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How to handle the Fourth of July with an eating disorder

How to handle the Fourth of July with an eating disorder

Jamie is worried. Her 13-year-old daughter Kayley has an eating disorder, and their annual family reunion for the Fourth of July is around the corner. This event is typically a highlight of their year. Filled with family and friends, four generations, and lots and lots of food. 

“I just can’t imagine how we are possibly going to do this holiday with Kayley’s eating disorder,” says Jamie. “How are we going to feed her, and what will I do when my mom inevitably comments on Kayley’s weight? It’s going to be a disaster if I can’t figure out how to handle this.” 

Jamie is not alone. Lots of parents have to decide whether to attend Fourth of July events and, if they do, how to make it as safe and fun as possible for everyone.

Check with your treatment team

The first thing to do is check with your child’s treatment team. Of course this event is a big deal for you and your family. But an eating disorder occurs on a huge spectrum from manageable to medically dangerous. Depending on where your child is on that spectrum right now, you may need to make the difficult choice to skip this year’s reunion. 

I know this is devastating, and I’m sure you would rather not. But please keep in mind that if your child is medically compromised by their eating disorder, then you are essentially in a similar position as someone who has a child who is in chemotherapy and is immuno compromised. While technically they can go to a family reunion, their doctor may suggest skipping it this year to maintain optimum conditions for recovery. 

If this is the case for you, I’m sorry. But an eating disorder doesn’t have to be forever, so hopefully this is a one-year change of plans with long-term benefits. 

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Plan for feeding and eating 

Depending on your child’s eating disorder and stage of recovery, you may expect them to maintain a rigid meal plan, or you may agree to be more flexible during the event. Either way can work for a medically stable person who has an eating disorder, but make sure the decision is made up front and not in response to the conditions at hand. 

You’ve been to this event before so you know approximately what will happen. Is eating typically chaotic and random? Or is it formal and pre-planned? Given this information, plan how you will maintain your child’s need to eat regular, full meals every day. If you can fit in with the way your family operates every Fourth of July, that’s great! It would be wonderful if your child can join everyone else in eating. If not, maybe you can work in a few stable meals between group activities. Or you can plan to feed your child completely separately. 

You have a lot of choices. Don’t let them take you by surprise once the event is underway. Make them in advance and then stick to the plan when you’re there.

Check with your child

Next you need to talk to your child about the event. I wouldn’t put the decision of whether to go or not in your child’s hands. I know this is tempting, and our cultural norm is to empower kids to make their own decisions. But in this case, giving your child the power to decide whether your family will attend a reunion is too much pressure, especially if they have an eating disorder, which means anxiety is high. 

Instead, approach your child thoughtfully with the fact that you will go to the reunion this year, and then set your expectations in terms of the feeding and eating plan that you established. While you do want your child’s engagement in planning for the event, they should not feel they bear the responsiblity of keeping their care on-track. That should be yours to handle.

Also talk about how stress can trigger anxiety and eating disorder behaviors and have a plan in place for dealing with that. Mainly, you want to give your child permission to have feelings and be uncomfortable sometimes. It’s going to happen, so don’t turn something natural into a shameful event. Instead, set up expectations for how your child will recognize and respond to their feelings of anxiety and urges to engage in eating disorder behavior. 

This is not a one-and-done conversation. It is multiple conversations that should take place before and during the event.

Identify the “problem” family members

Every family has its combination of easy-going and more problematic family members. Take some time to think through who will be there and any potential disasters. For example, is your uncle Harry a known dieter who loves to share how many calories he’s restricting himself to and then names how many calories are on everyone else’s plate? Is your sister Jenny doing Whole 30 or Intermittent Fasting? Does Grandma tend to talk about people gaining and losing weight?

Make a list of the family members who may say things that will negatively impact your child’s eating disorder recovery and consider how to handle them.

Depending on your relationship with them, here is what I recommend: 

  1. Make a quick phone call or send a text telling them that your family is dealing with some body image issues and you hope they understand that it would be best if they didn’t mention dieting, weight loss, or weight gain. You do not have to tell them about the eating disorder unless you want to. A boundary does not require full disclosure or understanding to be valid or effective. 
  2. If they are offended by this, then you know to steer clear (and steer your child clear) of them during the reunion. It’s OK to prioritize your child’s health over being around people who refuse to respect your boundaries and requests.
  3. If they say “no problem,” then stay near your child and monitor conversations. Most people don’t even realize they are talking about dieting and weight loss when they do it because it’s such an integral part of their socialization. But just because no harm is intended does not mean it’s OK. You can change the subject, ask them to stop, or simply leave the conversation. 
  4. Talk to your child regularly throughout the event to find out if anyone has said anything upsetting. If they have, you don’t have to storm off and make a big deal about it. It’s in the past. But you can talk to your child about what happened and help them process it. Most of the time we don’t have to force other people to change in order to help our child feel better.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Stick to your plan

One thing that often happens at family reunions is that we get distracted by activities, people, and the chaos of being together. This is a lovely part of seeing people we know and love. But you do need a bit of extra dillgence this year to account for the eating disorder. 

For example, you may be tempted to relax the meal plan because it’s too complicated or feels too disruptive. Or maybe someone questions your decisions or makes you feel bad about doing things differently this year. But if you’ve committed to a meal plan before the event, avoid changing it due to circumstances. While flexibility is wonderful, it should not be applied to feeding when there’s an eating disorder.

Similarly, you may wish you could ignore relatives who say things that trigger your child’s eating disorder because you just want to relax and have a good time. That makes a lot of sense, but your child needs to know you’re paying attention and keeping them in mind even when it’s inconvenient. 

The basic advice for handling a big event like a Fourth of July party during an eating disorder is to make a plan, talk about the plan, and stick to the plan. Don’t avoid doing this even (especially) when it’s hard. Your strong efforts this year will pay off for years to come.

Jamie’s 4th of July

Jamie thought carefully about her family reunion in light of the eating disorder. Kayley’s care team said it was safe for her to go away for the four-day weekend, and Jamie planned out the meal structure and talked to a few problematic relatives. It was stressful for Jamie to talk to her mom especially. 

“I know how much she loves Kayley, and the last thing I want to do is make her feel bad,” says Jamie. “But I knew it was important, not just this year, but forever. Now that we’ve faced an eating disorder, things have to change. We can’t act like nothing has happened, and I can’t let diet and weight talk seep into our lives again. Of course people are going to do what they’re going to do, but I can at least set expectations.” 

And while Jamie’s mom assured her that she would not say anything, in the chaos of the reunion a few things did slip out. But Jamie gently redirected the conversations and it was actually helpful, she said. “My mom has never heard of the body positive movement, and she really hasn’t thought about how toxic it is to talk about other people’s weight. I feel like this gave us a good opportunity to talk about that. She was surprisingly open and curious, which was really helpful.” Holidays with an eating disorder can be tough, but Jamie’s doing a great job!


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

For privacy, names and identifying details have been changed in this article.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Holidays With An Eating Disorder

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Changing family traditions when there’s an eating disorder

Changing family traditions when there’s an eating disorder

This is an interview in which Ginny Jones, founder of More-Love.org, shares her thoughts on how families can cope with family traditions when there’s an eating disorder in the family.

