We're going to spend several days with my extended family during the holidays. At various points, most of N's aunts, uncles and cousins will be there. It will be interesting to take care of N's caloric needs while not drawing attention to him. Each of my siblings is aware of the anorexia. We've asked them to pray and fast for N -- but to not share anything with their children. My family rarely talks about diets, weight or calories. But these subjects have come up before. So, I felt like I needed to send some dos and don'ts to help them think about some of these things beforehand. This is the message that I sent:
Since we're all going to be together for some of the holidays, I wanted to ask for your help with N. He listens to everyone really carefully and is very affected by the things you say. So if you don't mind, I'm going to just give you a do/don't list.
Give honest praise.
Talk to him.
Ask about playing the guitar, playstation, school, scouts or other things he is interested in.
Offer him food (if you're offering it to everyone). It's okay if he says, "no."
Say, "it's great to see you."
Gracefully change the subject if weight, calories, etc. come up.
Change the channel if these topics come up in a tv show.
Hide the scale (is that okay, Mom?).
Talk about diets, weight, or sizes.
Push him to eat (we'll do that).
Give him lectures.
Give him too many decisions to make.
Say, "you look great" or "you're too skinny." It just reinforces the anorexia.
Talk about calories, fat content, trans fats or other such things.
Talk about healthy foods, good/bad foods or exercise. It's okay for you to exercise -- just don't talk about it.
Let him search for "anorexia" or "calories" on the computer. I don't expect you to enforce this -- I'll do it. But if you see it happening, please let me know privately.
Be offended if I kick you under the table for any of the above "don'ts."
We'll have some extra foods there for N (muffins, poptarts, carnation instant breakfast, whole milk, etc.). I'll bring some to share with you and your kids (I don't want to make a scene with the other kids not getting to have some). Just be aware that those foods are there to help us get N enough calories each day. I'll try to label them so you know.
Did I forget anything? I don't want to demand that anyone change their behavior. I do however, want them to think about these things.
I know I can't control all of N's environments and protect him from these comments and topics either. In fact, many people have commented to N about how he has lost a lot of weight and how good he looks. And of course, I cringe inside when this happens. I also realize that negative body messages are everywhere including on tv, on the computer, and in daily conversations around us. I obviously can't send this message to everyone (although I wish I could). But N is close to his extended family -- and what they say, think and do has added weight.