As a therapist working with patients diagnosed with eating disorders, I have come to learn that eating during the holiday season is not the only challenge my patients might face. Socialization can also be increasingly difficult. During this time, families desire increased interaction with loved ones. It does not matter if the relative lives near or far or how often the contact occurs outside of this time of year, placing all the family and friends together at one time may be very overwhelming for those who are struggling with an eating disorder. The difficulty with socialization may be due to depression, anxiety or other stressors in the person’s life. To help, allow the individual space and freedom to move around. Be okay with them needing time alone during moments when they might feel the need to collect his or her thoughts. Be mindful of them; there may be times when he or she might want to step outside for some fresh air, spend time with a pet, process through painting or by talking it out with a member of their support system.
To provide support for an individual battling an eating disorder, acknowledge their presence, but avoid forceful interaction. Once the individual is ready, he or she will initiate it with you. Remember, simply attending the function is their attempt to socialize. Over engaging in kindness can make the individual with the eating disorder feel like he or she stands out, making him or her feel awkward or inadequate. One of the best things that one can do in terms of support is to be aware of the coping strategies your loved one uses and know how to assist them in calming. Identify if they need to take a walk or simply get away from the function for a moment, take some deep breaths or say the ABC’s backwards. No matter what their positive coping skill is, be available.
For those of you who are battling with an eating disorder and would really like to spend time with family and friends to celebrate the holidays, “do it.” Take your coping strategies that you have been taught with you and utilize your support system to get you through it.
Have a warm and festive holiday.
DeAndria Rideau, Ph.D., LPC