1. Why might the winter holidays be particularly difficult for individuals affected by eating disorders? What types of challenges might arise in the next few months?

I think the biggest issue is that many families focus on food-based activities for the holidays. And I get it: it makes sense to do things like sip hot cocoa, bake cookies, and gather around a meal. A lot of family traditions focus on food, but that can be hard when there’s an eating disorder in the family.

So I would look carefully at all the family traditions that we’re used to and consider whether there are ways we can make adjustments for the eating disorder. I like to focus on building connections and belonging without food being the central actor. 

When a person has an eating disorder, food-centered activities can be unpleasant. So rethink: can we switch things up? Maybe instead of making cookies, you can play a game. Instead of talking about food, you can talk about what you’re grateful for.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

2. What are some factors that families should consider as they think about to what extent they should participate in different traditions and celebrations this year?

I think you really need to plan ahead and think carefully about what you usually do and the state of your family right now. If someone is facing an eating disorder, that means they are in a tough place. And you probably are, too. So I would ask: what are the essentials? What will bring us together? What will feel good? And I would be willing to let things go if they aren’t feeling right this year. 

Just because we’ve done something for a few years or even a few decades doesn’t mean we have to keep doing them. The only thing we really need to keep doing is finding ways to learn and grow together. And this often means trying new things and taking novel approaches to how we belong together.

One of the seldom-discussed but essential elements of recovery is belonging. And I can think of no greater place to belong but in our own families. Yet many people who have eating disorders don’t feel like they belong in their families. 

So this year is a great time to think carefully about that and make sure the priority is focused on belonging rather than food, presents, or other more superficial aspects of the holidays. When families learn to build belonging with a child who is struggling with an eating disorder, they can make a significant impact on that child’s recovery.

3. How can families address unsolicited comments and questions from extended family members? How can families set healthy boundaries?

My first advice is to sit down and devote some time thinking through what is most likely to happen. You’ve known your family a long time, so you probably don’t need to be surprised. Sometimes when we’re afraid of something, we avoid thinking about it, or we think about it unproductively. 

So take some time and actually write down the characters and situations in your family that could be triggering. 

Then think through whether and how you should approach them before the event to kindly let them know if you have any requests. Basically, you’re keeping it very specific and short. And you’re usually going to want to sandwich it with comments like “I know how much you love us,” and “we can’t wait to see you.” 

This gives the person the reminder that you know them and love them. And it takes some of the sting out of any requests you’re making.

Remember that hard conversations are, of course, hard. But relationships are living, growing things. They become superficial when we avoid depth and meaning. They falter when we only talk about the good and easy things. Facing hard conversations with family members is challenging. But it’s a healthy challenge to take on, and you will find that even if your family responds poorly to your boundaries, you will still learn and grow and strengthen your own communication skills in the process of talking to them.

4. If someone does notice that a loved one may need a little extra support or is showing symptoms of an eating disorder/relapse, what should/can they do?

My main advice is to stay really tuned into your child’s emotional state at all times, but especially during the holidays. 

By the time you’re seeing behaviors, it may be a bit too late to head them off. So you’re going to want to try and sense how your child is feeling. Often we’ll sense stress, overwhelm, and flooding before, during, and after big family events. So I want parents to tap into those sensations and respond to their child by seeing what’s going on and soothing them before it gets too bad. 

But if you miss the early signs of distress – and of course that happens – just respond as quickly as you can. When we see symptoms of the eating disorder, we want to avoid shame or judgment and respond with compassion. I would say something like “I’m guessing that you feel a bit stressed with everything that’s going on. It makes sense to me that you’re having a hard time. I’m here for you.” 

If you sense your child is distressed during an event, I would immediately take some time away from the group to connect with them and help them feel soothed. The last thing I want a child who has an eating disorder to do is to push down or numb their discomfort, so I teach parents to attend to their kids’ discomfort and help them cope in the safety of their relationship.

Sometimes this makes parents very uncomfortable because it means, in some ways, that they must choose between the comfort of their own parents and their child’s comfort. I understand that it can be terrifying to overcome your own patterns of behavior in your family of origin. However, it’s best if you prioritize your role as a parent and care for your child’s needs. Your parents are grownups; your child is your child. This may feel uncomfortable, but I think when you sit back and think through your values, you’ll see that it makes sense to be the parent your child needs you to be.

Parent Scripts For Eating Disorder Recovery

Scripts to help you figure out what to say to help your child with an eating disorder. Use these scripts:

  • At the dinner table when behavior is getting out of control
  • When you need to set boundaries – fast!
  • After something happened so you can calmly review the triggers and events

5. How might families adapt their existing traditions to be more recovery-friendly? Or how might families create completely new traditions? 

I think the main thing is to reimagine what the holidays would be like with more connection and belonging and less of an emphasis on food. It’s not that you can’t enjoy food, but I think it’s helpful to de-center it. 

This may be a big shift for some people. For some families, the only way they connect with each other is over food. But I think it’s OK to challenge that assumption – that the only way we connect is through food – and find new ways to connect. You may find that you open up new avenues for belonging and connection, and that is a beautiful thing.

Additionally, you may need to set some boundaries about diet talk and body bashing. If your family has been connecting over this for decades, it’s going to be a hard habit to change. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong. And you don’t have to do this perfectly to get started. 

Start having the tough conversations with your family of origin about how we talk about bodies. You can be the change-maker. You’re allowed to do this, and while it may be hard, it may ultimately open up new avenues for connection and belonging for you and your family members. 

When you have a child who has an eating disorder it can be an opportunity to review your values and determine what you want to continue doing, stop doing, and start doing. This is an amazing chance to see the world through new eyes and try new things. And the work you do on behalf of your child will positively impact you, too! Family traditions can continue with an eating disorder – it’s really just about being thoughtful and planning ahead.

Holidays with an eating disorder can be challenging, but I wish you all the best and hope you and your family have the best time possible.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Holidays With An Eating Disorder

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A holiday letter to family about body positivity

A Christmas letter to family about body positivity

If you have adopted body positivity this year, it may help to send a letter to your family to share your new lifestyle in advance of any holiday gatherings. Many families participate in diet and fitness conversations and actively and passively promote the “ideal body.” They may perpetuate the myth that weight can and should be controlled through restrictive eating and over-exercise.

Getting out of the habit of talking about diets and weight can be hard for even the most enlightened family. This letter is designed to help you share your body positivity journey with your extended family during the holidays.

Letter to family about body positivity

Dear Family,

I’m looking forward to seeing you next week for Christmas! In the past year, our family has, for various reasons, embraced a body-positive approach to health. I wanted to tell you a little more about this in advance of the Christmas party so you’re aware of what’s going on with us. 

What is body positivity?

Body positivity has a lot of definitions, but our family defines it as having positive regard for all bodies. This means we respect bodies of all shapes, sizes, and weights. We embrace the truth that bodies come in all sizes and honor people for who they are, not for what they look like. Additionally, we don’t judge people negatively for having a larger body or positively for having a smaller body. We believe that all bodies deserve respect.

