By Niku Sedarat
Thanksgiving and other food-centered holidays are often portrayed as happy occasions filled with family, friends, and delicious meals. However, for individuals facing challenges related to eating disorders, body image issues, or disordered eating, these celebrations can be particularly challenging to navigate. The emphasis on food, coupled with societal expectations and triggering comments and conversations surrounding toxic diet culture, food intake, and weight, can create a stressful and triggering environment for many people. It’s important to recognize that if you or a family or friends are struggling during these food-centered holidays, you are not alone!
A variety of people can struggle during food-centered holidays, such as those with eating disorders, those with poor relationships with food and body, and many others.
Those Struggling with Eating Disorders:
Individuals struggling with eating disorders may face heightened challenges during food-centered holidays. The pressures around food and the fear of judgment around food intake are just some factors that can exacerbate their struggles. For those with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder, the holidays may intensify anxiety and trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Those Struggling with Body Image:
For those grappling with body image concerns, the holidays can intensify feelings of self-consciousness. Comparisons with others, comments about body/weight, and pressure to conform to certain beauty standards can lead to heightened stress and discomfort.
The holiday season often brings forth potentially triggering comments about dieting, food choices, and body image. Such conversations can amplify existing anxieties and stress, potentially contributing to an unhealthy focus on appearance and eating habits. Therefore, finding coping strategies is an important step toward reducing the worry, anxiety, stress, and fear around food-centered holidays.
Know Your Boundaries & Communicate Them in Advance:
Clearly define your boundaries regarding food, body, dieting, and weight-related conversations and communicate them to friends and family in advance. This proactive approach can help manage expectations and reduce unnecessary stress.
Designate a Supportive Person in Case of Distress:
Identify a trusted friend or family member who understands your situation and can offer support during gatherings. Having someone who respects your needs can provide a sense of safety and alleviate worry and stress.
Step Away & Take Breaks When Feeling Overwhelmed:
It's completely okay to step away and take breaks when needed. Find a quiet space to regroup and manage stress. Prioritize your mental well-being and comfort first and foremost.
Practice Self-Compassion & Love:
Remember that your worth is not defined by your body or food intake. Practice self-compassion and remind yourself that these feelings will pass.
Practice Mindful Eating & Stay in the Moment:
Engage in mindful eating by paying attention to your body's hunger and fullness cues. Stay present in the moment and try to focus your attention on the joy of being with loved ones or a different distraction rather than the food itself.
Family and friends can play an essential supportive role in comforting and alleviating stress and anxiety for those who may struggle during food-centered holidays.
Educate Yourself About Eating Disorders, Food Anxiety, Body Dysmorphia, etc.:
Take the time to educate yourself about the challenges your loved ones may be facing. Understanding the complexities of eating disorders and related issues will enable you to offer more informed and compassionate support.
Check-In with Friends & Family Who May Be Struggling:
Reach out to friends and family members you think may be struggling during the holidays. A simple check-in can provide comfort and set the stage for a supportive conversation.
Create Safe & Judgement-Free Spaces to Openly Talk About Concerns:
Foster an environment where open conversations about concerns related to food, body image, and mental health are welcomed. Create a judgment-free space where individuals feel safe expressing their feelings.
Ask How You Can Help & Respect Others' Choices:
Instead of assuming what someone needs, try to ask them directly how you can be supportive. Respect their choices and avoid placing pressure on them.
Refrain from Making Comments About Weight, Food Intake, Dieting, and Appearance:
Be mindful of the impact of your words. Refrain from making comments about weight, food choices, dieting, or appearance. Your supportive and non-judgmental stance can make a significant difference during holidays that are often filled with toxic conversations.
By acknowledging the difficulties faced by those struggling with eating disorders, body image issues, or disordered eating during food-centered holidays, and implementing these coping strategies and support techniques, we can work towards creating a more supportive holiday experience for everyone. Understanding and empathy are key as we navigate the challenges and joys of the festive season together. Remember you are not alone. If you are in need of support, check out Unité’s mental health resources Resources | unitémentalhealth (uniteyouthmentalhealth.com)