Family Celebrations and How to Interact with the Individual in Eating Disorder Recovery

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Eating Disorder Hope

Family celebrations can involve a wide-range of emotions and situations: from awkwardness to excitement, to celebration, sadness, or resentment. Gathering with the ones you love and care for can stir about the deepest sentiments and feelings.

You may encounter relatives that you see on a regular basis or loved ones that you have been separated from in both distance and time. Family celebrations often make the common ground in which reunions occur.

What if you have a family member who is struggling with an eating disorder? You may feel uncertain about how to approach this loved one. What can you do or say that won’t inflict pain or shame or embarrassment? How can you convey your love and care in a way that is sincere and genuine?

Connecting with a Family Member During the Holidays

Connecting with a family member who has an eating disorder can be confusing, especially if you do not understand what this person is suffering through. Eating disorders often destroy individuality and autonomy, and you may feel as though the person you once knew has been lost.

No matter how far-gone your loved one may seem, it is important to remember who they are, the memories you treasure, the person you know them to be. Beneath the protective covering of calorie-counting, weight-measuring, bingeing and purging, and dieting rituals is a person you love and cherish.

This battle is not about food or vanity or dieting taken to the extreme. Eating disorders are complex diseases that involve factors beyond what you may be able to comprehend in a single encounter with this person you love.

Support Comes First

Instead of asking the why or how, begin with the moment of now. How can you extend love to this person, who may find it beyond themselves to break free from the numbness their eating disorder has created for them? How can you reach a person who loathes themself and the body they are in?

Be gentle and patient; a kind word can speak volumes. Offer compassion and a listening ear. If you are not sure what to talk about, bring up a fond memory that you both share. Don’t treat them as handicapped; choose to see them as more than the face of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating.

Demonstrate Love, Not Judgement

Help them remember who they are, apart from their identity of the eating disorder. In a world of darkness, your love can be a light of hope. Even if you cannot comprehend what your loved one is going through, do not let this be an obstacle that prevents you from demonstrating love.

Genuine friendships are the antithesis to eating disorders. Where eating disorders destroy and devastate, loving relationships generate hope and joy, even in the face of uncertainty.

Community discussion – share your thoughts here!

What are tangible ways to reach out to a loved one who has an eating disorder?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 19th, 2014
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.