As a family, we also have learned about Intuitive Eating, which is a way of approaching health that has nothing to do with weight. With Intuitive Eating, we have learned to nourish our bodies, giving them what they need with joy and compassion. It’s been quite a change from our previous approach of dieting and exercising to meet specific weight goals. 

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

Why is body positivity important?

Body positivity is an anti-discrimination stance. It’s founded on the belief that all people deserve respect and dignity regardless of their body’s appearance, health status, or ability. For too long our society has ostracized, blamed, and criticized people who fall outside of very narrow body ideals, and adopting body positivity fits our social and political beliefs because it is inclusive and anti-discrimination. 

Aside from lofty ideals, body positivity is also protective against anxiety, depression, suicidality, eating disorders, and other mental and emotional disorders. And – get this – it’s also healthier! People who are body-positive have better health outcomes than people who pursue specific weight goals and body ideals. So in addition to our political beliefs, body positivity is also something we’re doing for the health of each individual in our family.

What does it mean to have a body-positive approach to health?

For us, a body-positive approach to health means that we care for our bodies. We move them, rest them, enjoy them, and feed them. We invest in a whole-body approach to health. The only thing we don’t do is try to contort our bodies into a different weight, size, or shape.

We have gotten rid of our scales and no longer use weight as a measure of health (because it’s not!). We’re not insisting on a sugar-free lifestyle or rigid exercise plans anymore. We’re all enjoying all foods and eating according to our hunger and appetite rather than diet programs. This is incredibly freeing and has positively impacted each of us. We all feel better than ever now that we approach our health from a place of love and acceptance rather than domination and control.

Why are we doing body positivity?

We discovered body positivity earlier this year and have been working on it as a family. Our main goals are twofold. First, body positivity matches our social justice goals as a family. Secondly, body positivity is great for our mental and physical health!

The truth is that all of us were suffering in different ways under our previous lifestyle. While everything we did looked and seemed like it was healthy, the dark truth is that we weren’t actually taking care of ourselves very well. We recognized that something had to change, and when we discovered body-positivity we recognized that it was a massive change in some ways, but ultimately it fits our values much better than the dieting and restricting we did before.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

How body positivity impacts our family

The main thing we’ve learned on this journey is to not judge anyone’s health based on their weight and to stop labeling food as good or bad. It’s all too common to carry unconscious biases about health in our culture. And we’re all influenced by the diet industry that tells us we need to weigh less and eat this/not that, etc. 

Freed from this restrictive view of bodies and health, we now find ourselves identifying how we each feel within our bodies. Now we treat them with the ultimate respect and love they deserve. 

We no longer judge food based on its caloric content or nutritional value. Instead, we seek a varied diet that tastes good and sustains us. Also, we got rid of our scale and have all discovered that not weighing ourselves has taken a huge weight (🤣 haha – couldn’t resist) off our shoulders. 

Of course, we still live in a culture that is critical of bodies, but we’re glad that in our home, bodies are respected and loved exactly as they are.

What this means for you

Of course, this doesn’t have to mean anything to you! But our family gatherings often involve some diet talk and discussion about other people’s and our own weight. So I wanted to give you a heads-up that we’re not going to be participating in those conversations anymore. I know this could be awkward at first. It’s always hard when families change. But please know that we love you very much. And we know that there is so much more we can talk about than weight and nutrition. 

I’m happy to talk to you some more about this if you want to learn more. I look forward to seeing you next week!

Love, me

Holidays with an eating disorder in the family can be challenging, but I wish you the very best holiday possible for you and your family! xoxo


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Holidays With An Eating Disorder

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6 tips to handle holidays with an eating disorder

6 tips to handle holidays with an eating disorder

The holidays are typically a stressful time, and it can be even harder to handle with an eating disorder. It could seem like a total disaster, or you could look at this as an opportunity to do things differently.

Our kids thrive in a close and connected family. And isn’t that what the holidays are supposed to be about? These tips are designed to help you achieve closer family connections. So you’ll find that what I’m recommending will help everyone in the family – including you – have a more meaningful, less stressful holiday.

1. Focus on feeding and rest

The first and most important thing when your child has an eating disorder is that you need to manage feeding schedules as much as possible. While we would all like to relax during the holidays, when there’s an eating disorder to contend with, we really can’t let up on feeding regularly and adequately. 

You may have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. All our best, most beautiful plans for the holidays will be derailed if our children’s basic needs are not being met. A child’s basic need for food and rest are both disrupted by an eating disorder, and the holidays will make them even harder to handle. So feeding and rest should be a top priority.

Plan ahead to make sure you have easy, low-stress meals and snacks on hand, and keep to a regular schedule of eating. If there’s a big event that you’re all attending, make sure you feed your child before and after the event.

Prioritize regular bedtimes and plenty of downtime and rest during the day. Our culture glorifies the idea of rushing around during the holidays, trying to cram in everything, and running ourselves ragged. But it’s far better to prioritize rest so you can truly enjoy the meaningful moments when they happen. Slow down and take a mindful approach to the holidays. Less is truly more.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

2. Prioritize connection

Once you have figured out the basic needs, you can move up the scale a little bit and focus on belonging and love needs. These needs are met in moments of connection and intimacy with our families. This can take you from managing to “handle” the holidays with an eating disorder to actually enjoying them.

Most of the stress of the holiday season comes from misguided attempts at connection. Rigid traditions that everyone feels obligated to perform are meant to connect, but fail. True belonging comes from authentically enjoying yourself with others. So this year, focus on the things that build connection and let go of the things that don’t.

Traditions build belonging. But they should be regularly evaluated to make sure they’re still doing their job. Create two columns on a piece of paper and write down all the traditions that you typically follow during the holidays on the left side. Now on the right side write down whether these traditions build emotional connections and intimacy. 

It’s not enough to do something because you’ve always done it. Hold your traditions to higher standards and ask: will this build belonging?

If you have a great list of strong traditions that build connections, great! If not, that’s OK! You can try some new traditions this year. Here are some options for connecting that you can consider for your family:

Ways to connect with family

  • Walk: go for a casual walk outdoors and play a game like “I Spy.” 
  • Drive: travel to a beautiful spot in nature and bring a big blanket and hot drinks to share. 
  • Art: get a large piece of paper and different pens and pencils and co-create a “piece of art.”
  • Get Closer: play a game like  Where Should We Begin to learn about each other and build intimacy.
  • Listen: ask each person to suggest a song that represents the past year. Create a playlist and try to guess who chose which song. 
  • Dance: designate a DJ or just pick a playlist, clear out the furniture, and have a dance party.
  • Sit: light (or turn on) a fire, pile the blankets and pillows on the floor, and sit together reading, listening to music or an audiobook, or doing nothing.
  • Make: buy packaged gingerbread house kits and make bizarre gingerbread houses that you would never find in a magazine.

Tip #1: keep these activities short. To optimize the chances of everyone having fun, limit the time you plan for any activity. Let people drift away if they get bored and keep the fun going for the people who want to.

Tip #2: have low expectations. Don’t insist on any activity being magical. Stay loose and be flexible and open to failure. Rigidity isn’t fun.

