Agony Aunt: How do I Help Accommodate For a Family Member With an ED at Christmas?

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My sister has recently been diagnosed with anorexia, as food can be such a big part of Christmas how can I help to reduce the pressure and make her feel as comfortable as possible?

Christmas is a stressful time for all of us, and for those with mental illnesses it can become a day filled with dread rather than an exciting one to spend with friends and family. There are various ways you can make the big day easier for someone with an ED, through the difficulty of Christmas dinner.

Before the Christmas meal:

An easy way to help your sister feel more comfortable about the food she’ll be eating is to get her involved in the cooking. EDs are often about control and this will mean she won’t be surprised by what’s on her plate when it comes to the Christmas dinner and so won’t end up feeling as overwhelmed. If she doesn’t feel comfortable or want to be involved with the actual cooking, then let her know what will be in the dinner. Communicating is an important aspect of support

Don’t be afraid to ask. See if there are any coping mechanisms that will make her feel more comfortable, such as who she’d like to sit next to, or a certain type of cutlery that will make dinner easier for her. Make sure to ask how to help, rather than projecting your own ideas, as this could become overwhelming and each person with an eating disorder is different.

During:

Putting food in the middle of the table will mean that your sister will be able to choose the portion she feels comfortable with. Ensure that family members know not to make comments concerning how big or small her portion size is, as this can be embarrassing and completely counterproductive. Comments such as ‘you’ve eaten lots, well done!’ may have good intentions, but realistically will merely focus her on her weight, which won’t help her to be healthy.

Conversation is key. During the meal do not bring attention to her eating disorder, talk to her about lighthearted topics as this may help to distract her from obsessing over what she is eating and may stop her from thinking that everyone’s eyes are on her plate of food.

After:

Your sister may feel after the meal that she ate too much and that she’s going to gain weight, so build up her confidence by complimenting her makeup or outfit. Try not to compliment her based on her body as you don’t know how she will perceive your compliment, she may take it in the wrong way.

Your sister may also need some time to herself, but always make sure she knows that you are there for her and make her feel included in the festivities. You could ask her to go on a Christmas walk, just the two of you, and explain to her that you are always there for her if she wants to talk about her ED or just needs a hug.

It’s important to remember that Christmas Day isn’t just about the food, it’s about spending quality time with your family. Your family should be there to support your sister through her journey towards better mental and physical health. Focus on enjoying the time you are spending together, rather than trying to force your sister into doing anything she’s uncomfortable with on this big day.

Any big family event which involves food can make someone with an ED anxious, but this anxiety can be diminished by having the love and understanding of family members.

Lucie Phipps & Tilly Judges