course, I’ve experienced a subtle but profound shift in my recovery. Lately, I don’t look in the mirror for my bones. I don’t palpate my own skeleton at random times during the day, frantically searching for reassurance that my body is in check, that I have not been greedy, that I am safe in my hunger.

Disentangling hunger from a sense of safety continues to be my work. Yet, this unique and intimate experience with my bones has gifted me with a new perspective on my recovery. As a yoga therapist in training, I’m learning we experience suffering when our beliefs and patterns do not match reality. It’s true my eating disorder beliefs are incongruent with reality. Now more than ever, I’m acutely aware of this fact. My newfound relationship with my bones is proof that, despite my biology, there’s a great force within me — a life force — that can rewire those beliefs that enforce suffering and self-destruction. If today I can live with myself at the level of my bones, my conviction is that in time, my entire self will be whole and free.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a moment that was important for your mental illness recovery. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To Anyone Afraid to Eat Thanksgiving Dinner

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I know holidays are supposed to be fun, enjoyable and meaningful. Thanksgiving especially is a time for coming together with your family and being grateful.

But Thanksgiving can be hard. I get it.

When you have an eating disorder like me, and maybe like you, Thanksgiving can be stressful and truly unpleasant. But when you have an eating disorder, Thanksgiving can also be a source of comfort, connection and family support. I know, I know. It seems contradictory — but life is messy like that. That’s what makes it hard. I know everything seems so black and white, and maybe you even prefer that, but today is not the day to exist in absolutes.

Thanksgiving can be so many things at once. It’s knowing it’ll be hard. It’s feeling pressure to be happy. It’s expecting it to be difficult and then finding yourself unexpectedly happy. With all that in mind, I want to talk to you about Thanksgiving and then I want to talk to you about life.

Let’s start with Thanksgiving. I tend to get bogged down around Thanksgiving with a lot of feelings about what I should do. Here’s something I want you to remember: your priority this week is keeping yourself safe and healthy. This might sound selfish or self-absorbed, but I can promise you’ll be giving a far bigger gift to your family and friends by taking care of yourself.

It’s OK to show up a little late or leave a little bit early if it means lowering your stress levels. If there’s someone in your family who’s supportive, talk to them ahead of time. Ask them to check in on you a few times during the day. It usually helps me to be with someone post-meal and post-gathering. I also strongly support finding an escape route: if there’s a room you can go read in for 30 minutes, a dog to take for a walk or somewhere else you can go to decompress, give yourself permission to take advantage.

I personally find it helpful to remind myself it’s just one day, just one meal. Even if it’s awful, it’ll be over soon enough. I aim to treat it like any other meal. I’ve eaten hundreds before and I can make it through this one.

Of course, these are strategies you’ll work out for yourself. What works for me won’t always work for you, and you’ll find some things that work for you no one else has suggested. But if there’s one thing I know about people with eating disorders, it’s that they tend to be damn tough. You’ve survived things most people can’t imagine. Thanksgiving ain’t got nothing on you.

And that was the easy part.

Now I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to do what recovery demands: thrive.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be about thankfulness, and it’s easy to forget what brings us joy when we don’t take time to stop and think about it. So truly ask yourself: what are the things in my life that I love? What are the things that make me want to stick around?

I’ll start.

It took me by surprise when I realized I had a circle of friends who didn’t care if I was a mopey, depressed party pooper. They wanted me around anyway. And when I was around them, I would actually begin to feel happy. When my brain gets particularly nasty, I can ask one of them to remind me what’s good about me. I can ask them to distract me or just with me. My friends are easy to be grateful for. They’re easy to live for. I do feel happy, even if it’s just sometimes.

Some days I live for my cat. Or my boyfriend, who makes me laugh. Some days that’s enough.

If you can use this Thanksgiving for anything, use it for finding your motivation again. What do you love in this world more than your eating disorder? Focus on that instead of food, at least for a little bit. If you can find one moment of wanting life more, that’s a win. Think about what will make you grateful next year, the things that will get you through.

I want you to know there’s someone in your corner. There’s someone out there who’s thinking of you, who’s grateful for the spark of you that’s still going and still trying. I’m thankful for all of my fellow survivors. I want you to keep surviving.