To handle the holidays with an eating disorder, give yourself the space to reimagine them through an entirely new lens. Ask yourself: am I doing this because we’ve always done it, or am I doing this because it makes us feel connected to each other? Double down on the things that add connection, and drop the rest. You’ll have more time and space and reduce everyone’s stress levels.

3. Know the triggers

If you have large extended family gatherings, then you need to plan ahead. Many of us have magical thinking when it comes to holidays. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we build an image in our head of calm, cozy holidays spent in loving connection with our extended family. 

In this magical dreamland, we fail to prepare ourselves for the realities of our family dynamics.

The way to handle the holidays with an eating disorder is to make sure you have been ruthlessly honest about the most likely triggers your child will face during family events. 

Get a piece of paper and list all the inappropriate or uncomfortable statements and situations around food and body issues that you can think of.

Common family eating disorder triggers:

  • Aunt Bertha likes to talk about what she can and cannot eat on her current diet
  • Grandpa makes comments about what’s on other people’s plates
  • Uncle Jerome is a personal trainer and always talks about “personal goals” and “burn it to earn it.”
  • Grandma will pressure everyone to eat more
  • Cousin Pat will stare at your child and ask why they’re so _____________.

You need to know the potential triggers to have any hope of navigating them gracefully. Most of us don’t prepare and then react and don’t feel great about it. Then we may spend hours after family events reviewing what we said or didn’t say. Flip that around and invest the time up-front to think about what might go wrong so you’re not blindsided. 

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

4. Set boundaries

Once you have your list of triggers, you can come up with boundaries and responses. Here are some boundaries I recommend every family sets during the holidays when dealing with an eating disorder (or actually anytime!): 

  1. No talking about weight or bodies (positively or negatively), like:
    • You have an amazing metabolism and can eat whatever you want
    • Have you gained weight?
    • My doctor says I need to lose weight for my health
    • You look so skinny!
    • She is always watching her figure – and it shows!
    • I’m concerned about your weight because I worry about your health
  1. No talking about what people are eating (positively or negatively), like:
    • Wow – that plate is really full!
    • I can’t eat that – I’m being good today
    • She eats like a horse and doesn’t gain an ounce
    • I’ve been eating keto and feel 100x better now
    • Have a piece of this – I made it just for you!
    • Are you sure you want seconds?

If you are faced with a boundary violation in real-time, it’s best if you say something at the moment to redirect the conversation and protect your child from additional triggers.

Good responses for boundary violations: 

  • I know you’re trying to help, but we’ve got this, thanks!
  • Let’s talk about something else now
  • I know how important this is to you, but we don’t talk about people’s weight
  • Did you know we’re going to Hawaii next week?
  • Can we talk about something else?
  • We don’t talk about what people weigh/eat
  • I’d rather you didn’t say things like that
  • Eyes on your own plate!
  • Did you see Aunt Lena’s new clogs? They’re wild! 

If boundaries are repeatedly violated and/or you can sense that your child is becoming distressed, it’s OK to take a break from the party or leave altogether. Your child’s emotional safety is your priority, so while it can be awkward, it is within your role as a parent to make that decision.

Remember that everyone has a right to do what they want to do. And there are often consequences. For example, Uncle Jim has a right to talk about his diet, and you have a right to ask him to stop and/or leave the conversation if you want to. The less you make it about controlling Uncle Jim and the more you make it about choosing your responses, the better it will feel for everyone.

5. Check in on your child

Once the holidays begin it can be hard to slow down. But remember that stress is like a snowball that rolls and grows if not interrupted. Check in with your child every day to gauge how things are going. What is their stress level? How are they feeling? Are their eating disorder behaviors getting worse?

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

If your child is becoming stressed, consider changing your plans for the day or even the whole week. Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy, your child’s physiological needs must be met for them to find any level of comfort and enjoyment this holiday. Are they getting enough sleep? Enough food? 

If stress is a problem, learn emotional co-regulation skills so you can help bring your child into an emotionally regulated spot before any holiday events. This is a skill every parent who has a child with an eating disorder should learn.

6. Embrace the mess

Finally, embrace the mess of the holidays with an eating disorder. You’re doing your best. Your best is enough. No holiday is perfect, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. When parents strive for perfection they usually add to the stress. So relax. Be kind to yourself. And remember that this is a short period of time in a lifetime of love and connection with your child. 


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Holidays With An Eating Disorder

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Family scripts for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Family scripts for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Are you heading into Thanksgiving with a child or loved one who has an eating disorder? It’s important to make an effort to plan an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving. Food-based holidays can be especially challenging for people in eating disorder recovery. It can really help to plan ahead for success.

Many of our Thanksgiving family scripts focus on body-based and food-oriented comments. These comments may seem benign, but when your child has an eating disorder, it’s important to put a stop to them. It may take some practice, but it’s not hard to shift once you have these new scripts in mind.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Here are some examples of new Thanksgiving scripts:

Greetings for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Many people automatically comment on someone’s appearance as a greeting. However, this focus on appearance can be upsetting for someone who has/had an eating disorder.

Also, when we make appearance-based greetings, we miss the opportunity to connect with the actual person – who they are, what they mean to us, and what makes them interesting and important.

Instead of: You look great! Have you lost weight?

Try: I’m so happy to see you!


Instead of: Have you gained weight?

Try: It’s wonderful to see you!


Instead of: What have you been doing? You look great!

Try: How have you been doing? Tell me all about it!


Instead of: You look so pretty today!

Try: I’m thrilled to see you today!


Instead of: You look so skinny! Let’s fatten you up!

Try: I’m really glad you came!

Talking about food

Thanksgiving is a food-based holiday, and so, of course, it brings out many diet culture scripts, which basically assume that we are “bad” if we eat rich, delicious foods, and we are “good” if we restrict our foods to “healthy” options like salad.

This idea that how we eat determines our morality is very dangerous for someone who has/had an eating disorder, so it’s important to change the script. Here are some ideas:

Instead of: Uh-oh – I’m going to blow my diet today!

Try: This food looks delicious!


Instead of: I guess this is a cheat day!

Try: I’m looking forward to enjoying this day with you.


Instead of: I guess the diet starts tomorrow!

Try: I love being here with you.


Instead of: I’m trying to lose weight, so I’m not going to eat that.

Try: Tell me about how you’ve been doing.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Talking about feasting

So many people live in some form of dietary restriction, and then “let it all hang out” at a Thanksgiving feast. There is nothing wrong with feasting, but most people talk about it as a negative or something that will need to be atoned for later. This can easily lead to descriptions of the core eating disorder behaviors of restriction, binge eating, and purging.

Instead of: I’m stuffed! I definitely ate too much

Try: That was delicious!


Instead of: Good thing I didn’t eat all week to prepare for this pie!

Try: Thank you for being here today.


Instead of: I’m “eating clean” so I can’t eat any of this food

Try: I’m so happy to see you all.


Instead of: I’m going to have to not eat for a week to make up for this!

Try: I love being with you.


Instead of: I really shouldn’t eat more but I can’t help myself!

Try: Isn’t it wonderful to be together today?


Instead of: I can’t believe I ate all these carbs. My trainer is going to be so mad at me!

Try: This is a great day!

