Hosting Holiday Gatherings when a Loved One has an Eating Disorder

Organizing and hosting a holiday gathering can be challenging when a loved one has an eating disorder. Events like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner are very often centered around food, with large portions, second servings, and post-meal “food comas” being the norm. But for someone with an eating disorder, or an addiction that co-occurs with an eating disorder, food-centric occasions like these can be very triggering.

However, foregoing holiday gatherings isn’t much better. It’s important for people to be close to their loved ones and to have a sense of community, despite their challenges. Instead, simply making arrangements to be inclusive and considerate can prevent the loved one from facing unnecessary triggers.

Tips on Having Safe Holiday Parties for Those Recovering from Eating Disorders

Here are some things you can do to make your holiday gathering a safe and enjoyable occasion for a loved one struggling with an eating disorder.

  • Speak to the loved one about their needs: Beforehand, it’s a good idea to speak to your loved one in private to ask them of any specific considerations you should take. This gives them the opportunity to divulge their needs and boundaries, such as not serving a specific type of food, allowing them to bring a recovery friend along, or avoiding discussion of food or weight at the gathering.
  • Spread awareness to other guests beforehand: When you have an understanding of your loved one’s needs, it’s important to communicate these to the other guests who will be attending. Ensure that everyone understands your loved one’s boundaries. Letting them know not to discuss things like dieting, serving size, or finishing one’s plate may be necessary. Even when it is meant to be kindhearted, “food policing,” or joking with someone over the amount they eat can be harmful.
  • Make it a recovery friendly environment: Take a minute to consider your surroundings. Putting away the bathroom scale, not serving food in large bowls or platters, and doing certain food prep before guests come over are a few ways you can eliminate environmental triggers.
  • Avoid making food the centerpiece: While eating is what connects people at many holiday gatherings, taking emphasis off the meal can be helpful. This may involve limiting the amount of snacks being served, asking guests to eat before the event, or centering the gathering around something else altogether. Going caroling, looking at holiday lights and decorations, or playing a board game are a few examples of alternative activities.
  • Don’t have expectations: Be open and let them know that their health is most important. Ensure that they know they can stay for as long as they are comfortable. Making someone feel pressured to endure discomfort in order to spend time with family can seriously impede their recovery.

Enjoying the Holidays Together

While those recovering from eating disorders are faced with inevitable difficulties during the holiday season, hosting events that are considerate of their needs and conducive to their recovery can go a long way towards helping them navigate this time of year.

By taking these steps, you show your loved one that their presence matters—and more importantly, that their recovery matters—creating a warm and inclusive occasion for the whole family.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or co-occurring disorders, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab.

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