The holidays can be a very stressful time for people with eating disorders. With more family gatherings centered around food, there are more potential triggers for food and body image stress. It is important that people feel seen, loved, and supported in these times. Here are 4 tips for loved ones of people with eating disorders that will help you host a more eating disorder informed Thanksgiving! (Although these tips really apply to anyone as everyone has a unique relationship with food, regardless of a “diagnosis.”)
Shut down diet talk
As you gather around the table, be mindful of diet comments from relatives, such as, “Ugh, I’ve been so bad today” or “Wow, you look great! Have you lost weight?” or “I’m starving! I haven’t eaten all day in preparation for this meal.”
Here are some ways to set boundaries around diet talk:
An email or text beforehand:
We are looking forward to seeing you this year during the holidays! We are working to make our family meals safe and supportive for people who have difficult relationships with food and their bodies. For this reason, we request that you do not discuss restrictive eating, exercising, or weight loss during the celebrations. We love you for so many reasons beyond how you eat and how you look, and we look forward to modeling that concept for our kids with you.
Some phrases to keep in your back pocket:
“Let’s not do diet talk! I think we can find a more interesting topic.”
“All food has nutrition, and there are no bad foods.” *insert subject change here*
“We don’t moralize food, especially not in front of our kids. Speaking of our kids, you should hear about Jimmy’s latest art project!”
“I’m just excited to see you; I don’t care about how anyone’s body looks.”
2. Serve some sensory-safe foods
For people who are selective around food, make sure to check in with them (and their parents) about a couple sensory-safe foods and textures. If you see a child who only eats buttered rolls and pumpkin pie, let them eat what makes them feel safe. If a person does not want to taste the turkey that you spent hours prepping, I promise you it is not personal. Note: This is not just for children; adults have sensory preferences as well!
3. If you are hosting, make sure your spaces accommodate all body shapes, sizes, and abilities
Be mindful of the sizes of your bathroom towels, the weight limits on chairs, the amount of room between the table and the chairs in your space, if your chairs have arms, and if people in all bodies can easily navigate physical spaces. If you have thin privilege, you may not be in tune to ways that your physical space can limit your friends and family in larger bodies.
If you're worried that your seating options may not be inclusive for all bodies, check out this comprehensive list of seating options: http://thefatlip.com/2019/11/09/27-sturdy-chairs-for-fat-people/
4. Ask your loved one how you can support them
When in doubt, ask your loved one with an eating disorder how you can support them. Maybe they need extra support at breakfast and lunch leading up to a more stressful dinner meal. Maybe they need breaks from spending time with family. Maybe they need you to help you plate a meal with them to ensure that they are getting enough. Maybe they need you to check in more regularly throughout the night to see how they are feeling. There is never a “perfect” way to support, but it helps that they know that you are paying attention.
If you need more support this year around the holidays, check out Beyond’s new virtual membership! It includes weekly meal support, weekly group discussions, and monthly exclusive member blogs and vlogs by our team.
Author: Emma Leister, RD
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