The holidays seem to revolve around food, and of course, this is challenging for anyone with an eating disorder. If I could have my younger daughter back again, these are the ten ways I would create a beautiful holiday for her.
1. Forget Perfectionism
Decorating for the holidays must be about families doing something ENJOYABLE together. While decorating, play some relaxing holiday music; we always liked The Austrian Boys Choir. Nobody likes being told exactly where to place the tinsel so do not rearrange what others have done. Since low self-esteem is an issue for the eating disordered family member, praise her for her efforts.
Repeat some traditions you practiced when she was young, like baking her favorite Christmas cookies. Often a woman with an eating disorder likes to cook but not eat. Yet the aroma of her favorite childhood cookies baking might make her feel safe enough to try one.
The best gift is the one with the most thought behind it. A meditation CD will help quiet the voice in her head, classes in a favorite activity she feels passionate about, or a beautiful journal may help uncover her core issues. But your time is the greatest gift. Spend time talking with her and listening, really listening.
4. Have Fun
Don’t be too busy with the holiday prep to let loose. My daughter and I used to love dancing in the family room. She would teach me the latest dance steps and laugh hysterically while I attempted them. In turn, I taught her the jitterbug, conga, and our favorite, the bunny hop.
5. Party Time
Give her a responsibility. The vegetable platter is a good choice, and have her make a low fat, low calorie dip. She will be more tempted to indulge if she knows what’s in a dish. She can also help clean so she feels part of the preparations. And praise, praise.
6. Family Activities
Participate in fun activities that don’t involve food. Go ice skating, to a holiday parade or play, drive to view the city lights, or get the neighborhood together for caroling. Then go for some hot chocolate. And don’t be surprised if all the fun hasn’t quieted the voice in her mind that tells her she can’t have some.
Shop for someone less fortunate and wrap it beautifully. Then deliver it to your place of worship or local shelter. Focusing on someone else may also turn off her voice of self-loathing for a while. After shopping, go somewhere special for a coffee. I would always order something to eat with my coffee and my daughter would pick at it. I’d pretend not to notice.
8. Holiday Meal
Cook special food for her like a low cal hot vegetable dishes without out calling attention to them. Be creative with your salads, make them colorful and inviting. Leave the dressing off. During the meal don’t discuss what she has or hasn’t eaten.
9. Consider Eating Out
Eating at a restaurant is not as stressful for people with eating disorders. They don’t have to deal with all the food preparation at home. Besides there are other distractions at a restaurant that might help her relax.
Christmas day we’d go to church to keep our focus on the real meaning of the holidays, and that is love whether you believe in God or not. Love your eating disordered family member, and give thanks that she is still with you.