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Talking about exercise

Many people think of Thanksgiving as something we need to “work up to” or “work off.” This is called compensatory exercise and is an eating disorder behavior. It’s important for families to move away from normalizing eating disorder behaviors.

Instead of: I need to take a walk so I have space in my belly for all this food.

Try: I’m going to take a walk because it feels so good to be outside.


Instead of: I’m going to have to go to the gym after this!

Try: This has been a wonderful meal.


Instead of: It’s going to take weeks to work off all the food I ate!

Try: I have been really enjoying this day and being with you.

Plan in advance for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

If your family is like most, shifting the script will take effort. You can start the ball rolling by calling people who will be at the meal with you and your child and see if you can agree to gather with the intention to not perpetuate eating disorder talk.

Here’s a possible pre-Thanksgiving day script:

Hi Aunt Beatrice, I’m so excited to have you for Thanksgiving! I can’t wait to see you. This is a little awkward, but I wanted to let you know something that we’ve been working on. We’ve noticed that how we talk about bodies and food really makes a difference to our kids. So we avoid talking about bodies, diets, or saying things like “this food is so bad” or “I’m going to have to work this pie off later.” The truth is that we didn’t even notice how often we do it. But I just wanted to let you know that it’s something we’re working on, since you’ll probably notice we’re going to try not to do it this year.

Here’s some options for redirecting food and body comments on Thanksgiving day:

Redirect: Hey Aunt Beatrice, did you get that promotion at work?


Remind: Hey Aunt Beatrice, remember we aren’t talking about diets today. How was your visit with Uncle Fred?


Set a boundary: Aunt Beatrice, when you talk about my body like that. I feel bad, because it seems like you are criticizing my weight. If you continue to do that, we’ll need to leave.


Holidays with an eating disorder can be really tough, but Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a minefield, and it will be more fun for everyone involved if we reduce the focus on food and bodies and focus instead on the many other things that make being together so meaningful.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Holidays With An Eating Disorder

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How to make Thanksgiving eating disorder safe

How to make Thanksgiving eating disorder safe

Thanksgiving and other holidays can be very stressful for people who have eating disorders. Here are some tips to help make your Thanksgiving eating disorder safe.

Food-based holidays can be hard

Often when families get together, the first thing they talk about is dieting and body size. Dieting is a national obsession and is even more prevalent on a food-based holiday. If you have a child who has an eating disorder, it’s important to set some guidelines around food and body talk so that all family members and friends are aware how to create an eating disorder safe Thanksgiving.

We can’t control everything that happens at family gatherings, but at least we can express our wishes for a diet-free day. Here are some guidelines:

1. Don’t talk about diets

It’s very common for families to talk about the latest diet or “lifestyle change.” Men and women of all ages and sizes will passionately discuss their Whole60 plan, Juice cleanse or gluten-free diet and the wonders it’s done for them personally or someone they know.

Many people will talk about committing to going to the gym, taking up running, and other exercise programs designed to support weight loss. All this talk despite the fact that we know diets have a 95% failure rate, and exercise does not lead to weight loss.

But you don’t need to get into debates about the value of diets on Thanksgiving. Just ask your family members and friends to please not talk about dieting, which includes all forms of food restriction, food monitoring, and exercise with the goal of reducing body weight. These are all eating disorder behaviors, and are therefore dangerous for your child.

Your relatives and friends may honestly believe that talking about their latest diet program is the most interesting thing they have going on right now. They probably also feel compelled to share their success and “help” everyone else get “healthier.”

This is not because they are bad people – it’s just an indication that they are living in a diet culture. Gently remind them that you’re in the process of healing a child who has an eating disorder, and you would really appreciate it if they kept diet talk off the table. This will automatically make your Thanksgiving more eating disorder safe.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Diet talk around someone who has an eating disorder is not benign. It is extremely dangerous.

Talk to friends and family members before the event, and gently steer conversations away from diet talk whenever necessary. Interrupt and redirect diet-based conversations as graciously as you can. If the gathering cannot stop talking about diets, you may need to excuse your family from the event. It’s OK (and necessary) to put your child’s recovery first.

2. Don’t talk about body size

Do you live in a family in which people’s body size is a common topic of discussion? Do people want to constantly discuss whether someone is larger or smaller than they were before? This can go both ways – from Aunt May telling your child she’s too skinny (in a bad way) to Aunt May telling your child he’s “bulked up” (in a good way).

Even the standard “you look healthy” or “you look great” can be difficult for someone who is in recovery for an eating disorder. This is because eating disorders are based on an over-identification with the body’s appearance. When people comment on your child’s body, look critically at their body, and otherwise objectify and make bodies a topic of discussion, it can be triggering.

Talk to your family and friends in advance, and let them know that it would be great if all talk of body size could be avoided if possible, especially if it’s directed at your child.

Whatever your child’s current weight, it should not be discussed or commented on.

During the event, it’s likely that people will slip up and start to talk about bodies. After all, this is a frequent topic of conversation. Uncle Jimmy may talk about how his ex-wife has “put on the pounds” since their divorce, and Grandpa may grunt and nod in affirmation.

Comments like that, especially when they are greeted with agreement, are absolutely unacceptable and dangerous to your child who has an eating disorder. You need to speak up and say something like “Jimmy, it’s inappropriate to talk about Margaret’s body like that.”

If the group continues to criticize other people’s bodies, you may need to leave the gathering in order to protect your child. Not everyone is ready and able to create an eating disorder safe Thanksgiving.

3. Don’t talk about stuffing yourself

Thanksgiving is our national “stuff yourself” holiday. Leading up to the event, people say they look forward to a binge day during which they will gorge themselves on Thanksgiving foods and then sit around with their pants unbuttoned.

If people choose to binge on Thanksgiving, that’s their prerogative, but it is not OK to talk about casual binge eating in front of a person who has an eating disorder.

Even though Grandma may think it’s perfectly acceptable and “has always been done,” you need to remind her that binge eating is an eating disorder behavior, and you have a child who has an eating disorder. Therefore, it is absolutely not all right to talk about binge eating this year (or, any year in the future).

4. Don’t talking about compensating for the meal

After the feast, people tend to talk about their compensatory behavior such as:

  • “I’m not eating again for a week!”
  • “Back to the gym tomorrow!”
  • “This makes up for the fact that I didn’t eat all week!”
  • “I woke up early and went for a long run, so I’m allowed to eat!”

This sort of compensation after eating is eating disorder behavior. You have a child who has an eating disorder. Therefore, talk of restriction or extra exercise to compensate for the Thanksgiving meal is not eating disorder safe. 

Interrupt and redirect any and all conversations related to compensating for the Thanksgiving meal. You may worry that you’re being rude, but your child must be your first priority.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

It’s not easy, but it’s necessary

None of these things is easy. We have agreed as a society that Thanksgiving involves all four of the above behaviors. But it’s your prerogative to change the conversation and, as the parent of a child who has an eating disorder, it is your responsibility to avoid the danger these four actions can have on his or her recovery.

Depending on your relationships, you may need to make a few phone calls in advance of Thanksgiving this year. If you haven’t told your family about your child’s eating disorder, this may be the moment to do so. However, you should only discuss it if your child agrees.

