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Supporting Your Loved One’s Recovery During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is a wonderful and exciting time for families and friends to celebrate together. While many people look forward to the holiday season, this time of year can cause added stressors for individuals who are in recovery from an eating disorder.

Someone recovering from an eating disorder will need additional support to stay on the path to full recovery during the holiday season.  Remember that recovery should always be the priority, even during the holiday season!

Here are five important tips for supporting your loved one during the holiday season.

Create Balance  
The holiday season is typically filled with activities and festive celebrations, including family gatherings, work parties, and gift exchanges. It is important for anyone living with an eating disorder or in recovery from an eating disorder to prioritize where their energy goes and to balance social gatherings with adequate time for self-care and recovery maintenance activities.

You might be eager to involve your loved one in all holiday activities and share these special moments, but it is crucial to take proactive steps to prevent your loved one from becoming overwhelmed by various triggers that could potentially lead to a relapse.

Whenever possible, we want to help prevent or minimize these triggers, to ensure that your loved one’s recovery stays the top priority. It is important to keep the lines of communication open, talking with your loved one about what activities to engage in and which to skip, asking them what they would like to do and what would make them most comfortable.

Maintain Routines 
The holiday season is not known for its predictable schedules and easy-going routines, so helping your loved one develop structure is key.

Do not skip regular treatment appointments during the holidays. If your loved one’s treatment team is away for the holidays, we recommend finding a local program for support.

Plan activities during time off. This can include everything from self-care-oriented tasks to preparations for the holidays. This provides them with expectations and structure. You can schedule down-time, holiday preparation activities, therapeutic activities, self-care, and rest.

Discuss Meal Plans & Support 
Work with your loved one’s treatment team to prepare for the change in schedule and holiday meals. Encourage your loved one to have discussions with their dietitian and other members of the treatment team in order to help them feel more comfortable with holiday meals.  Regular meals are also important, so make sure that those are maintained, even during a busy, holiday schedule.

Establish Boundaries
For someone recovering from an eating disorder, social gatherings with family or friends can cause an increase in anxiety around potential questions and conversations regarding their eating disorder, recovery, etc. It is important that your loved one discusses boundaries with their treatment team, and that you assist in maintaining those boundaries. Here are some tips for discussing boundaries with your loved one:

  1. Allow them to make decisions about how much time to spend with family members and friends, to any degree that is possible.
  2. If someone you might normally see during the holidays is not supportive of your loved one’s recovery or does not understand what they are going through, be an advocate for them and help them to assert their recovery-oriented needs.
  3. If anyone in your family or social group has perpetrated trauma against your loved one, make sure your loved one’s wishes about contact with that person are respected.
  4. Discuss their comfort with social gatherings around meals with their treatment team and do your best to respect those.
  5. Make sure that their needs about down-time, self-care, and therapeutic activities are met.  This is a time to assist them in dodging the “obligation trap” that so many of us can feel during this time of year!

Remember that you are in this together. It is important to recognize that as a part of your loved one’s support system, the holidays can be hard for you too. If you or your loved one needs additional support during the holiday season, know that we are always here. You are never alone – we are here to help.

Veritas Collaborative offers a four-week, outpatient program for college students and young adults who are looking for additional support through their winter break and the holidays. Learn more, here

About the Author 
Sydney Brodeur McDonald, Ph.D., LCP is passionate about providing best-practice, research-informed and multiculturally competent treatment to patients and their families suffering from eating disorders.  She is committed to increasing access to effective treatment, training professionals to deliver gold-standard care, and empowering them to be the best providers and people they can be. Before joining Veritas Collaborative as the Senior Director of Clinical Services, she served as the eating disorder specialist and Associate Director for Training at University Counseling Services at VCU.