Monday, November 21, 2011

Welcome to the Mean Season

Norman Rockwell
As I have mentioned before, our family therapist coined the phrase "mean season" in reference to the holidays for those who suffer from an eating disorder.  Welcome to the Mean Season.

As we all finalize our plans and menus for the Thanksgiving holiday, we officially enter into a month and a half roughly of what is often a sheer nightmare for some of us.  So, this post is for the friends and families of the men and women struggling with an eating disorder.  Understand that I write it from a position of complete empathy, love for the people who try and support an individual with ED, and respect for the hard choices we face ourselves during this time of the year.  But, I saw a Facebook post from another mother yesterday that bothered me to the point where I really felt that I had to address this.  Because we can make this minefield better for our loved ones, or we can make it far worse.  And if you ever doubt what the consequences of your choices are, just think of Kelsey and the others like her who are not with us this holiday.  Then take a look at your loved one and imagine life without them.  Ready now to hear me out?  Okay, let's go...

First of all, read this article for some quick pointers on helping your loved ones through the holiday.  Simple advice, but, trust me, I've seen the fallout of not following these simple, straightforward tips.  Secondly, make the rest of the family members read it too.  As I've written about before, there is a tightrope many of us have to walk:  countering the needs of our suffering children with the demands and expectations of the rest of our family.  And, when you have an older individual involved - like, say, a grandmother who grew up in the Depression and thinks that having a table laden with high caloric food is a status symbol of conquering that time - it can be hard to make them understand.  But, it's important to try.  I would say that if you have someone who cannot behave themselves and not say things like, "You need to eat more, you're skin and bones," that you need to just have them stay away from your table, but how can you tell your elderly mother or father they are not welcome?  I get that conundrum.  So, have the conversation ahead of time about the delicacy of the situation.

Have foods available that are not as threatening.  I have some specialty dishes that were traditions for us at Thanksgiving, but even the vegetables were heavy.  For example, I make a corn dish that is almost like a souffle with heavy cream.  It's good, but it's threatening to someone with ED.  Kelsey specifically had to ask me at one point to also have some simple, healthy vegetables without any additions to them available.  Don't make your loved one ask.

Talk to your loved one in advance so they know you're aware of their anxiety and listen to what they have to say about what would make it easier for them.  Help them with some references they can use.  The Something Fishy site has a whole list of related articles.

Remember what a therapist once said to me:  it's not about you.  You're a parent first and foremost.  Most of you would tell me you would die for your child.  It doesn't need to be that extreme, but it does sometimes mean setting aside your own ego and vanity to help your child through this disease.  What caught my attention was a post from a mother about her own diet of 500 calories a day.  I know she loves her daughter desperately, but wow, what a message to send to her!  Not to mention which I cannot imagine that a diet that extreme is healthy for that mother.   The research on restricting calories to that level was controversial to say the least.  I found a lot of posts and articles on both sides of the fence while looking for a definitive response on what caloric intake someone of average height and weight needs to remain healthy.  But, just speaking as an untrained individual, I am concerned that level of restricting is not healthy, and I hope the individual consults a nutritionist to find a better way to achieve her goals.  Obsessing over one's own weight and body image is so hard not to do - we're all subject to the same social stigmas our children are after all - but we have to remember that we are the biggest influences on our children, for better or for worse.  They watch what we do and how we are way more than they listen to the words we say to them about their own bodies.  How can someone tell their child not to worry about body image when they are participating in the same destructive behavior? Don't fail to take care of yourself in the process of helping your loved one, but be mindful of how you are going about it.  Maybe for now don't worry about getting into that slinky holiday party dress.  Eat healthy, exercise and accept yourself as a beautiful woman just as you are.  If you need to lose weight for health reasons, go about it the right way.  Not just for your loved one, but for yourself as well.

Finally, let's all remember what this holiday should really be about:  family.  Oh, and football.  Not food.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, may it be Beast free.

1 comment:

  1. I really love reading this. It would have made holidays so much easier if everyone could do it.