Holiday Food, Kids, and Your Eating Disorder

How to take care of yourself (and them) during this difficult time

by Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS

The holidays can be a triggering time for anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder. The stresses around food, planning meals, and eating in front of others multiply as the celebrations begin. You have to negotiate different foods, swarms of people, invitations to social gatherings, and conversations about how you are doing, all while trying to maintain (or achieve) a healthy relationship to food. And if you're also a parent, you must manage these challenges as you support and nourish your children. No easy task. 

That's why it's important to put a plan in place to take care of yourself daily. Then you not only can navigate the difficult times ahead, but also make sure you have enough support to enjoy the holidays with your kids.

How to take care of yourself emotionally

Practice being mindful. That means staying connected to how you are feeling from moment to moment and accepting all your emotions. Check in with yourself throughout the day, the meal, and the whole holiday.

Let yourself feel emotions as they come up. Don't judge yourself for having them. Instead, accept that they are there to let you know when you need to take care of yourself. If you're feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to slow down. If you're feeling alone, talk to a friend who will truly listen to how you are feeling. If you're tired, take a nap.

Make time for yourself. It's fine (even good!) to step away for a little while. Taking a walk or finding a quiet space to sit and breathe will keep you grounded and help you refocus on what you need to do to take care of yourself.

Ask for support. Before a holiday event, reach out to a family member or a friend and share how you are feeling. Staying in touch with someone who understands that this is a difficult time for you can help you realize you have support and are not alone this season.

Remember that taking care of yourself is also an act of love for your children. It gives you the strength to manage your anxieties so they don't interfere with parenting your kids.

How to manage food

Plan ahead. If you know what food will be available, decide ahead of time what you will put on your plate and make a commitment to it. If you are working with a dietitian or a therapist, create a plan together. Incorporate holiday foods that you like. It's better to enjoy them consciously than try to avoid them and spend the whole day thinking about them.

Don't compare yourself to others. The holidays give us plenty of chances to see how other people relate to food. For example, you may have a cousin who exercises excessively, an uncle who doesn't eat carbs, or a sister who is on the latest fad diet. Being around them can make it easier to engage in your own disordered eating behaviors. Try to stay focused on what you need to do to maintain a healthy attitude toward food.

Skip the food talk. Discussions about food and weight are amplified at the holidays, which can be triggering. You don't have to engage in these conversations. You can walk away, change the subject, or talk to someone else.

How to handle what your children eat
For parents struggling with eating disorders, it's easy to become the food police by projecting your own anxieties, judgments, "shoulds," and "shouldn'ts" onto your children. But, as with any other time of the year, unless your child is struggling, it's critical to recognize that these issues are your own. It's appropriate for you to let your kids look forward to what they love most about holiday meals or extra treats.

Enlist someone's help. If you feel that it may be too difficult to be relaxed about what your child is eating over the holidays, ask someone you both trust – your partner, a family member, or close friend – for help. Let them help you create an atmosphere of enjoyment, fun, and balance around food.

Step away. If you find yourself focusing too much on what your child is eating, take a break to regain some perspective. And trust your instincts: If you feel like your worry is more about you and not about your children, let it go. 

Remember that even though the holidays are not an excuse to binge, this is a very natural time to enjoy the foods that are special to the season. And you may overeat, eat more dessert, and feel full more frequently than usual. But in the context of overall moderation, this is perfectly healthy – for you and for your kids. And this year, remember to show yourself gratitude for how hard you are working to take care of yourself and your family.

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Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS

Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS

​​Jodi Rubin is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist who works with individuals, families, and groups in her private therapy practice in Manhattan. She created Destructively Fit™, a training program for fitness professionals that addresses eating disorders within the fitness industry. She is a former director of Day Treatment at The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders, and creator of a curriculum on eating disorders for the Graduate School of Social Work at New York University.

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