‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations! Although it’s a time to spend with friends, family and loved ones, it’s unfortunately a time of great stress for those struggling with an eating disorder.
With holiday season goodies and New Years around the corner, this time of year seems to produce many self-depreciating or distorted comments about food and body.
And although eating disorders are certainly not just about food, these comments can be detrimental to any patient in recovery. A mindless comment could be the fuel for falling deeper into the eating disorder.
I’ve jotted down 5 topics you should stay away from this Christmas if someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder.
1. Food Comments
To most of you, you probably don’t even know what a food comment is. Especially in our society, food comments are now made so automatically we don’t even realize how much we comment on food.
Food comments are just that, comments about food. This includes:
- Discussing calories
- Categorizing foods as “good” and “bad”
- Discussing specific ingredients
- Commentary on the size of a plate or portion
- Descriptions like “Oh this tastes so sweet” or “Oh this tastes like it has a lot of butter in it! So savory!”
- “I don’t deserve this”/ “I shouldn’t eat this”
Food comments can be severely trigging for eating disorder patients, especially around the holidays. It’s important to remember that although your comment of “Oh this tastes so sweet!” seems harmless, it sends me into a downward spiral. I hear those words and I immediately start calculating the grams of sugar. Which then gets me thinking about the sugar in all of the foods and within no time I’m fully restricting, feeling loathsome for even wanting a damn cookie!
It’s also important to avoid food categorizing, which happens quite often during holiday celebrations. Typically we think fruit is good and dessert is bad but in eating disorder treatment, we really try to break that categorical thinking. While you may say “I want a cookie but I really shouldn’t, I should pick healthy foods” as a harmless and even automatic thought, it can be detrimental for those in recovery. Many eating disorder patients take this categorical thinking to an extreme and you’re only enforcing this thought process.
Now I want to be clear- the solution isn’t for me to just not eat the food. Duh. I still need to push myself to try it and enjoy myself, and I will, but your food comments make it nearly impossible for any progress to be made! So talk about the snow, what your plans are for the week or what Santa brought you- just leave food out of it. If you’re in doubt as to whether or not your comment would be triggering, I’d suggest just not saying!
2. Body Comments
Commenting on my body is absolutely out of the picture. Whether it’s positive or negative.
Even the “Oh you look so much healthier” is a no-go. For those of us in recovery, we quickly interpret your “compliment” as ‘Oh my God, I’m gaining weight and everyone’s noticing it.”
Generally, it’s best to avoid body comments toward your loved one and really body comments in general. Besides it’s Christmas, I hope we have more exciting things to talk about than our bodies!
3. Comment On My Food Intake
No I don’t need you watching everything I eat. Of course, everyone is at a different place in recovery so your loved one may have set up an accountability plan or a support plan with other relatives. However, overall, watching me like a hawk is only going to make things worse for me.
It is quite common for patients to feel overwhelmed or too nervous to eat in front of people- so please realize how mentally taxing Christmas dinner can be for us even without your beady eyes!
Personally, I spend so much time worrying what people think of the food I selected: Is it too much? It is too little? Are they judging me for this cookie? Should I have gotten more salad?
And do not, do not, PLEASE do not, comment on my food. For the majority of my life, I was the #fitgirl with her Tupperware and boiled chicken. Once I started eating actually yummy food during holidays, family members would comment “Oh look at you, you never used to eat this!”
I realize you are trying to celebrate progress and my strength, but it can be very triggering. Reminding me I wouldn’t have eaten a certain food when I was sick just clouds my head with unnecessary thoughts about how if the old me wouldn’t allow this, I shouldn’t eat it now….once again making it that much harder to finish and continue trying new foods!
4. New Year, New Me Goals
If it’s Christmas that only means New Years is around the corner and of course with New Years comes the “New me” goals of losing weight, working out more, eating better.
Let’s just remember that those goals are everything I’m being strictly instructed NOT to do. The honest truth? I’m jealous.
Jealous that you can lose weight, alter your food intake and go to the gym more frequently without a team of therapists threatening to throw you back in treatment. Jealous that I no longer get to feel the triumph of restricting or losing weight.
Thankfully I’m stronger in recovery than I have ever been, but my ears still perk up when diets and weight loss are discussed. It only gets my mind focusing on these goals and makes following the meal plan and fitness plan my medical team holds me too 10x harder.
So just skip the new year, new me goals!
5. “Oh You’re Fine.”
There is nothing I hate more than people telling me I am fine. That I look healthy and my eating disorder must not be a big deal and to “shake it off”.
For 8 years I told myself I was fine because I did not look sick. Even after intensive treatment, I sometimes wondered if I actually was sick enough to have an eating disorder. When people would doubt my level of sickness, it only confirmed my theory that I wasn’t sick enough. That I could keep living the way I was…
Now it just really pisses me off. I guess my fuse has gotten short. Denying my eating disorder is denying all the pain and suffering I have gone through. It is denying my experience, my emotions, and my thoughts. And it sure as hell is denying the 10,000 hours of therapy and treatment I’ve put in.
OF course we are all human and we are bound to make mistakes sometimes. It’s important that you take the time to discuss any triggering comments with your loved one after the fact.
Recovery Tip: I like to select at least one relative or friend as my support. This gives me an outlet to talk out any triggering comments I may have overheard and gives me a safe space to reappraise them.