12/07/2014 10:50 EST | Updated 02/06/2015 05:59 EST

The Best Gift For an Eating Disordered Loved One is Your Support

Female hand with a dinner
Female hand with a dinner

I have an eating disorder. I've battled my disorder since I was 17 years old and went into recovery when I was 35 years old. I am 44 years old now and it's still a part of my life. While I am lucky enough to live in my recovery most of the time, I am willing to admit that there are times when the nasty, sneaky voice of my disorder gets just a little bit louder and harder for me to ignore. Holidays can be exceptionally challenging and I know I'm not alone.

While I enjoy the festive lights and most of the cheerful jingles, being surrounded by a seemingly endless supply of sweet treats and plentiful feasts can be a tad overwhelming when you're really trying to keep food from being the centre of your universe. I'm lucky enough to be in a place in my recovery where I can ask for the support I need when I need it. Not everyone is as lucky or as open and vocal about what they're dealing with as I am.

I get a lot of emails during this time from people wanting tips and tools to help them get through the holidays without letting their food issues overwhelm them and I share what's worked for me as well as tips from several other resources that they can connect with.

But this article isn't for them. This article is for the people who love them and who will be spending meal times with them during these holy days and need to know what they can do to help, as well as a few strong suggestions about what not to do. If you're thinking that these tips don't apply to you because you don't know anyone with food issues, then think again because you probably do -- you just don't know you do. If you don't, then consider this valuable information you can keep in your back pocket in case you do need it someday.

DO keep things positive.

"Hey Sara, great job on the turkey and the potatoes were yummy!"

DON'T body bash.

"I can't believe I ate all that, I'm going to have to workout twice a day to work that off!"

DON'T compliment them on their impressive appetite

"Holy crap! You've got quite the appetite Marlene! I can't believe you ate all that!"

(It's that kind of "compliment" that sent me back to my therapist for a few extra sessions.)

DO talk about pretty much anything else.

"What's new at work? What do you think of the new Taylor Swift/Ed Sheeran/Beyonce CD?"

DON'T be insulted if they don't eat everything on their plate or sample everything that's offered.

"What's wrong, you barely ate anything? Are you on a diet? I made that dish especially for you, you have to eat it. "

DO understand that what they eat is not about you. Don't push it or focus on it.

DON'T think they're being rude if they leave the dinner table early to start cleaning the dishes.

Often times, we'll sit at the table long after we've finished the meal, and continue chatting. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, but sitting in front of a table full of food could be tough for someone who may need a change of scenery. Getting up and doing something (even cleaning the dishes) can be a helpful distraction.

DO appreciate their help.

"Thanks for helping out, Phil."

DON'T mistake their self-care for anti-social behaviour if they disappear for awhile to read, listen to music or go for a walk.

DO understand that we all have different needs when it comes to relaxing and recharging our batteries. Some people love being surrounded by others while some need to break it up with alone time here and there.

Food is definitely one of the best things about the holidays but it isn't the only thing.

I wish you a very happy whatever you may be celebrating!

So have fun, sing loud and laugh until egg nog comes out of your nose!


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