If you are struggling with an eating disorder, this letter might be a helpful piece to share with those you love. Please know that you aren’t alone. If your need is urgent, please call the toll-free, confidential NEDA Helpline, Monday-Thursday from 9:00 a.m.- 9:00 p.m. and Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at 1.800.931.2237.


Well Hey There!

If you’re reading this letter, it means you are an immensely-important person in my life. You care about me and want to support me this holiday season. Thank you! It will be so fun to spend time with you over these next few months. I am No doubt, we will make wonderful memories as we celebrate together. That means more to me than you could know.

See, for many years, I have not been present to enjoy the holiday season—or really any season, for that matter. My eating disorder put emotional (and even physical) distance between me and the people I love. It sucks… I often saw you all laughing, relaxing, and eating together. Whether or not you knew it, I wanted so badly to be a part of those moments. But my eating disorder ruled my life.

The exciting thing is that it no longer controls me.

I am actively in recovery from an eating disorder. Perhaps I was last time we celebrated the holidays; perhaps I was not. In any case, I am right now. And I’m proud of that.

You’re probably wondering what it means to be “in recovery.” Honestly, sometimes I am too. Recovery doesn’t consist of 24/7 body positivity, fun ice cream outings, trendy breakfasts, and bubble baths. Man, I wish that were the case. I mean, sometimes, recovery includes those things. Usually, though, recovery consists of reviewing my relapse prevention plan, crying when someone eats my safe snack, and practicing my ACTs (not a typo of the ABCs. ACT = Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).

All that to say: some days are really freaking awesome. Some days are really freaking hard. Most days are a little bit of both.

Why Are the Holidays Challenging for Someone in Recovery?

Have you ever gone to one of those Christmas or New Year’s parties where the room is pulsing with sweaty excitement, everyone is talking three decibels too loud, and you’re playing conversation roulette as you attempt to avoid uncomfy conversations?

That’s what is often going on in my head during this time of year.

  • It’s frantic in my brain– My thoughts are racing as I think about how I look in my outfit and what people might think of my body size. I consider if I should eat anything and, if so, how much I should eat. I want to eat enough that people don’t comment, but not enough that they comment.
  • I might be having strong, overwhelming thoughts – With all that going on in my head, the amount of people around me can be overwhelming and loud. Being attentive to the anxious thoughts and the atmosphere around me is nearly impossible.
  • There are often a lot of potentially triggering interactions – If I haven’t seen people for a while, holiday gatherings are especially hard. People say triggering things—intentionally or not. They might comment on my weight or ask what I’ve been up to (uhhh… treatment). Perhaps they size me up when I walk in the room. Someone might tell me I need to help myself to some food. Or maybe they’ll tell me where the “healthy” food is located. All the while, I’m trying to not be awkward so other people don’t feel awkward about me being there. Yikes.
  • It might dredge up some traumatic memories – This season is a wonderful time for family connection…if you grew up in a stable and safe household. Even for those who did, there are usually complex and often challenging dynamics. So, the holiday season can bring up traumatic memories—ones I might still be processing with my treatment team. The unexpected nature of these exposures can be anxiety inducing.

As much as you might want you, you can’t eradicate all the holiday difficulties any more than you can fix my brain. But that’s okay because I need to go through these challenges. I need to rewire the neuropathways in my brain—in simpler terms: I need to understand that these anxieties are not the threats my brain has interpreted them to be.

What Can You Do?

First of all, the fact that you are reading this letter is one of the kindest gifts you can give to me this season. We were created to be in community—to rejoice, mourn, and fight together. That means that just like I want to be there for you, I am asking you to be in the thick of this with me. I really need you.

I might want to have specific support as we gather for Thanksgiving or enjoy Christmas. If so, it is my responsibility to communicate my needs—something I’m continually working on. If you have questions on how to support me though, please ask. That would be a wonderful blessing.

More than anything though: will you please be gentle with me?

More than anything though, I have one request: will you please be gentle with me? It’s hard to say exactly how hard I’ll be kicking the eating disorder the next time I get to see you. Sometimes, I’m landing high kicks; other times, I can only manage a defiant stomp. But make no mistake: I am fighting!

As I do, will you please fight with me? Will you extend grace and avoid using judgmental language? Will you avoid speaking about diets or body sizes—whether mine or others? We have the opportunity to connect over things that are much more valuable than someone’s new exercise regimen or how many calories are in the cookies.

Supportive Actions You Can Take

Below are a few ways you might be able to help, especially if you’re hosting a holiday gathering. Please keep in mind that my personal preferences might differ from this list. Can you please ask me if you have a doubt?

It’s still a little hard to express my needs (okay, maybe really hard!), and I’m doing it. I hope you will do that too, because this relationship is two-sided. That is what family—biological or chosen family—is all about. We are here for each other, but we aren’t here for the shame that tries to wedge its way in between. Deal?

I am thankful for you, I am a stronger warrior because of you, and I am berserk-level-excited to embrace this season with you (and stick it to the ED while I’m at it)!

Love,

Your Loved One Fighting An Eating Disorder

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4 thoughts on “Holidays and Eating Disorders: A Message for Loved Ones

  1. I have benefited much from your writing. It is so real that I can hear your voice saying these things. Now I can look out for those who need my attention and care and give them some support in practical ways. I am praying for you to “land high-kicks” this season.

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  2. Thank you Hannah. May the Lord fully heal us both and these are great words of how to help you or for me to explain to others how they can help me in my eating disorder recovery too . Love you in Christ sister!

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