Latest news | 22 Dec 2016

Tips for carers this holiday season.


Christmas, New Year’s Eve and other events can be tough when your family member/loved one has an eating disorder. But with strategies and support, it’s possible to reduce stress and enjoy the season.

There is little doubt that enjoyment of the festive season can be reduced by the presence of an Eating Disorder. Family members might have expectations that their loved one participate fully with celebrations and eat different foods or ‘fear foods’ for the sake of the festive season, but the Eating Disorder is likely to strongly resist this idea.

Tip: Strive to separate the Eating Disorder from your loved one.

Encourage your loved one to try to step out of their comfort zone, in any small way, as this is a victory against the eating disorder. Be accepting that your loved one may not be able to participate in celebrations in the way you were hoping. This is related to the eating disorder, and not to your loved one trying to ‘get out of it’.

Your loved one might feel pressured into faking happiness at festive celebrations, whether or not this is consistent with their genuine feelings. This can cause dissonance for your loved one.

Tip:  Simply understanding that the festive season may not be experienced in the same way by all is a good starting point.

Talk with your family member about what they predict will be challenging, and try to problem-solve any practical ways to minimise distress without avoiding events that create anxiety.

Be mindful that watching what or how your loved one eats and how they respond to comments about their eating or appearance made by extended family and friends can leave them feeling ‘under the microscope’.

Tip: Resist making comments in front of others about what your family member is eating or how they appear. Help your loved one to prepare some responses in advance to comments they are likely to hear.

When your loved one refuses to eat a certain food, try to resist taking this personally, but rather, view it as a choice that the ED has made, rather than your family member.

Tell them ways they can support you leading up to Christmas Day (or another special event) and on the day itself.

Tip: Resist the urge to draw attention to it – this will likely increase tension.

‘Feasting’ and less defined/regular meal times can create anxiety in your loved one at this time. These differences can also open up opportunities for binge-eating and then the associated shame and guilt that typically accompany this.

Mixed messages from the media with lavish Christmas feasts juxtaposed to inevitable summer diet tips can be confusing and overwhelming. Loved ones will likely be sensitive to family members commenting on “over-eating” or needing to “fast for a few days” and these can be experienced as double standards by the sufferer who is trying to resist such thoughts that are consistent with the Eating Disorder.

Tip: Refrain from comments regarding your own ‘over-indulgence’.

It can be extremely difficult to relax and enjoy yourself when there is an eating disorder in the family. The pressure that the eating disorder creates can leave the sufferer feeling guilty and at fault for ‘ruining Christmas’. Families can get annoyed and angry at the person with the eating disorder, and fights can erupt.

Tip: Make sure that you have someone supportive that you can debrief with regarding your frustrations about how the eating disorder is intruding on your celebrations, even if this is after the celebrations are complete.

Simon Wilksch, a clinical psychologist at Advanced Psychology Services in Adelaide (which specialises in eating disorders) sees many people in the lead-up to end-of-year festivities. He encourages a framework that invites carers to remind loved ones to remember that they have “been invited because they are a valued, loved friend or family member—and that this love is based on the person’s qualities (e.g. kindness, caring nature, humour, etc.) rather than weight or appearance.”

Using the holiday season as a time to reflect upon what is working well and what needs to change in the way a loved one is managing an eating disorder.

Taking time to reflect on your own needs, hopes and dreams during the festive season is equally important to supporting your loved one. Ensuring that you take some time out for yourself is essential to making you the best carer that you can be to your family member with an eating disorder.

Reach out for support.

Remember that if you, or if someone you know, is experiencing an eating disorder or body-image issues, you can talk to us. Call our National Helpline on 1800 33 4673, or chat to our support staff via our online webchat (Mon-Fri 8am-9pm AEST.)

The Butterfly National Helpline Opening Hours over the holiday period are:

Date Opening Hours
Friday 23 December 2016 8am to 9pm AEST
Saturday 24 December 2016 Closed
Sunday 25 December Closed
Monday 26 December Closed
Tuesday 27 December Closed
Wednesday 28 December 8am to 9pm AEST
Thursday 29 December 8am to 9pm AEST
Friday 30 December 8am to 9pm AEST
Saturday 31 December Closed
Sunday 1 January Closed
Monday 2 January Closed
Tuesday 3 January 8am to 9pm AEST


If you need urgent assistance or support, please ring Lifeline on 13 11 14.