Heavy Plates, Heavier Minds

Eating Disorders and Body Image at the Dinner Table

A recent study by Smith S, Charach A, To T, Toulany A, et al. (2023), on the prevalence of eating disorders in Ontario, reported a staggering 139% increase in children and teens hospitalized with an eating disorder between 2002 and 2019. Another study by Agostino H, Burstein B, Moubayed D, et al. (2021) reported hospitalizations of children and adolescents, ages 9 to 18, with anorexia increased from 24.5 to 40.6 new cases per month. The Canadian National Eating Disorder Information Centre states that research suggests an estimated 840,000 to 1,750,000 people in Canada meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder.

These above statistics emphasize the universality of disordered eating, impacting individuals of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. This means that your support and understanding could be crucial, whether you are directly or indirectly affected.

As we approach the festive holiday season, marked by joyful gatherings and indulgent meals, it is essential to recognize that some individuals may find these moments challenging due to their struggles with disordered eating or body image concerns.

Wondering how you can extend your support during this time? Here are some positive steps:

1. Embrace Body Positivity: Instead of commenting on someone’s appearance, focus on celebrating the joy of being together. Avoid remarks about weight changes, as these may stem from various factors, including health conditions or personal journeys. For example, try saying “I’m so excited to see you, it’s been too long” instead of “You’ve lost weight since I last saw you.”

2. Respect Food Choices: Let people enjoy the feast according to their preferences without judgment. Whether someone takes an extra slice of cake or opts out of certain dishes, it is about respecting individual choices and creating a welcoming atmosphere. For example, refrain from comments like: “I see you’re treating yourself to seconds.

3. Neutralize Food Labels: Ditch the labelling of food as “good” or “bad.” This practice can inadvertently trigger feelings of guilt or shame around eating habits. Keeping the conversation neutral ensures a more positive and comfortable environment. For example, avoid saying “I never let myself eat dessert, it’s so bad for you” and say ““This dessert is delicious!”

4. Practice Self-Kindness: Lead by example and speak kindly about yourself. Avoid self-criticism or negative comments about your appearance. Your positive self-talk sets an encouraging tone for everyone around you. For example, focus on phrases like “I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished this year.”

These simple yet impactful steps can make a significant difference in creating a warm and inclusive atmosphere during the holidays. Remember, these actions can benefit everyone at the table, fostering comfort, joy, and a focus on the true essence of the season. Even if you’re unsure whether someone is facing challenges, these tips ensure a more supportive and cheerful environment for all.


Agostino H, Burstein B, Moubayed D, et al. Trends in the Incidence of New-Onset Anorexia Nervosa and Atypical Anorexia Nervosa Among Youth During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Canada. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(12):e2137395. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.37395

National Eating Disorder Information Centre. Eating Disorder Facts and Statistics. 2021. https://nedic.ca/media/uploaded/NEDIC _2021_ED_facts__stats.pdf

Smith S, Charach A, To T, Toulany A, Fung K, Saunders N. Pediatric Patients Hospitalized With Eating Disorders in Ontario, Canada, Over Time. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(12):e2346012.doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.46012

Rachel (she / her) is a Registered Psychotherapist in Ontario, offering online and in-person sessions in downtown Toronto. She primarily works with teens, young adults, and 2SLGBTQIA+ folx.

Learn more about Rachel at https://cwcp.ca/clinician/rachel-warner/