The holiday season is well under way. As days quickly become packed with holiday gatherings, we talked with The Center for Eating Disorders expert Dr. Jennifer Moran about how you can be supportive of someone recovering from an eating disorder during the stressful holiday season.

What is the most important thing for a host, family member, or support person to know about eating disorder recovery during the holidays? 

One of the most challenging aspects of recovery from an eating disorder is that every major holiday and social function can feel like it is centered around food.

Typically, people in recovery are following a meal plan, which outlines when meals are supposed to be eaten and with a particular balance of foods. Sometimes at the holidays, meals take place at strange time or are served as a buffet instead of a sit-down meal. The types of foods that are served may not feel safe or may be something that the person is not sure how to incorporate into their recovery meal plan. This can all feel incredibly overwhelming and sometimes makes it difficult to stick with recovery goals.

The most important thing for people in a support role to understand is that this has great potential to feel like an overwhelming challenge to be confronted instead of an opportunity for celebration, and so your friends and loved ones with eating disorders will need extra support.

What are some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for someone who is hosting a holiday gathering and would like to be supportive of a guest in eating disorder recovery? 

Do: Talk with the person ahead of time to see what types of food needs they have; incorporate those foods into what is already being served; talk about things that are not related to food and dieting; provide some non-food related entertainment like puzzles, board games, movies playing in the background or babies that need holding.

Don’t: Force someone to eat something they’re not comfortable with; talk about diets or good/bad foods; make guilt-laden comments like, “I’ll have to go to the gym for hours after eating all this pie!”; make comments about how much or what type of food anyone is eating; make comments about how someone looks.

Thank you for your expertise, Dr. Moran! Have any questions about how to be a good support system for someone in recovery? Leave them in the comments below.

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