As I begin to bring in the holidays by making the ever so time-consuming, yet delicious latkes, as a caregiver, I can’t help but think about how difficult tonight is going to be for OJ. The making and sharing of latkes is symbolic for me. It reminds me of my grandma who passed away this past summer and of our rich family values. When my family and I were sitting shiva (a mourning period observed by Jewish people), the Rabbi asked our family and friends to share a memory of my grandma. Each memory that was recalled by close relatives and friends was about food, love, and joy.
As a caregiver, I know that these words, “love” and “joy”, are typically not associated with food for those who are struggling with an eating disorder. Yet, as a caregiver, especially a caregiver who is a dietitian and loves food and exploring what’s behind food, well this is heartbreaking. I crave nothing more but to try to cultivate this love, joy, and connection to food in OJ. I want to strip away her fear of food and show her the real meaning of food.
My grandma passed our family values down to us through food. It was her way of showing us her love and willingness to always give to others. Her door was always open and at a moments notice there would be a full course meal in front of us. She was a giver and in turn, I became a giver.
We give through food in my family. We show our love for each other through food. This past year, I haven’t been able to give that to OJ and it has been so incredibly difficult. One of the concepts that I’ve been exploring as a carer is caregiver trauma.
I’m really feeling this today as I take time to reflect on this past year and the moments when OJ refused meals from me. When OJ was first hospitalized last September her eating disorder hadn’t reared its ugly head, yet. I used to bring her some of her favorite comfort meals when I visited her in the hospital. Meals that are now her fear foods. Overtime as her eating disorder took control, she started to turn these meals down. This left me feeling a complete lack of control. How was I supposed to show her how much she meant to me and how much I love her if I couldn’t feed her?
Fortunately, I did find other ways to show her how much I cared. Although today, I will still be wondering if she will eat one of my latkes, I know that there are other ways that I can show my love, including through some good ol’ humor:
As a caregiver, I know that I am not alone especially during the holiday season in which families and friends gather together to show their love for one another through food. This is inevitably difficult for both the person in recovery and the caregiver especially as unfortunately here in America the holiday season is followed by “diet season”. I know that as a caregiver, I’ll try to protect OJ from all this negativity, feelings of shame, and normalization of disordered eating patterns, although, I also am trying to trust that she will be ready for it.
Fortunately, I have seen a multitude of articles relaying advice and tips for those in recovery to get through the holidays. I am grateful for this, but let us not forget those who are also preparing and taking steps to support those in recovery during these difficult times. For all the other caregivers out there, I’d like to offer this:
1. What do the holidays mean for you and your family? How can you express these values and tradition with something other than food?
2. Do what you need to do to help set-up your loved one for success during the holiday season and let them know that you’re there if they need to be pulled out of a situation or talk or whatever it may be. Then, take a moment to set yourself up for success. What steps can you take if things start getting difficult for you?
3. Cultivate gratitude. Our brains are hard-wired to focus on the negative and it’s all too easy when reflecting on this year to perhaps think of how incredibly challenging it has been. But, we made it. We survived. This year I’m grateful for my grandma. I’m grateful that she taught us intuitive eating before it was in vogue, which in turn helped me build a healthy relationship to food. One of our family favorites is,
“You don’t have to be hungry to eat”
While intuitive eating teaches you to get back in touch with your innate ability to listen to your bodies internal hunger and fullness cues, it also teaches you to give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods when you want. My grandma taught us intuitive eating before there was even a name for it through messages such as this one. There are times when you eat when you aren’t hungry and that’s okay. You may eat to show your gratitude towards someone who prepared the food and that’s okay. You may eat because those damn latkes smell so good and that’s okay. You may eat because it’s a time to celebrate and that’s okay. Whatever the reason is, you don’t have to be hungry to eat and that’s okay.
in love and support,
feature image via Spang Creative