Prioritizing Recovery during the HolidaysWhen a young adult with an eating disorder heads off to college in August for their freshman year, many parents hope that this new environment will provide a degree of change that will allow their child to step away from their eating issues. But when their loved one returns home for the holiday season, they are often shocked to see that their child isn’t doing as well as they’d hoped, and in many cases is doing much worse. Parents have the best intentions for their children, and invest a lot of time and expense into helping them pursue higher education. They love their children, and want to see them succeed. But what often happens, is that the increase in stress that comes along with the new environment often escalates eating disorder behaviors, and provide plenty of unsupervised time to exacerbate eating disorder symptoms. Thanksgiving homecomings for those suffering with eating disorders often bring with them the painful realization that environmental changes just don’t fix the problem or help in the way the families had hoped. Eating disorder behaviors attempt to provide a coping mechanism and a way to relieve stress, and unless treated the eating disorder behaviors head off to college along with the student. Many parents and young adults finally begin to recognize the need to look at the underlying reasons behind the eating disorder. Relapses mean that parents have to make the difficult decision to prioritize the need for treatment. Depending on the severity of the changes seen when their child returns home for Thanksgiving, it may mean that treatment needs to begin immediately. This prioritization can be a hard one, because families want to be together during the many holidays that come at this time of year or feel the need to encourage the young adult to try harder or hang in there. For someone suffering with out of control behaviors this becomes nearly impossible. For parents struggling with the decision to prioritize treatment, here are some important things to consider:
- By showing your child that getting treatment is more important than academics, parents prove to their child that nothing is more important than getting help for their health.
- If treatment is delayed “just until the holidays are over”, then the message being sent to the child is “well, if it could wait for a while, then maybe I really don’t need treatment that badly.”
- Be accepting and supportive of the fact that the holidays without them will be different this year, but time together will be more rewarding and enjoyable without the presence of eating disorder.