When holidays are more hungry than happy

Published by Gabi Lake on Nov 16, 2023

**TW: Eating disorders. Author has been in recovery for 15 years, and is speaking to her story as someone who has overcome it.

The holiday season is meant to be joyful, hopeful, filled with generosity and love. In particular, I’m sure one core association to the holidays is gathering around a bountiful table with your loved ones. It’s special and something most of us look forward to, maybe even spend months planning in advance.

As a recovering anorexic, I can tell you that this cherished mealtime tradition can bring on some less-than-joyful experiences. While eating disorders are separate from pediatric feeding disorders, there are areas of overlap – primarily that of the psychosocial domain. That is what I will speak to here.

I have a vivid memory of Thanksgiving 2008, when I was just fifteen. My mom spent the whole day (as one does) in the kitchen, making a beautifully roasted turkey, rolls, green bean casserole, all the fixings. And, mashed potatoes – a food that I labeled as “too fatty,” one that I simply would not allow myself to indulge in.

I sat with my family at the dinner table, having the small amount of foods that I deemed as “safe” on my plate. Everyone was talking, laughing, enjoying – except for me. I spent the entire meal – actually, the entire day, and the day before, and the day before that – thinking about the food. How I’d make it through this meal without unraveling. I was so consumed with anxiety around a meal that was supposed to be exactly the opposite. In this way, I completely understand what children with pediatric feeding disorder (PFD) go through.

family gathered around a table full of food

I share this to build up empathy and as a reminder to all that holiday mealtimes can be challenging. Here are some suggestions I have to help your loved one who struggles with eating to maybe make their holiday experience more joyful:

• Take pressure off the meal – Find/plan other ways for them to engage with the family without the food being the “main event”

• Allow for adaptations – For children with PFD, they may need to have alternative foods served to help them stay at the table

• Let them know they’re not alone – It can be easy to feel like you’re struggling in a way no one understands. You know your child best; find a way to connect with them and remind them on anxiety-filled days that you are there for them and see their struggle.

**These suggestions should not overrule the specifications of the child’s needs according to their doctors, nutritionists, professional supports.

May your holidays be happy, your bellies be full, and your hearts even fuller.