Eating Disorders and Holidays

Overcoming the Holiday Family Myth

As the holidays come hurtling towards us, visions of sugarplums begin dancing in our heads. We all know what we are supposed to be feeling this time of year. In fact, Norman Rockwell’s “Saturday Evening Post” holiday illustrations describe the family scene: a loving and gracious grandmother providing her family with a meal that promises to meet their needs; a supportive grandfather, the stalwart head of the family, who patiently waits to carve the turkey; and a cheerful family gathering around the table eagerly awaiting the delivery. This scene is forever frozen in time and stamped on the desires of our hearts.

Our holiday expectations are fueled by these kinds of images and commercial advertising. You know the ones: Mom awakens from a restful sleep to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. She ventures into the kitchen to find her military son who has come home for the holidays. The two celebrate that special moment together with coffee. These images can trigger our deepest desires for love and connection.


Would it surprise you to know that even Norman Rockwell never experienced these special moments depicted in his illustrations? In fact, his experience of life was quite the opposite. Thus, his artwork reflects what he wished the reality of his life was – the family myth.

This illusionary myth sometimes catches us by surprise. We are vulnerable and tempted by its promises of fulfillment to meet untold wishes. In sharp contrast, the holidays are sometimes stressful, chaotic, expensive, and may be anything but cheerful.

Our wishes are so often centered on a family holiday myth of comfort and joy. If that doesn’t happen, people can become depressed, anxious, and begin anesthetizing themselves with any number of seasonally approved, as well as unaccepted, practices.

Food is everywhere, not to mention lots of that liquid cheer. Our culture expects us to be able to eat during the season, and to enjoy, even relish the vast quantities of holiday food while “drinking responsibly”.

Remember that the holidays are just temporary, and the family myth will not magically satiate your deepest hungers, nor quench your emotional thirsts. It can, and will, respond to realistic expectations that you place on it.

My wish for you this holiday is that you challenge this family myth and its mirage of promises, and keep in mind that YOU are the best person to meet your own needs. You can have a joyful and wonderful holiday season by understanding that it is your choice to experience this time in a way that is comfortable and fulfilling for you, and choosing to be joyful and thankful for the blessings in your life.

Happy Holidays!

Holly A. Finlay

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