Christmas just loves to push people's buttons.
Especially when they have an eating disorder!
It wants them to dress up nice, take photos, have a feast, have another feast, and another one, answer questions, skip the gym, take compliments, give compliments, spread the joy, feel the joy, reflect on the year, consider the future, and -ugh- socialise…
That's a lot when someone already feels uncomfortable in their own skin.
Christmas wants them to do it all - while having less access to the supports, places and routines that help them to feel stable.
But they better not shout and they better not cry!
They better not pout… Right?
There's something so silencing about 'special' days.
"Just let it go for today, it's Christmas!"
"Now I can't let go of the fact that I can't let go!"
It doesn't take much before we're sitting around in our Santa hats, smiling at each other through gritted teeth.
If your loved one has an eating disorder, they may experience Christmas as the single, worst, time of year - especially when it's expected to be the best.
They might feel quite guilty about it, too.
We think your loved one deserves an easier time, and so do you. So here are some ideas on how you can support your loved one this Christmas:
Be an imperfectionist
Your loved one is under constant pressure, even when it's not Christmas.
So if you can find a way to take some pressure off and to normalise all things imperfect during the 'happiest season,' you will be giving them the chance to exhale a little.
You'd be surprised at what a gift that can be!
It's useful to feel useful
Sometimes the best way to cope is by helping others.
Your loved one might struggle to eat with everyone else, but that doesn't mean they don't want to help prepare the food, or get involved in other parts of the day. Why not talk about it beforehand?
A light plan could be the anchor they need.
Are we having fun yet?
Sometimes an -actually- fun day, requires a little less conversation and a little more fun.
Try breaking up the day with some activities; games, karaoke, movies, PlayStation, water fights, art, etc.
It doesn't have to be big, and it doesn't have to be expensive. Anything playful and silly will do.
Safe foods are foods
Your loved one probably isn't jumping for joy at the thought of gravy and pudding, but that doesn't mean they don't want to eat at all.
If your loved one wants to stick with their safe foods, it's best to support them in that choice.
Achievable is better than impossible.
Have their back
It can be hard when other loved ones are involved. They might have questions, opinions - concerns. They may not have the best filters, either.
But this is not an appropriate time or setting for their comments and questions. You can support your loved one by keeping their personal life and their eating disorder out of the spotlight as much as possible.
Time outs are a good thing.
Your loved one will be juggling a lot, and they may get tired quickly. So, it's a good idea to plan some recharge time into the day.
You can talk with your loved one and their team about the kinds of sensory tools, grounding activities, and/or other calming strategies they have found useful, and then you can incorporate those into some planned time-out breaks throughout the day.
Diet culture, be gone!
A table full of loved ones is a beautiful thing, and oh so risky.
The more people there are, the more likely it is that someone will say something problematic.
Whether it's a comment on physical appearance - positive or negative, a comment about so-and-so's kid who's 'just doing so well' and 'you should be more like them,' or a suggestion that one is being 'naughty' today because they're eating XYZ - it won't be helpful.
Problematic comments can affect your loved one, deeply. It's a good idea to take diet talk and sensitive topics off the table, wherever possible.
Consistency is key
If your loved one has been advised by their team to take important measures as part of their recovery, such as avoiding the bathroom after meals, using calming techniques before eating, or staying with other people during and after meal times, then it is important to keep these going during Christmas.
You can work with your loved one and their team to learn about which measures are okay to relax a little, and which ones are important to maintain.
Be mindful of the big picture
An eating disorder is often just the tip of the iceberg. Many people are simultaneously wrestling with gender identity, sexual orientation, relationship dynamics, trauma, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, anxiety, depression, substance use, neurological differences, and so on.
It is possible that your loved one is dealing with more than just their eating disorder, which means they may need support and consideration in a variety of ways.
It's a good idea to ask your loved one about the different ways they would like to be supported, and to arrange any additional supports in advance.
Check in and seek help
Eating Disorders are complex. Every person experiences them differently and it's okay - and quite normal - to feel overwhelmed at times. You and your loved one may require some extra help during the Christmas period.
Try to check in with your loved one, and yourself, regularly, and if you do need some extra support, you can always contact the butterfly foundation at:
Phone: 1800 ED HOPE
Navigating the holiday period with an eating disorder can be difficult, but with a little support from loved ones and some active planning, it can certainly be manageable.
If you would like to enquire about individual or parent support for eating disorders ahead of the holiday period, you can contact us at:
Phone: 9555 4810
We wish you a loving and manageable Christmas!