Anorexia / Bulimia and the Holidays

When you dream of the holidays what comes to mind – turkey, latkas, pumpkin pie, sugar plums? Maybe its thoughts of travel, visiting relatives, or buying new clothes. Food and family tend to merge during the holidays.

Within Judeo-Christian beliefs the holiday season is organized and, to a certain extent, ritualized around food. For someone struggling with anorexia/bulimia, the merger of food and family gatherings is a complete nightmare.

Think about it. The problem of anorexia/bulimia works to isolate a person from all of their loved ones (see Understanding the Problem of Anorexia ). In addition, anorexia/bulimia ritualizes the intake of food. The result is often a painful tension that gets created when holiday rituals clash with the rules of anorexia/bulimia. Within this clash, family tensions often reach a climax and more often than not anorexia/bulimia wins out.

Through listening to hundreds of client stories, planet-therapy.com has learned that a good way for everyone to get through and possibly enjoy this festive season is to devise a safe holiday plan.

Creating a Safe Holiday Plan

Almost all people struggling with anorexia/bulimia report feeling like they are being constantly watched, judged and negatively assessed. Family members report feeling a sense of dread that they will say the wrong thing and make a bad situation worse.

During family gatherings a sense of self-surveillance can become acute for all participants. By creating a safe holiday plan everyone can get to know the rules of the new rituals devised within the plan. A well designed plan acts to take the pressure off. The key to any anti-anorexic/bulimic holiday plan is to understand how anorexia/bulimia works and what makes it grow bigger (See our Do’s and Don’ts (Solutions). Above all realize that creating a safe holiday plan puts everyone on the same side, working together.

The Plan

  • Begin by talking about your holiday plan in advance.
  • Organize the seating arrangements with care where the person struggling with anorexia/bulimia can sit beside her/his closest allies and feels safe.
  • Agree that the dinner conversation will not be food-focused (“Is that all your having?” “How much cream did use in the mash potatoes?”).
  • Do go for a walk around the block. Read a novel together. Set aside ten minutes each day to talk. Ride a bike. Be creative.
  • Agree that the dinner conversation will not be body-focused (“If I have anymore food I will have to loosen my belt a notch.” “Gee, Uncle Lou, have you lost weight?”).
  • Figure out who will be cooking and what ingredients will be used – this way there is less worry and everyone knows what the “safe” food is.
  • Figure out how the food will be served (e.g., table self serve, buffet style, etc.).
  • Plan the exact time you will begin and end the meal.
  • At the end of the meal clear the table immediately or have everyone sit somewhere else other than the table.
  • Once the meal is over quietly congratulate yourself by focusing on what worked.
  • Plan how much family time the person struggling can take – honor these limitations.
  • Most importantly listen to one another’s needs and wants – by creating the plan you are already acting to undermine the problem of anorexia/bulimia and family worry.
  • Under no circumstance try and make a perfect plan – plan a few slip ups and know that some things will work and others will not.

Holiday Tips

  • Talk openly and honestly about the dilemma of holiday gatherings and anorexia/bulimia.
  • Treat the holiday dilemma with compassion and understanding.
  • Take the time to devise a safe holiday plan that is mutually acceptable to your family and the person struggling.
  • Inform and include guests in this plan.
  • Devise a safety plan if someone breaks with the agreed upon plan.
  • Plan events to take place before and after the family dinner (e.g., a family walk, board game, music, etc.).
  • Focus only on the parts of the plan that are working.
  • If there is a problem that arises make a plan to discuss it the following day.

Remember to treat yourself with compassion, too!

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