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Top tips for supporting a loved one this Christmas

Christmas. A season that this time around will be very different for all due to the added complexities of COVID-19, but especially those battling with an eating disorder. You see, for those working through the many challenges and uncertainties that come with recovery, Christmas is already one of the most difficult events in the calendar without taking into account the additional appearance of this year’s pandemic.

What to others is a season to embrace and enjoy can be, for a person struggling with an eating disorder, a very stressful, anxious and overwhelming period. Safe foods may not be as easily available to get hold of, routines change, new people arrive onto the scene and old family members also come out of the woodwork, all of which have the potential to negatively impact an individual’s progress.

However, this does not have to be the outcome. There a lots of things you can do to positively enrich and support the recovery of others. As an individual who has experienced anorexia first hand, I understand how the hustle and bustle of Christmas bells and laughter can be so quickly swept away by the intrusion of food-related thoughts that spark from the voice of an eating disorder. Therefore, I wanted to shed some light on this matter by reminding each of you, whether you are a parent, sibling, loved one, friend or the very one going through the mountain climb of recovery, that even though things appear rather dark right now, there is hope!

So here are my top tips for the season:

1. Don’t ignore and reassure 

Use positive body language and kind words that show you are there to support them throughout the day from the outset. Causing an individual to feel isolated will only increase the difficulties they are already confronting and fuel unhealthy thoughts.

You’ve heard the saying of the elephant in the room! 

2. Be present 

Remind them that you are there if they need somebody to go to if things are getting a bit too much. This gives the individual reassurance that they are not alone, as well as the confidence to face new challenges. 

3. Listen 

If they do need to talk about something, don’t respond with unhelpful sentences such as:  “You are just overdramatising things” or “It’s not that difficult, why don’t you just eat.” One of the worst things you can do is invalidate the experience of somebody going through recovery. Sometimes just listening goes a long way.

4. Try to steer group conversations away from the constant focus on food

There are other things to talk about! Why not ask them about their future aspirations or interests? 

5. Cultivate peace  

The chaos in an individual’s mind will already be heightened dependant on where they are at in their recovery. Therefore creating an environment where peace can flow consistently is valuable. Be sensitive to the volume of noise in the room. You do not need to have technical devices playing all day!

6. Remind them that they are loved 

Encourage by highlighting their positive qualities (do not make these about their body, weight or appearance) rather point out attributes such as their love for creativity or kind personality.

7. Give them hope for a future

Focus on how far they have come rather than what have not yet accomplished. Do not put pressure on them to be any further along than they are.

May this season be one where you see the light, choose to love and embrace the road of recovery knowing that there is hope and a peace to be found through it all.

Contributed by Emily Sarah