I hope you can be strong through a hard time, and also use this time of togetherness to draw strength.

The Mighty is asking the following: Give advice to someone who has just been diagnosed with your mental illness. What do you wish someone had told you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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5 Comments to Avoid on Thanksgiving If Someone You Love Has an Eating Disorder

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For many, Thanksgiving is a time for joyful socializing and scrumptious meals with family and friends.

But this isn’t always the case if you have an eating disorder. When you’re struggling with food, the looming Thanksgiving dinner can leave you fearful and apprehensive. And when you’re already worried about getting through dinner, how others respond can make a huge difference.

As a counselor and someone who has personal experience with bulimia — and has made a full recovery — I know how hurtful a seemingly offhand comment can be.

Here are five comments you should avoid at Thanksgiving if someone you love has an eating disorder:

1. “You look really well.”

If you have an eating disorder the word “well” is often construed as a comment tainted with judgment around weight or size, even if unintended. It might be interpreted as meaning “weight gain” or “not being thin enough.” If your loved one is not feeling that “well,” it can be a confusing comment and detrimental to his or her progress.

2. “Have you gained weight since I last saw you?”

Comments about weight are not welcome and reinforce beliefs like, “I’m only acceptable when I’m a certain size.” It’s better avoid comments about weight all together.

3. “Is that all you’re eating?’

It may have taken an immense amount of courage for a person with an eating disorder to choose what to eat. Don’t comment if the portion isn’t what you consider “normal” or “enough.” When you place the person under the spotlight and comment on her eating, she may feel embarrassed, self-conscious and ashamed.

4. “I wish I had your willpower.”

Someone with an eating disorder would often give their right arm to break free from the shackles and rules of a restrictive and punishing eating regime — trust me. Praising this ability to deny the self, which to her has become so destructive and life-robbing, can be utterly perplexing and harmful.

5. “I’ve just started this brand new diet.”

Talking about your own eating concerns or desire for weight loss will only trigger unease and distress in your loved one. If you need to share your own eating habits, choose someone to speak to who will not be affected detrimentally.

To support your loved one, try to put the eating disorder aside and see the unique person beneath the illness. Talk about subjects unrelated to food and weight. Be warm. Be thoughtful. Be non-judgmental and kind.

If you get it wrong, apologize and move the conversation on.

When you’re supportive, it will help your loved one experience a more relaxed meal. Through this, she will gain confidence in her recovery in the area of social eating. Commenting on her eating might keep her more stuck and entrenched in the eating disorder, even though unintended.

Remember, she probably longs to have a healthier relationship with food, where social eating is a joy and a pleasure. When you take focus away from food, you’re helping her take another step along the recovery path.

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To ‘The View’ Hosts Who Made Those Eating Disorder Jokes

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Dear Joy, Michelle, Candace, Paula and Whoopi,

I love “The View.” If you walk into my house at 11, chances are my mom and grandma are watching ABC. In a world where women’s voices are stymied and silenced, it’s wonderful to see intelligent women share their opinions on important topics. That’s why hearing your jokes about anorexia and bulimia made me so upset.  

I know you said you were joking and (briefly) mentioned eating disorders are illnesses, and while I commend you for letting the audience know eating disorders are indeed illnesses, joking about them does not reduce the stigma surrounding them. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. The physical, emotional and interpersonal effects of these diseases are truly horrible. Making light of them reinforces the idea that EDs are not serious and that those struggling should not receive the treatment and respect they need while in the recovery process.

Joy, you mentioned you’d asked backstage if it would be better to be anorexic or bulimic. I’m not sure what you meant by that question, especially since the symptoms of anorexia and bulimia can overlap. Eating disorders are consistently portrayed as vain lifestyle choices, even though they’re not. Let me repeat that: eating disorders are not choices. No one “chooses” between anorexia and bulimia. Research shows 50 to 80 percent of a person’s risk for an eating disorder is genetic. Symptoms can vary, and some people may receive different diagnoses at different stages in their disease. Both anorexia and bulimia are deadly and debilitating, and by portraying one as better or worse than the other, you’ve contributed to the stigma around seeking treatment.

