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Clearing Your Plate: Eating Disorders and the Holidays


Food is a big part of the holidays. There’s cookies and rich desserts and grandma’s famous turkey casserole. It can be overwhelming, especially if your teen has an eating disorder or is recovering from one.

Jen Freilino, licensed professional counselor with the Department of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at Arkansas Children’s gives some helpful advice for parents of teens who are battling eating disorders during the holidays. She also gives some warning signs to look for if you think your teen might have an eating disorder.

Our plates aren’t just full of food at this time of the year. Sometimes it can feel like there is more stress on our plate than food. Especially if you have an eating disorder. Or, if you’re concerned that your teen might have an eating disorder. So, what do you need to know in order to clear that plate?

First, eating disorders are psychological illnesses. This means that the person’s thoughts and feelings become consumed by rigid food rules despite logic, reason, or risk.

There are many warning signs to look out for as a parent. Look beyond your child’s weight and for significant changes in their eating, exercise, or bathroom habits. Pay extra attention to their emotions. Here are some additional signs to look for:

  • Are they avoiding (terrified of) particular foods?
  • Are they angry if they can’t exercise?
  • Are they making a lot of excuses about why they can’t eat?
  • Are large amounts of food go missing?
  • Do you notice a lot of secretive behavior around eating?

Listen to what they say. Do they put themselves down a lot? Do they constantly talk about food, being healthier, or feeling fat?

Perhaps you already know that your teen has an eating disorder. You might wonder how you can help your teen and still have a fun holiday. My best advice is get connected or stay in touch with your treatment team. Model good self-care and a healthy relationship with food. Plan ahead, anticipate, and problem-solve for challenges. Keep a regular schedule of eating, if possible. 

Be thoughtful about what you say and how you say it. Be with them for support, monitoring, and healthy distraction. Talk with your teen about their vision about where they want their heart and head to be during the holiday season.

The person with an eating disorder oftentimes does not recognize that there is a problem. That is why it’s important for you to be listening as a parent. If you suspect an eating disorder, please seek help from an experienced team of professionals- a doctor, dietitian, and therapist.

With the right support and treatment, you can help your teen refocus on the size of their heart, not their hips!

For referral to Arkansas Children’s eating disorder clinic, please call April Schrader at (501) 364-4460.

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