Our primary mission is to empower our clients to take control of challenging/ difficult areas in their lives through the use of skill-based, present-focused, goal-oriented, and scientifically-proven treatments.

Supporting a loved one in recovery during the holiday

Supporting a loved one in recovery during the holiday

Holidays can be a time of high stress: routines are disrupted, extended family is often together, and there can be heightened expectations about socializing during and after big meals. This holiday season, we want to provide resources to all people who are supporting their loved ones through eating disorder recovery. It’s not just those going through recovery themselves who need resources and support, but all people involved in the process. We know it can be hard to see someone you care about struggle. Eating disorder recovery is hard work and never goes in a straight line. And we know that the holiday season can create some new opportunities that might be scary and difficult for your loved one (and your family!). Hopefully this guide will help you navigate the season and find steps you can take to be a supportive family member through this tricky process. A note: this is support for those who are in therapy. If your loved one is not receiving evidence-based care, reach out. 

  1. Don’t bring up what they’re eating. Someone who is in the process of ED recovery has spent a LOT of time recently noticing what goes into their bodies and what and how they are eating. Whether they’re eating something you haven’t seen them eat in a while, or eating something you think they should or shouldn’t eat, trust that they know what they’re doing. Bringing more attention to it rarely helps.
  2. Don’t overly obsess about their behavior. Like we said, the holidays can be stressful for all of us. There are a lot of things that might bring up strong emotions for someone in recovery. They might seem angry or sad at what seems like the drop of a hat, or need a lot of time to themselves when they previously were the life of the party. While you definitely can still check in with them and see how you can support them, try not to become too fixated on these behaviors. Be there when they need you, but don’t crowd them as they navigate this hard time.  
  3. Don’t mention their body size. It’s super common for people with loved ones in recovery to notice when they’re gaining or changing weight. While you might be excited and see this as something to celebrate (and it can be!), we don’t want to draw extra attention to their bodies. Pointing changes out, even to celebrate, usually is more harmful than helpful. If you see your loved one’s body changing and want to make a comment, stop and try to comment on something else like, “you look really happy” or “being around you brings me joy.”
  4. Communicate with them about the plan. Give your loved one a heads up about who’s coming over, and when. Let them know what’s going to be on the dinner menu, and what time you’ll be eating – and try your best to stick to that general timeline. Any information that helps them stay up to date and feel like they’re a part of the decision making process is perfect. Plus, it can help them make a plan for their day that is in line with the family’s holiday plans as well.
  5. Don’t share too many details with people who your loved one doesn’t want to know about their recovery. If you have family members or friends coming over who don’t know about their eating disorder work, you do not have to tell them — and maybe you might want to actually avoid telling them. Not everybody needs to know all the details! It is beneficial to set some guidelines and boundaries. For example, if you hear Aunt Carol comment on how much food someone is eating, say “we don’t talk about that here. In our house, everyone can eat whatever and however much they want,” but don’t draw specific attention to the person in recovery.
  6. Lean on your own support systems! Support isn’t exclusively reserved for the person in treatment. We all need support, guidance and love when we’re going through hard things, and seeing a loved one struggling can be a very hard thing. Talk to friends, to your partner, to your therapist, to whoever it is you go to when you need a shoulder to lean on. As we’re sure you’ve reminded your loved one, asking for help is a brave thing to do! Just as you encouraged them to ask for help, we encourage you to, also. 
  7. Remember that it won’t always be this hard! If your loved one is recently in recovery, they are likely experiencing some strong emotions and some hard challenges (hence this whole post!). But it does get easier and it will get better. As recovery continues and emotions get steadier, life will settle down a little. You and your family can and will get through this. 

We know that this process is tough, and we know that this time of year can make it seem even tougher. Recovery takes time (which comes naturally) and support (which is partly where you come in!), but it is possible! Take it one day at a time this holiday season, being patient with yourself and with your loved ones. We’ll be here if you need us. 🙂

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