Michelle, you said you would “definitely [be] bulimic” because “you get to enjoy the meal.” I understand most people in the country are unaware of the medical definition of an eating disorder, so I don’t fault you for your misunderstanding of what bulimia entails. Part of the reason I joined Embody Carolina is to educate people about the realities of EDs. For all those who do not know, the diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa involves binge eating — which is defined as an episode in which someone eats an unusually large amount of food in a short period time and experiences a loss of control over eating during the episode — followed by a compensatory behavior (self-induced vomiting, laxative misuse, fasting, over-exercising, etc.).

I’ve struggled with bulimia since I was 13. Let me tell you, binging is not a “meal,” and it’s absolutely not enjoyable. It can be cathartic or anxiolytic but never enjoyable. Eating to the point where you feel like your body is going to explode and feeling as though you physically cannot stop yourself is incredibly scary. When it’s over, the anxiety and guilt that accompanies it is almost unimaginable unless you’ve been there. It’s uncomfortable and, in my opinion, the opposite of enjoyable. I won’t get into the physical issues it’s caused (even though plenty exist, and I’m still dealing with some to this day even though I’m pretty strong into my recovery). But I will say I would never wish bulimia on my worst enemy.

Candace, you mentioned that, because you’ve personally struggled with an eating disorder, you feel you can joke about it. I understand that. Sometimes humor is a way of healing, but it’s also a way of marginalizing an experience. In the past, I’ve made fun of my own illness to downplay its severity to those around me and avoid unwanted attention. But not too long ago I realized this didn’t do me any good. By playing down what I’ve dealt with, I realized I was adding to the stigma and shame associated with EDs. By making it seem that what I went through was “not a big deal” and “something to laugh about,” I was communicating to other people it was OK for them to joke about it too. It’s not my place to tell you how to live your recovery, but I’m asking you now to simply rethink how you approach speaking and joking about eating disorders.

Something that worries me about this segment is the emphasis placed on body shape and size in general. Equalizing “thin” and “healthy” and implying that “skinny” is bad reinforces the rampant body shaming in our culture. What we need to understand is that both “skinny-shaming” and “fat-shaming” are hurtful and reinforce the idea that a woman’s (or man’s, or non-cis person’s) body has to look a certain way.

Embody Carolina and other body-positive groups try to push the message of “Health at Every Size.” This movement aims to show the world there’s no one way to look “healthy,” and that thinness does not equal health (or beauty). We want to encourage people to engage in habits such as eating a balanced diet or exercising for the goal of health and not to achieve a certain weight or size.

I know you all meant well. I know you never had the intention of hurting people with your words, and I appreciate the apology you all gave. However, having good intentions does not excuse a negative impact.  

To show you really do view eating disorders as illnesses and that you do care about body positivity and the mental health of your viewers, please do more to incorporate these ideas into your program. Please try to use inclusive, person-first language. For example, you can say something about “a person with anorexia,” not “an anorexic,” since diseases do not define a person. Furthermore, please avoid body shaming on your show. Negatively commenting on a person’s size (particularly your own), commenting on a person’s weight loss/gain or muscle loss/gain, or praising one body type over another are all problematic. When talking about eating disorders, please try to do so respectfully and responsibly. If “The View” is about empowering women, about making them feel included in the dialogue, then taking the steps to promote positivity will go a long way.

Sincerely,

Rebecca

Follow this journey on Rebecca Recovered.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorder confidential helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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40 Things People With Eating Disorders Wish Others Understood

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According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States have had a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their lives. These disorders are real — not a fad, not a lifestyle choice — and are about so much more than being thin, despite what many think.

To learn more, we partnered up with the National Eating Disorders Association to see what people who live with eating disorders wish others understood.

Here’s what they had to say: 

1. “You can’t ‘just eat.’ The world inside your head is so twisted and controlling, a prison of black and white; it makes you fear every aspect of your life outside of your ‘control.’”

eating disorder quotes: you can't just eat

2. “Even if you appear ‘healthy,’ you may not be… physically and emotionally. Eating disorders manifest in many ways.” 

3. “Recovery is long and hard. If I talk a lot about it, it’s because it affects every aspect of my life.”

4. “I wish people understood the loneliness.”

5. “While recovery is a choice, developing an eating disorder definitely is not.”

eating disorder quote: While recovery is a choice, developing an eating disorder definitely is not.

