National Eating Disorders Association

The Ghost of ED… Past, Present and Future

The Hemendinger Family


For a holiday that surrounds itself around a feast, it can get pretty overwhelming. But I know that I can get up, take a breather, call my therapist or dietician and leave a message, or do some other skill that I’ve learned during my journey towards recovery.  This year will be one of the first holiday seasons in a long time where I - Ashtyn- am at the table, around the Christmas tree, singing at Church…and not my eating disorder. There will be no compensating and “saving up” for the feast; there will be no forced eating.

Instead, there will be time spent with family, decorating, and recovering from my law school finals. Sure, there will likely be some challenging thoughts and feelings during the course of the holiday season -  I don’t expect those to go away any time soon.   But I am taking it one step at a time and using the tools I have learned in treatment to deal with anything that comes up. Plus, I know I have a great support system around me. The battle isn’t over, but I’ve made it to the other side.


My first holiday season with my eating disorder was one filled with anxiety and dread. To get through each family meal and celebration, I needed to have a coaching session with my therapist (bless her heart!). She helped me see that it was important that I didn’t skip meals in order to “save up” for the celebration meal. Eating throughout the day, made the holidays just like any other day, thus making the holidays more enjoyable. Also knowing that I had my family’s support and unconditional love definitely helped me through the difficult holiday season.  Several holiday seasons were spent in treatment facilities, but served as motivation for me. I realized that the holiday season only happens once a year and I did not want to spend such a loving, joyous time in a hospital. Now, 7 years in recovery, I don’t dread the holidays, I look forward to them. "Now pass the mashed potatoes?" 


When Emily and Ashtyn were first diagnosed with eating disorders (ED), any meal time was stress inducing. In fact, even grocery shopping seemed to trigger a stress response for all of us. Thanksgiving, a holiday that centers on food was certainly even more of a challenge. Not only was the food issue an overriding stress, but sharing a meal with other family members who didn’t understand the intricacies of eating disorders was difficult to navigate.  Early on, it seemed for Thanksgiving and Christmas more time was spent on trying to figure how to work around our daughters’ eating disorders.  There were several years in a row in which Christmas had to be celebrated at treatment facilities.  The most heartbreaking Christmas was one where we had to bring our daughter back to the treatment facility Christmas evening.   I remember much crying and heartbreak because we couldn’t just be together and reminisce about Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  As we have cycled through years of recovery and relapse, ED has lost its hold on our daughters and slowly has been extinguished from our lives.   After nine years of treatment and therapy, our family has reclaimed the warmth and closeness of our Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions.   


This coming Holiday Season will be especially wonderful for me as a father.  It will mark the first time, in a long time, that I will have my family intact since our battle with ED.  Intact, in our home, decorating, sharing, and just enjoying each other, as well as, all the things associated with a family holiday tradition.   Since the departure of ED, gone are the holidays spent in treatment centers and hotel rooms in different cities and the abrupt endings to holidays cut short to race back to treatment by curfew.   Gone are the tears on that lonely drive home, knowing that I was returning to an empty home on a holiday night and my daughters were in treatment.

Holidays are about being thankful and spending time with your loved ones, ED has stolen much of them from me, however, this year I can honestly say that I am looking forward to rekindling those precious moments associated with holidays and charting new courses as we embark on a life free from ED.  

ED will not have a place set at our table for this holiday season...AND AMEN TO THAT!


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