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Helping your loved one survive Christmas with an eating disorder

ChristmasBy Madalyn Oliver

Tis the season to be jolly but for those affected by an eating disorder Christmas can be a particularly stressful and challenging time of the year. The festive season brings with it changes in routine, expectations around socialising, increased amounts of food and at times, reduced contact with those in our support network (e.g. treatment team). Christmas can also place additional stress on the parents, carers and family members supporting their loved one with an eating disorder. Below are some tips to help you to support your loved one through the Christmas period.

  • Try to ensure that the primary focus of your Christmas celebration is not on the food but rather on the family and quality time you are spending together.
  • Once the family meal is eaten, all food should be packed away. Depending on your loved ones symptoms, left overs should be handled carefully. Particularly for people who binge, left overs should be thrown away, given to other guests to take home, or stored in a way that does not make them easily accessible (e.g. frozen and ideally portioned out). For those with restrictive eating this is less of a concern, however, even those restricting can binge on left overs which can start a dangerous pattern of behaviour.
  • Following the family meal, it may be helpful to focus on other things that you enjoy doing together (e.g. taking a walk, opening gifts, playing games, watching a Christmas movie).
  • In order to relieve some of the anxiety your loved one may experience around food, you may like to allow your loved one to make a dish that he or she would feel comfortable eating so that there will be at least one thing at the family meal that they know they can eat.
  • Plan ahead of time. That is, before the holiday itself and before family gatherings, have a conversation about how you can best help your loved one with food. With the appropriate knowledge and insight, family and friends can set up some structure around Christmas activities that are agreed upon and supportive of all parties involved.
  • It can be helpful during the holiday season to break social gatherings into smaller numbers of people, when possible. It is easier and less overwhelming to deal with a smaller group of people than a larger, more chaotic group. Further, there is an increased sense of belonging and safety in a smaller group for someone with an eating disorder.
  • Try not to place unrealistic expectations on your loved one or on yourself.
  • Whilst it may be tempting for you to try to fix or solve the eating disorder, it is most important that you remember that your role is simply to be with your loved one, to listen to how they are feeling in a non-judgemental manner and to validate their experiences.
  • Encourage your loved one to seek extra support around themselves during the holidays whether that be from extended family, friends, the community, support groups or their treatment team.
  • If your loved one is currently in treatment, then as much as possible, try to continue with your regular outlined treatment plan over the holidays.
  • Finally, it is important for parents and carers to take time out for themselves over the Christmas celebrations, however difficult this may be. Whilst Christmas is about giving it is just as important that you give yourself the gift of self-care.

If you would like more information on how to support your loved one with their eating disorder please contact us at BodyMatters Australasia. We can provide one off consultations and ongoing consultations for parents and partners. In addition, we offer parent and partner support groups on the first Saturday of each month. We also recommend to you our Parents and Partners Toolkit which is a useful resource you may benefit from.

Our office will be closed from Wednesday the 23rd of December 2015. We will resume normal office trading hours from Monday 11th January 2016. During this period, some of our therapists will have limited availability to see clients – please contact us if you are needing an appointment for yourself of your loved one over the Christmas period. We wish you all the best for an enjoyable festive season!

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