6. “It never fully goes away; it lingers in the darkest, deepest parts of your thoughts. It gets easier to deal with but will always be there.”

7. “I can’t just stop my eating disorder on the drop of a dime. Recovery involves changing my entire thought process and my views on food and my body.”

8. “Basic things like going to a family gathering, going out on a date and leaving the house spur of the moment are not that simple for someone with an eating disorder. I have to get over huge mental hurdles just to do simple things.”

9. “Weight restoration doesn’t mean you’ve beaten your eating disorder. It’s a struggle every day. There’s so much more to recovery than weight.” 

eating disorder quote: There's so much more to recovery than weight.

10. “I wish people understood just because I’m recovering doesn’t mean the eating disorder and underlying issues aren’t still there.”

11. “Restrictive eating disorders aren’t about wanting to be thin, and overeating, like with binge eating disorder, isn’t about not caring about your body and making poor choices.”

12. “They’re not all rooted in vanity.”

eating disorder quote: They're not all rooted in vanity.

 

13. “It’s a serious disease with life-threatening consequences.”

14. “When someone says, ‘You don’t look like you have an eating disorder,’ it’s extremely triggering.”

15. “Eating disorders don’t discriminate.”

16. “You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to stop eating.”

eating disorder quote: You don't just wake up one morning and decide to stop eating.

17. “I wish people realized how loud my eating disorder is.”

18. “Boys and men experience eating disorders, too.”

19. “You cannot look like ‘you have an eating disorder.’”

20. “An eating disorder is not a ‘phase’ or a goal. It’s a disease. End of story.”

eating disorder quote: An eating disorder is not a 'phase' or a goal. It's a disease. End of story.

21. “It’s our eating disorder that’s selfish, not us.”

22. “I wish people understood that eating disorders don’t just take over your eating habits; they dominate your entire life; every thought, every action.”

23. It’s not about the food or weight —  it’s deeper than that. We use the eating disorder to mask something underlying. This isn’t a choice or a lifestyle.”

25. “It’s not a glamour disorder. It’s a serious mental illness.”

eating disorder quote: It's not a glamour disorder. It's a serious mental illness.

26. “When I talk about my struggle with food it’s not for attention.”

27. “Things are not what they seem. Just because you’re eating doesn’t mean you’re ‘better.’ Just because you gained weight or you haven’t lost any weight doesn’t mean you don’t have an eating disorder. Just because you look ‘healthy’ doesn’t mean you don’t have an eating disorder.”

28. “No matter how far you are in recovery, little comments can still hurt.”

eating disorder quote: eating disorder quote: It's not a glamour disorder. It's a serious mental illness. 26. "When I talk about my struggle with food it's not for attention." 27. "Things are not what they seem. Just because you're eating doesn't mean you're 'better.' Just because you gained weight or you haven't lost any weight doesn't mean you don't have an eating disorder. Just because you look 'healthy' doesn't mean you don't have an eating disorder." 28. "No matter how far you are in recovery, little comments can still hurt.

29. “It’s not exclusively a teenage problem.”

30. “Food is the symptom, not the root, of the eating disorder. It’s all about the person’s psychological state of mind.”

31. “Everyone’s experience with an eating disorder is different.”

32. “You don’t have to be underweight to have an eating disorder.”

eating disorder quote: You don't have to be underweight to have an eating disorder.

33. “You honestly can’t see yourself the way others do.”

34. “Eating disorders are not diets gone wrong.”

35. “It hurts to hear, ‘I wish I had that kind of discipline.’”

36. “There’s nothing ‘lucky’ about being so thin.”

eating disorder quote: There's nothing lucky about being so thin.

37. “We wish we could be living our lives free. How I wish I could go out on a normal dinner date with my boyfriend or enjoy a holiday feast or a regular dinner with family.”

38. “Eating disorders can feel like a third wheel in your relationships/friendships.”

39. “‘Anorexic’ is not an adjective.”

40. “What you see on the outside is only the tip of the iceberg.”

eating disorder quote: What you see on the outside is only the tip of the iceberg.

*Some responses have been edited and shortened for brevity

40 Things People With Eating Disorders Wish Others Understood
MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

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