We would like it if eating disorders carried less shame in our society. However, until that point. your child’s comfort and privacy come first. Schedule a special appointment with your child’s therapist to discuss this topic, and adhere to whatever agreements you make during that meeting.

Take control of Thanksgiving

If you are able to talk to your family about the eating disorder, consider sharing this article or otherwise giving them some tips or requests in advance to help smooth the way. It’s important to know that we live in a culture that naturally does not follow these four guidelines, but that doesn’t mean our families can’t buck culture and follow a kinder, more thoughtful Thanksgiving pattern that is eating disorder safe.

It will be more challenging to follow these four guidelines if you are not able to talk to your family about the eating disorder. Nevertheless, parents can and must advocate for peaceful environments that support their children. You can tell your family that you are adopting these four guidelines this year so that they have a heads-up in advance that you’ll be steering conversations away from food and body talk.

Finally, if you feel your family cannot adapt to these four guidelines, it may be best to skip the large family dinner this year. Holidays with an eating disorder are difficult. Your child’s recovery must take priority, and if you have a family that is stuck in diet culture, you may need to skip the big gathering this year and opt instead for a smaller gathering of people who already know and follow a non-diet approach and can easily follow these guidelines.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Holidays With An Eating Disorder

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Let your kids (and yourself!) eat Halloween candy!

let kids eat Halloween candy

As Halloween approaches, are you asking yourself if it’s OK to let kids eat Halloween candy? What about you – can you eat candy? Are you already shutting the thought down, assuring yourself that this year you will finally make sure you all stay sugar-free?

It’s tough because right now candy is everywhere. Every store, every desk, and every place we go seems to be offering up tiny bites of sweetness. If you’re like many people, you studiously forbid yourself from succumbing to the temptation of candy … most of the time. But there are probably days when you just can’t resist, and then you binge, feel horribly guilty, and pretty sick.

You say things like:

“I love candy so much, but I mustn’t eat it! I’ll ruin my diet!”

“I love chocolate, but once I start, I just can’t stop.”

“I ate an entire bag of candy yesterday – I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”

And if you see your kids eating candy you feel like a bad parent. You worry that you’ll permanently damage their health if you allow them to eat Halloween candy. There are lots of articles out there teaching parents how to restrict Halloween candy, but this article is different. In this article, I want to encourage you to eat the Halloween candy … and let your kids eat it, too!

You think it’s you

Maybe you think you or your kids are addicted to candy. That you have some fatal flaw that removes your self-control and forces you to consume massive amounts of candy. You probably think your kids have this flaw, too. You’ve seen them inhale an entire bowl of M&Ms in one sitting. It’s bad! It’s not right! Sugar is evil! You have to stop them!

Sugar is the nutritional bad guy right now. Many people say that sugar is addictive. If you consume popular media, then you probably believe that sugar is terrible and that you and your kids are addicted. And there’s only one place for people who give into their sugar cravings, and it’s a shame-filled room where you stand up and introduce yourself as someone who is “An Addict.”

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

Here’s the truth

You’re not alone in this. Your kids aren’t, either. But there’s a crazy secret that you don’t know yet. You are giving the candy way too much power over your life. Maybe you think that you have to avoid candy because once you start eating it, you can’t stop. You think that it’s impossible for anyone to have self-control around candy. You have been told that eating candy will instantly add inches to your waist and can even give you diabetes. And you believe you have to control your kids’ candy consumption for the same reason.

But it’s not true!

Too many people live in fear of candy and other foods that we consider “off limits.” We can develop symptoms of anxiety just being in the presence of foods that we have decided are scary. Fear of food is a symptom of disordered eating. If you or your child is afraid to eat candy, or if you are afraid that your child eats too much candy, then it is time to get some help and put candy in its place.

Life may be scary on many levels, but none of us need to live in fear of a food item.

Here’s the secret

Your body only wants a whole bag of candy right now because you’ve been giving candy power by denying your body for so long. Your body hates being restricted, so it acts out, like a stubborn toddler. It sulks and complains, and then, when you aren’t watching, it sneaks out of the house and does things to get back at you for trying to control it.

When you restrict the candy, you turn yourself into a dictator over your body, and your body will rebel. You will consider yourself “good” and “perfect” until one day something snaps, and you end up with candy wrappers everywhere and a very bad stomachache. You think this is further proof that you should never, ever eat candy. But that’s not true. The problem is that you restricted candy in the first place.

The solution is to eat Halloween candy!

Eat the candy, but enjoy the candy openly and honestly. Give yourself and your kids permission to eat candy whenever you want candy. Give up the diet mentality that you must control all foods, and trust that your body doesn’t actually want to live on candy alone. It’s true. It really doesn’t.

You are not unique. It has been consistently shown that, given unlimited food choices, most people will naturally even out their intake to provide a healthy balance for their individual bodies. Researchers who study Intuitive Eating don’t get as many book deals as the people who tell us to be afraid of food. But we have known for decades that the more you restrict “forbidden” foods, the greater the likelihood that you are also binging on those foods.

And the same is true for our kids. If we don’t let our kids eat Halloween candy, we set them up for restriction and binge eating. And that’s much less healthy than a little sugar now and then.

Try this instead

Instead of trying to resist candy, slow down and pay attention to your cravings and the candy. Bring candy out of the closet. Bring mindfulness to your food, and you will find your relationship with it transformed. Instead of criticizing yourself and the candy, try asking:

“Do I want the candy?”

“How does this candy taste?”

“Would I prefer a different candy to this one?”

“Do I want to eat more candy right now?”

When we approach candy (and all food) with curiosity instead of judgment, the candy becomes “just food,” instead of the forbidden fruit. Now we can figure out if we even actually like candy. When we take this approach, it’s definitely OK to eat Halloween candy. If we like it, then we should sit down and enjoy it, just like we would an apple or a kale salad. We shouldn’t eat it in secret or with any sense of shame. When we stop feeling shame about our food, it loses power over us.

The same goes for our kids. If we have restricted them, then they are likely gorging on candy when given the opportunity. When we give them food freedom while asking curious questions and expecting all food to be eaten peacefully and without hiding, our kids will stop sneaking forbidden candy, and will naturally find a candy intake that makes sense for their individual bodies.

Trust your body

When we treat our bodies and our kids’ bodies with respect and trust, they honestly don’t want to eat a whole bag of candy. It’s OK to eat as much Halloween candy as feels good for your body. And you may be surprised that, once you remove the restrictions on candy, you can actually pay attention to how it feels in your body. The fewer limits you put on the candy, the less power it has over you.

And then you start to notice that you have preferences about the type of candy, when you actually want it, and how you want to eat it. Over time, candy gets a normal place in your life. You realize that it’s OK to let yourself and your kids eat candy, not just at Halloween, but anytime!

It doesn’t matter how much candy you eat, as long as it’s your body that’s making the decision, and not your diet-ridden, shame-filled brain. The key is to listen to your body’s feedback rather than trying to circumvent its intelligence and tell it what to do.

Trust your kids’ bodies

Most importantly, trust your kids’ bodies. You don’t have to control their candy intake. Their bodies will do it for them. Honestly. Speak with anyone who has read and implemented books from Ellyn Satter and you will hear surprise and awe about their experience with trusting their toddlers’ bodies to self-regulate.

