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How to support people with eating disorders during the holidays

During the holidays, it seems all people hear about is food, from indulging at Christmas time to setting weight loss goals for the new year. But experts say it does more harm than good for people struggling with an eating disorder.

We looked at ways people can change the conversation when it comes to food during the holidays and every day of the year.

Sharing a meal with loved ones is part of what makes the holidays so special, but the constant conversation about how much you should and shouldn’t eat can be an issue for some.

“That can be a really negative trigger for someone with an eating disorder,” said Gisela Bouvier, a registered dietitian and nutritionist and head of Gisela Bouvier Nutrition.

Bouvier knows firsthand.

“I myself am eating-disorder recovered,” Bouvier said. “So it’s more like I learned while I was in my own recovery.”

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, at least 30 million people in the U.S. — of all ages, genders, and backgrounds — suffer from an eating disorder.

And Bouvier says, more often than not, it’s not only about food.

“It’s something beyond that, something emotional, traumatic or something that happened,” Bouvier said. “And, just, food happens to be the way the eating disorder copes essentially.”

So how can you support your loved one who might be suffering?

Switch up the conversation.

“It’s about reframing the language and also figuring out ways to help them before maybe the holiday party, or with the messages around them,” Bouvier said.

That means stepping in when someone says, “that piece of pie is bad for you” or “you’ll need to burn it off with some exercise.”

“Whether you struggle with disordered eating, an eating disorder or not, food has no moral value,” Bouvier said. “Food is meant to be enjoyed, and food nourishes our bodies.”

Some signs of an eating disorder to watch out for:

  • Disengaged at mealtime.
  • Staring or picking at their food.
  • Frequently saying they’re not hungry.
  • Weight loss.

Anyone who sees these signs can offer support or take the individual out of the situation, just by going for a walk or changing the subject. For more information on eating disorders, visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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