The pies just came out of the oven and the wafting aroma of pumpkin spice and pastry follows me up to our attic bedroom. I am looking forward to our family gathering tomorrow, my niece Jessi is preparing a Korean pork dish as an alternative to the traditional turkey. We are fortunate to enjoy a family of great, experimental cooks, and it is exciting to come together for holiday meals. I prepared several traditional Pumpkin Pies, and also a fresh Key Lime Pie to compliment the Asian influenced main dish.
But holidays can be a time of great stress for someone recovering from an eating disorder, particularly if they are new to recovery. I’ve counseled adolescents and adults with Anorexia, Orthorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorders, and ARFID for many years. Providing a safe, supportive place for my clients, they are able to explore the many ways food behaviors can become confused with ways to cope with life’s stressor’s.
It’s easy to see how crazy our culture is about food, weight, and body image. Nobody knows what to eat anymore… should they eat carbs? No carbs? Keto? Paleo? Are fats good this year or not? Sugar or no sugar? Gluten free? How do we expect teenagers to navigate the influences of our cultural insanity? Especially when they may also be hearing their parents talk about the latest diet they are on, or even worse talk negatively about their own weight or physical appearance.
Kids often hear the banter of their parents and then take it to an extreme. Feeling anxious about their own bodies, they may start restricting by “eating healthier” or try “clean eating.” Restrictive eating can quickly escalate to an anorectic episode or trigger binge eating and purging. Parents can miss the early warning signs because they are confused themselves about how to have a healthy relationship with food and body. Teenagers also talk about their fears to their peer group, discussing food fears or diet fads over the lunch hour. Studies have suggested the diet talk commonly begins as early as fourth grade.
Perhaps this holiday we can all work together to support our friends and family struggling with symptoms of an eating disorder or disordered eating. Because many who struggle with food behaviors are not open about their eating disorder, and many people have sub-threshold issues with food, it is safe to assume you will be entertaining someone who will benefit from greater sensitivity around these issues.
So let’s shift the language this year to be less triggering and share responsibility to create a safe, healthy environment to enjoy our holiday gatherings. Avoid language that is harmful (i.e. “I didn’t eat all day so I could have dinner” or “I don’t usually eat carbs” or “I’m gonna need some bigger pants after this meal” or “I’m going to have to get the the gym to work this all off.”) These remarks trigger anxiety for people with a history of an eating disorder who are trying to establish healthier habits.
And while I’m really looking forward to our holiday feast tomorrow, it’s not really about the food. It’s about being together and loving each other. Happy Thanksgiving!