Handling Eating Disorders During the Holiday Season

“Eating disorders over the holidays are a living hell for me because I am constantly hiding and afraid, confused about life and hate every time that I am around food. So many people were staring and glancing at me, and I was bombarded with comments for days. My entire existence was in shambles. I was in so much anguish and guilt that I had no choice but to turn to my eating habit for comfort. The stress of having to eat and the fear of offending others were the worst parts of the experience”

The holiday season is a lovely time of year—  Festivities and socializing are typical at this time of year – as families and friends gather for food and fun. The season is meant to be a time of joy, happiness, and love. Nonetheless, the holidays may be a stressful time for many people with eating disorders. People who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder may find that the Holidays exacerbate their symptoms, which can lead to even greater psychological anguish and suffering. Possibly owing to the stress of the upcoming festivities and/or the prospect of the availability of tough (typically high calorie) foods in the weeks ahead.

Why are holidays such triggers?

Anxiety-inducing events such as holiday feasts have been found to be powerful triggers for people with eating problems. There’s evidence to support this theory, as research reveals that women with bulimia’s brains respond differently to eating when they’re under pressure than those who don’t suffer from the disorder. As a matter of fact, the design of holiday gatherings tends to raise the risk of holiday binging. People spend days running up to Thanksgiving either excited or worried about overeating at the Thanksgiving Day dinner. People with eating disorders are more likely to overindulge on Thanksgiving because the stress of either refraining or giving in to this delightfully gluttonous celebration may trigger more disordered eating for them. Anxiety surrounds holidays, especially since people suffering from eating disorders find it hard to conceal their challenging behaviors.   

“With my bulimia, Christmas is the most difficult time of year. Love and joy were all around, but they weren’t there for me, so I turned to food as a substitute. Before I made my way to the bathroom, I found it difficult to watch everyone in such good spirits. Because I felt unworthy of happiness, I was unable to enjoy it. Love and happiness were not mine to receive…”

You can get through it– When it comes to self-care, the holiday season is a great time to remember that. You need to figure out what is most likely to keep you grounded and unaffected. Taking care of oneself takes on various forms for various people. Allow yourself the freedom to do whatever it is that you need and whenever it is that you need to. Also, self-care is about being kind and forgiving to oneself. Allow yourself grace, avoid negative self-talk, prioritize connection with others or re-explore things you enjoyed prior to developing an eating disorder. What matters most is that you have a trusted friend or family member to turn to when things get tough.

How can loved ones offer support?

Avoid discussing diets, food, or weight in conversation. During Thanksgiving, it’s easy to casually comment on how “full” one is or how one will require a post-dinner workout. For someone who suffers from an eating issue, these kinds of remarks can be quite upsetting. Not only should you refrain from criticizing their appearance (even if it’s complimentary), but you should also refrain from urging them to consume more food. Again, these actions can be detrimental rather than beneficial. Set aside time for non-food-related activities. Going out to see the Christmas lights, playing board games, and watching movies can all be done without regard for food. 

Become familiar with the person’s specific disorder—the causes, the difficulties, and the coping mechanisms. You’ll be able to better understand their actions if you learn more about them.   Remind them of your love and affection. There are many ways you may show your support, from hugs and warm words to more subtle gestures such as making sure they’re part of the conversation and activities they’re a part of. The most important thing to remember is that you can only modify your own behavior, not theirs. You may help someone by supporting them in their journey, even if it means allowing them to make mistakes or face obstacles. By just being as thoughtful, empathetic, and observant as possible, you can assist them at every step.

References

Collins B, Breithaupt L, McDowell JE, Miller LS, Thompson J, Fischer S. The impact of acute stress on the neural processing of food cues in bulimia nervosa: Replication in two samplesJournal of Abnormal Psychology. 2017;126(5):540-551. doi:10.1037/abn0000242

Managing Holiday Meals When You Have an Eating Disorder. (2021, January 5). Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/managing-holiday-meals-without-eating-to-excess-1138294.

Eating Disorders And Holidays – Mirror-Mirror. (2020, June 11). Mirror-Mirror. https://mirror-mirror.org/recovery/eating-disorders-and-holidays.

Christianson, D. (2019, October 18). 5 Tips for Coping With an Eating Disorder During the Holidays. Center For Discovery. https://centerfordiscovery.com/blog/tips-eating-disorder-during-the-holidays/.

How To Support Someone With an Eating Disorder During the Holidays | ResponseCenter. (n.d.). How to Support Someone with an Eating Disorder During the Holidays | ResponseCenter. https://www.jcfs.org/response/blog/how-support-someone-eating-disorder-during-holidays.

Coping With A Loved Ones’ Eating Disorder During the Holidays. (2006, October 18). Center for Change. https://centerforchange.com/coping-loved-ones-eating-disorder-holidays/.

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3 thoughts on “Handling Eating Disorders During the Holiday Season”

  1. I went to visit my grandparents today, and they had forgotten everything that my family tried to teach them about helping to support someone who has an eating disorder. My grandma was talking about how organic food is healthier for you; she said “Ew” about a food that my grandpa likes; my grandpa called a squirrel that he could see out the window “fat;” and, my uncle went on about his special diet which excludes eggs. My grandpa asked me what I had for breakfast and I was too frightened to tell him that I ate cake (as I often do) because they might tell me that I don’t eat healthily.

    Liked by 1 person

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