“We were constantly fighting over candy and I was driving myself crazy, forcing veggies on my 3-year-old,” said one parent. “A year later, after I started following Ellyn Satter’s advice, my kid was still eating candy, but then she would go to the fridge and get herself some carrots and hummus. She was actually balancing her diet without any input (or nagging!) from me! I was amazed and humbled.”

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

Diet culture is dead wrong

It’s not easy in our society, because we are all taught the diet culture from birth, which is that if we don’t control what we eat, we are bad. And guess who is there to save us from ourselves? The diet industry! All the diet books assure us that if we restrict certain food groups, certain nutrients, certain fats, and overall calorie intake, we will maintain a slim body and, most importantly, be worthy of admiration.

We are told that we can’t follow our body’s cravings, because then we will all turn into couch potatoes who provide zero value to society.

It’s a big, fat lie. The documented truth is that 95% of people who lose weight because of food restriction (diets) regain all the weight they lost plus more within one to five years, and the vast majority have regained it within two years (UCLA). The multi-billion dollar diet industry is an industry that preys on our insecurities. It lies to us.

Enjoy the candy

Don’t restrict and boss around your body anymore. Let it be. Eat candy at Halloween or anytime. When you trust it, your body will become a healthy ally, and you will be significantly happier and healthier than someone who chronically restricts their food intake. And the same goes for your kids.

Let your kids enjoy candy

Even if you can’t do it for yourself, please don’t restrict your kids. Our kids’ bodies are precious. They deserve to grow up being trusted and believed in. We need to normalize all foods (including candy!) and all body sizes, and we need to let go of fear-based food restrictions, which are so very harmful and can directly lead to disordered eating behavior and full-blown eating disorders.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Holidays With An Eating Disorder

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Handling the holidays when you have a child in the weight recovery stage of eating disorder recovery, an interview with Dr. Renee Rienecke

The holidays can be a real challenge for people who are in the weight recovery stage of recovering from an eating disorder. There is a lot of food around, and a lot of stress in the air. If your child or adolescent is currently in the weight restoration phase, being out of a normal routine, and around relatives who are well-meaning but not helpful, can be very disruptive.

Below is an interview we conducted with Dr. Renee D. Rienecke regarding this topic:


Eating

My biggest advice for families who are in FBT is to plan ahead as much as possible. Think carefully through the actual holiday and the school break, and plan meals, snacks and rest into your schedule. Choosing your child’s meals, plating the food for them, serving it to them, and sitting with them while they are eating can be really challenging if you have people staying with you or if you are staying with others during the holidays. Each family will figure out their own path for this situation, but it’s important to know that there are a lot of options – the main goal is just that you think it through.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Timing

If your child is in weight restoration, maybe consider taking a year off from staying at a relative’s house. Keep in mind during the holidays that it’s OK to simplify this year if you need to. You don’t have to do everything like you normally do because your life isn’t like it is normally. There is next year. Looking for ways to simplify your life around the holidays is good advice for anybody, but especially for someone in treatment.

Routine

A pitfall that families run into during the holidays is that when kids are off school, they tend to sleep in, and then they are more likely to miss breakfast and throw off their eating schedule and eating plan. During the holidays, everyone gets busy, and it’s easy for parents to take their eye off the ball. It’s a challenge for parents to stay focused, but it’s really important. You don’t want to let a week go by without any progress.

Compassion

Families have a lot of balls in the air this time of year, and things are probably not going to go perfectly. Plan ahead, do your best, but remember, the holidays are going to be over soon. You’ll be back to your normal routine soon. Things are not going to be perfect, and that’s OK.

Disclosure

Whether or not you share the information about your child’s treatment plan is really dependent on your individual situation. It’s always a balance between respecting the desire for privacy, but at the same time not feeling embarrassed about your situation. The unfortunate truth is that not everyone you tell is going to react the way you want them to. Think through carefully who to tell, and what sort of information to share. If you do share the situation, it’s best to discuss it individually with each family member or guest. Let them know what’s going on, what will be helpful to talk about, and what topics to avoid.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Non-Disclosure

If your kid has requested that you not tell anyone about treatment, then you will need to work together on how to handle comments that might come up from unknowing relatives and friends. Just talk about what might come up, and how your child or you will respond if someone comments on weight, either positively or negatively. Also, be prepared for well-meaning curiosity about diet and eating habits. It can be hard to hide that there is something going on when in the weight recovery phase, so the more you prepare, the better.

Ground rules

What many of my families have done is to speak with relatives individually before social gatherings and let them know personally what’s going on. It allows for more conversation. They may have a lot of questions, so having a conversation really allows them to have more back and forth. If you do tell people about your child’s weight restoration and eating disorder recovery, it can be helpful to have some ground rules so they understand safe and unsafe topics during this time. Here are some basic suggestions:

  • Don’t comment on appearance
  • Don’t comment on what they’re eating
  • Don’t comment on food (good/bad)
  • Don’t talk about your own weight loss plans/experiences
  • Don’t talk about other people’s weight

Plan an Escape

Weight recovery can be a difficult time in eating disorder treatment, so it’s good to have an escape plan for meals and events just in case your child becomes overwhelmed. Some parents will limit the time of the event, also, saying we’ll only go for 2 hours. If the meal gets too hard, there can be a code word that the patient can use to signal to the parent that they need help.


renee Reinecke eating disorders

Renee D. Rienecke, PhD, FAED, is the Director of the MUSC Friedman Center for Eating Disorders at the Medical University of South Carolina. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan, her Ph.D. from Northwestern University, and completed her clinical psychology internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago. Her research interests include the role of expressed emotion in treatment outcome for adolescent anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Website

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Advice for parents facing Thanksgiving with a child who is in recovery from Anorexia Nervosa

by Tracy Brown, RD

Thanksgiving can be a stressful time for everyone. As much as we love getting together for the holiday, the combination of family members, friends and food can trigger anxiety and stress. If you have a child who is currently being treated for anorexia, then it is likely that this particular holiday is causing you even more stress than usual.

Here are some ideas to help you prepare for this food-centered holiday with your child who has anorexia:

Plan Ahead

Plan ahead as much as possible to make sure that your child is able to peacefully eat all meals and snacks during Thanksgiving. If you are going elsewhere for the meal, ask the host for the meal plan, including what will be served and when, so that you can make the necessary arrangements.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Don’t “Save Up”

Stick to the meal plan rather than thinking that your child can “save up” for a big feast. Saving up food for a bigger meal puts a lot of pressure on that meal and the child may not be ready for a very large meal.

Look Beyond the Food

We don’t have to make the food the star of Thanksgiving. In fact, Thanksgiving can be a great opportunity to remember that no food is “good” or “bad.” That food is healthy and natural when it’s treated with respect.

Talk to Guests if Possible

If at all possible, speak to anyone who will be at Thanksgiving dinner about your child’s eating disorder in advance. Ask them to please refrain from diet talk that often comes from people knowing that they are going to be eating a big meal. These comments are totally normal in our society, unfortunately diet talk is seen as normal conversation ” but is toxic for most people, especially those in recovery.

