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How To Survive the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

“Come on, what’s one slice going to do?” If I had a nickel. Holiday cheer and food are intertwined and seemingly inseparable, from the Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, right up to the roasting chestnuts and candy canes of Christmas. Food, in my family and many others, has always been part of how we show festivity, how we get into the holiday spirit, and part of how we show our love. Eating disorders ruin that. Every once-delightfully carb-filled side dish becomes stress-inducing. Dessert, a personal favorite of mine, became more an exercise in swallowing panic than swallowing pie. For anyone out there who’s felt the dread of the holiday season, hating the prospect of bargaining with inner demons for a dinner roll, I hope this will help you find a way to celebrate again.


Photo Courtesy of Evan Vehslage

I don’t care who it is, your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your whole family, your best friend, or your neighbor from down the block, you need support. Maybe you’re like me, and the only thing worse than dealing with your eating issues is watching the people you care about most try to deal with them. Maybe you feel like everyone would be happier if you just never said anything, and coped with it alone. You can cope right? Sure, you say. Except the problem is you can’t because I don’t care who you are, I promise you at some point between the doorbell and the dinner table you will be desperate for someone to talk to. There are people there for you, people who want to help you, and unloading before you spiral is not weakness. It’s not a fun lesson to learn the hard way, so please, when you go home for break this year, find your support.


And we return to the old refrain, “What’ll one slice do?” If you’ve got an ED you’ve definitely heard this or one of its variations: “You’re so thin already,” “You work out so much, you’ll burn it off,” or a personal favorite, “But you used to love it!” Yep, I did, but I also didn’t have an eating disorder then, so here we are. Some people who don’t know you as well might make one, more, or all of the comments above, and all I can say on that is wine and stress balls exist for a reason. The people close to you at the holidays though, probably know what you’re going through, and it’s a lot less headaches for everyone if you sit down at the beginning, and manage reasonable expectations. The holidays can and should be a time to get more comfortable with the foods you love again, but you need to do so at a rate that doesn’t induce panic attacks, and I really don’t think that should be too much to ask from anybody.

Photo by Evan Vehslage


Ah, the comments. The awkward comments on how you’ve lost weight, or how you’ve really leaned out, as friends and relatives ever-so slyly attempt to mention the unmentionable. Then there’s the always-popular observation (usually by a well-intentioned aunt or adoring Nanna) that you used to eat so much more than you do now…no wonder you look so thin. There’s honestly only two ways, that I have found anyway, to deal with these sorts of loving, but unwelcome reminders.

First, get away if you can. Snag a relative’s attention, pretend you’re needed in the kitchen, get someone to bail you out (support system, just saying), but just leaving is the easiest option. Some people, whether through ignorance, personality, or just a tendency for particularly aggressive affection, might not give up so easily. This is when you come to option two, be direct. Understand these people mean well, and want to help, but are often uncomfortable with addressing the issue frankly. Taking someone aside and gently, but firmly explaining how they aren’t helping, even if they’re trying to, is worth not having to awkwardly avoid all contact, eye, verbal, or otherwise, with one particular guest the whole evening.

I don’t presume that just because I have experienced one kind of eating disorder means that I can speak for everyone who has ever had one, but I felt I had to say something. When I was in the middle of my darkest time, it was communities like Spoon and the articles there by people dealing with struggles similar to mine that helped me realize I was not alone in my fight. So even if this piece can’t answer every question, or say everything I wish it could, I have to try because it’s my turn to reach back now, and to anyone reading this, I hope you know, above all, that you’re not alone either.

Originally published by Spoon University.


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