3 Meaningful Ways to Support Teens on Eating Disorder Recovery this Holiday Season

Posted by on December 17, 2021

Written by Jessica Zupan, Registered Dietitian Holidays are a time to celebrate and spend time with friends and family. Food is such an important part of this. It represents community, joy and brings people together. For teens recovering from disordered eating, food also causes a great deal of stress, anxiety and fear making the holidays especially difficult. If you are supporting a loved one through recovery you know this, and you may be wondering how to help navigate it. Here are important tips and self-reflections that will make supporting your teen easier and empower you to help them feel supported and understood.

Embrace neutral language around food.

It’s so common for us to label foods as “good” and “bad”. But when we label foods as good and bad, we are adding judgment and morals to the food. When we moralize foods, we unintentionally elicit shame and guilt around these foods. Instead of calling candy or chips junk food, try calling them fun foods or just what they are, sweets and chips. This will not only help you feel less guilty when you eat the food, it will also help your teen feel less shame when they challenge themselves with these foods.

Identify your own size/weight biases.

Our own body image and relationship with our bodies can influence the message we convey to others. Being a role model means looking at your own relationship with your body, self-care routines and your thoughts about yourself. Consider the following questions:

  • Am I dissatisfied with my shape or size?
  • Do I talk about my weight?
  • Who do I talk to about my body?
  • Am I trying to change my body shape or conceal certain parts in fear of being judged by others?
  • Am I trying to go on a diet to change the way I eat in order to control my size or shape?

  • Do I avoid certain foods because of fear or because they are perceived as unhealthy?

  • Do I make negative comments about other’s shape, size or food choices?

  • Do I exercise to “burn off” the food I just ate?

  • Am I holding prejudices against people living in a certain body size?

  • Do I think people in larger bodies make “bad” choices about what/how much to eat?

  • Do I comment on people losing weight?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you likely have a degree of weight bias. Here’s the thing, we all have some sort of weight bias. If you live in this world, you have been impacted by diet culture in some way and therefore carry weight bias. The good news is, as you become more aware of your weight bias and the weight bias around you, you can help dismantle it. There are also many great resources on this topic if you would like to lean more.

Understand how an eating disorder affects the way your teen thinks.

Often teens with eating disorders have a hard time paying attention. Part of the reason for this is because when the brain is deprived of something, it starts thinking about what it needs. This results in a preoccupation with food, body shape and body size.

Eating disorders are often irrational and not logical. The eating disorder doesn’t want to get better and does everything in it’s power to keep the teen sick.

For this reason, it is very important stay away from trying to convince the teen to get better or to be logical with the teen when it comes to food and recovery. That being said, teens with eating disorders can often think very clearly and logically in other areas of their life so having conversations that do not have to do with food or recovery can be a good way to connect.

What are some conversations you can share with your teen this holiday season?

Eating disorder recovery is not easy and supporting a teen through it is hard work. The holidays won’t be easy for your teen this year but if your teen feels understood and supported by you that will make it a little easier for them and that is important.

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