Take the Year off if you Need to

If traveling to others’ homes is just too potentially dangerous to your child’s recovery, consider that a big Thanksgiving dinner may not be the best medicine this year. Work with your child’s treatment team to determine how best to address this.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Game Day

Whatever happens, on Thanksgiving Day itself, pay attention to his or her cues of anxiety and distress. Plan for moments away from the crowd in which you can connect with your child and check how he or she is feeling. If anxiety levels get too high, support your child by taking a break together. You can go for a short walk or sit away from everyone else for a little while. Parents can also take charge and change the subject if someone starts a conversation towards diet talk or body bashing; your child will appreciate you going to bat and protecting them.


tracy brown rd eating disorders

Tracy Brown, RD, is a nutrition therapist, registered licensed dietitian and attuned eating coach. She established her private practice in 2006 in in both north and central Florida and now in Naples, FL. . She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating in children, teens and adults. She teaches Intuitive Eating and works with people in person, individually and in in groups, online and via phone. Website

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5 activities to reduce the focus on food this Thanksgiving if your child has an eating disorder

5 activities to reduce the focus on food this Thanksgiving if your child has an eating disorder

If your child has an eating disorder, then Thanksgiving may be the most stressful holiday of the year. The entire holiday is focused on food! Even the holiday’s mascot – a turkey – is food.

Also, Thanksgiving carries with it many food-based traditions, including talking about food endlessly and perpetuating harmful diet and weight myths. If we had to pick the worst day of the year for eating disorders, Thanksgiving is it! Think about many of our most common Thanskgiving traditions:

  • Greeting family members by commenting on how much weight they have lost/gained
  • Bragging about fasting before the meal to “save up”
  • Pre-meal workouts to “make room”
  • Talking about diets: I’m not eating carbs this year, these carbs are terrible for me, I guess my diet starts tomorrow!
  • Discussing binge eating: I can’t help it – I have to keep going, I’m stuffed, my pants are too tight for this meal
  • Post-meal exercise purges to “work off” what was eaten
  • Restricting food after the meal to “make up” for what was eaten

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, they may be very uncomfortable with the conversations and behaviors that are typical of Thanksgiving.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Plan ahead

Thanksgiving is a landmine for diet talk, but it’s also a great opportunity for family to share a meaningful day together. And since we know that being with people who love us is a great medicine for someone who has an eating disorder, we want to do what we can to make the holiday happen. The key is to focus on belonging and not food, eating, and weight.

If you take the day to honor and build connections with each other instead of focusing on the food, everyone wins! Here are five ways to take the focus away from food and build belonging and connection on Thanksgiving.

1. Get outside

An outdoor activity may help the whole family relieve holiday stress. Being in nature is very soothing, and it allows time for everyone to chat lightly about non-food topics. Choose an easy, relaxing hiking trail, or even a large park, beach or lake, that you can spend a few hours walking around. This is not a hike designed to burn off calories or work up an appetite. It’s a walk to connect with nature and with each other.

2. Play a game

Family game night is mostly a thing of the past or a very occasional activity, but Thanksgiving is  a good day to pull out the Monopoly board, Uno cards, and other family games to provide a non-food-based activity. Get the whole family involved, and make sure the spirit around the game doesn’t become negative by keeping the focus on being together, not winning or losing.

3. Do some crafts

There are probably members in your family who will groan at this suggestion, but you may be surprised by the reaction if you actually pull out some craft supplies and get everyone working on a family art project. A Thanksgiving-themed craft project could be a lot of fun, and extra points if you can find a way to make a Gratitude Tree or other gratitude-based item that enables you to get some feel-good thoughts flowing through the house.

4. Volunteer together

There are many non-profit organizations that need support on Thanksgiving Day. The opportunities are endless. There are, of course, homeless shelters, food banks and food delivery services to the needy. This exposure to food and eating may or may not be a good idea based on your child’s eating disorder and current treatment plan. If it’s not a good fit, consider the many animal organizations that need volunteers on Thanksgiving. Animals need affection, water, food and a clean environment every day. Check out the many opportunities to volunteer in your area here.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

5. Have a device-free day (or hour)

There is no question that as a society we have become increasingly dependent on our devices for entertainment. It will be difficult, but have everyone agree to put their devices (including smart phones, tablets and laptops) in a designated spot for the day, or at least a few hours. You may be surprised by what naturally occurs just by forcing people to find entertainment away from their screens.

Relax and enjoy

Having a child with an eating disorder is one of the hardest jobs any parent can face. Give yourself time to rest and relax during the holiday. You deserve to rest and feel loved and cared for, too. This will help you avoid burnout and gather strength for the task at hand.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

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Thanksgiving can be hard on kids who have eating disorders – tips for parents to make it easier

by Colleen Reichmann, Psy.D.

Thanksgiving can be a difficult time for children who are struggling with eating disorders. This is a holiday focused almost solely on food-quite a difficult day to endure for someone that struggles with an illness that centers on food.

For this reason, it is ideal to begin prepping your child ahead of time. Talk with your child about how you will support them throughout the entire week of Thanksgiving. Game plan with them. Discuss the types of food that will be served. Attempt to alleviate any anxiety by taking the power away from the food. If your child is following a meal plan, discuss how the meals of the day will align with the meal plan (and make sure that they do).

Here are some other recommendations:

Consider the Size of Thanksgiving This Year

As a parent, it will be up to you to assess how much your child will be able to mentally tolerate. If he or she is really struggling right now, this year may not be the time to do the big celebration with 30+ family and friends. Rather, it may be best to have a quiet day a home, and celebrate in a manner that is more supportive of your child’s recovery.

However, if you decide to do this, be aware that oftentimes children will express guilt if the tradition that you normally follow is to have the big family get-together. Make sure that you reassure your child that you have many years ahead to get together with your family and friends. Assure him or her that the day will be special, just as it is, because you will make it special.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Take the Power Away from the Food

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, try to take the power away from the food. Discuss the concept of gratitude. Try implementing this into your daily practice with your child leading up to Thanksgiving Day. Talk about one thing each day that you are each grateful for. Consider writing these down and tying them around a “gratitude tree.” Traditions such as these will be comforting for your child, because they will allow him or her to celebrate the holiday in a manner that does not involve food.

Also, avoid situations in which people are talking about “stuffing themselves” or “being bad” on Thanksgiving. Carefully monitor media and social experiences to avoid as much of this talk as possible.

Avoid Stress at Other People’s Houses

If you are leaving your house for Thanksgiving, ask about the food that will be served in advance, so that you can work with your child on any meal planning that needs to take place.

Talk to the hosts about avoiding the diet (or anti-diet) chatter mentioned above. Encourage them to avoid the topic of eating disorders and weight gain or loss altogether. Ask them to focus on the spirit of the day instead – giving thanks! Explain that this illness and the experience that you child is struggling with is quite difficult to understand, but that you appreciate any and all empathy that they will demonstrate.


colleen Reichmann psyd

Colleen Reichmann, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of individuals with eating disorders and body image issues. She has worked at various inpatient eating disorder treatment facilities, and is the blog manager for Project HEAL. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and golden doodle and currently works at a group practice.