Lose weight. Exercise more. Eat “healthy.”
These resolutions seem as synonymous with the New Year as the midnight ball drop and fireworks display. Amid popping corks and clinking glasses, we hear the same tired promises each turn of the calendar year, as if they’re verses in “Auld Lang Syne” themselves.
As New Year’s marks the passage of time, so too it shows our sociocultural pressures and values. In the most popular resolutions, we see society’s expectations—the “goods” and goals worth pursuing in the name of personal betterment.
In a culture preoccupied with weight and food, it is no surprise that New Year’s resolutions frequently reflect these obsessions. Striving to lose weight—arguably the most popular resolution each year—is to affirm our cultural fixation on thinness and view of weight loss as a universal good. And while exercise and eating patterns can indeed influence health, many resolve to make these changes with the primary or sole goal of losing weight. Weight is mistaken as a proxy for health.
Eating disorders can make the holidays especially stressful. The increased focus on eating this time of year often comes with unwelcome comments about food, body, and weight. When in recovery from an eating disorder, you are already battling disordered thoughts, and oftentimes people’s comments on food and body can confirm your judgments of yourself—no matter how well-intentioned. Remarks on these subjects can even trigger eating disorder behaviors.
Before attending a holiday event in eating disorder recovery, we encourage you to prepare for comments you may receive about food or your body. You may feel comfortable challenging the person asking or commenting something inappropriate or you may prefer to set the boundary that certain topics are off-limits around you. If you don’t have the energy for those options, it may be better for your recovery to simply change the subject or excuse yourself instead. Learn more below about how to navigate unwanted comments during the holidays.
For those living with an eating disorder, the holidays may be the toughest time of the year. Holidays are often synonymous with large amounts of food, increased stress, and extended periods of time with family—all factors that can exacerbate eating disorder symptoms. Because eating disorder thoughts and behaviors can increase during the holidays, it’s important to be especially vigilant of your patients this time of year.
There are many common signs and symptoms healthcare providers should look for that signal the presence of an eating disorder. During the holidays, certain symptoms may become more noticeable, such as:
Kezia Reeder is a former Emily Program client and staff member, as well as a continual advocate for eating disorder recovery. In this episode of Peace Meal, she joins host Dr. Jillian Lampert to describe her holidays with an eating disorder. Kezia’s insight is valuable not just for those currently struggling, but also for parents and others supporting loved ones who are.
For those who celebrate, the holidays can be a hard time for individuals with eating disorders. Not only do Western holidays often center on food, but they also often bring stressors related to seeing people for the first time in a while. This year, as collective anxiety surrounding COVID-19, vaccinations, and variants lingers, the holidays may be especially challenging. Reflecting on holidays past with an eating disorder, our guest Kezia says she struggled at first without any outside support. She hid her disorder from family and friends, suffering in silence amid food- and body-related conversations and a lack of routine around meals. During her recovery, Kezia explains that she used trial and error to navigate the holidays successfully. The more present she was in treatment, she says, the more present she could be outside of it. With the help of her treatment team, she learned how to enlist family support—a key element to her recovery—develop a meal plan, and approach holiday food as just food.
For people with eating disorders, the holidays—the eating, the socializing, the changes in routine—are often an annual stressor.
No matter what your holiday plans may be this year, supporting your teenager with an eating disorder can be a meaningful part of them. Consider these suggestions to help your teenager navigate the holidays ahead in recovery.
You are not alone in wondering why—or how, rather—your friends and family enjoy Thanksgiving with such abandon. You are not the only one who sees this Thursday as another trial of a long holiday series, one of many get-togethers where you feel extra eyes on you and your plate.
You are not the only one just trying to survive.
Others will pull up chairs to Thanksgiving tables with similar worry, self-doubt, and guilt. They’ll feel equally distressed by the platters and bowls and dishes before them, their fears garnished with cranberries and french-fried onions. Others too will feel confused and resentful, maybe even angry, as their company gives thanks for their food, and then, in the same breath, condemns it for sabotaging their diets.
You are not the only one overwhelmed.
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