Eating Disorders During the Holidays

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We’re tackling a tough issue – eating disorders during the holidays. No matter what time of year, if you suffer from or are recovering from an eating disorder, meals are a challenge. But during the holidays, when decadent food is everywhere you look – at parties, family gatherings, the office – dealing with your issues can be extremely difficult.

Eating disorders can make holiday meals extra problematic or a time of apprehension, even making symptoms worse. You can read more about the different eating disorders that exist and their symptoms here.

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What is Triggering about Eating Disorders During the Holidays?

Stressful situations like meals during the holidays can be strong triggers for those with eating disorders. In fact, research shows that the brains of people with bulimia respond differently to food when experiencing stress. This indicates that people with bulimia may eat to dodge negative feelings. Especially in anxiety-provoking situations like holiday meals or parties.

The very essence of holiday meals seems to increase the probability of holiday binging. It’s a given that many of us spend days leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas getting enthusiastic or fretting about overeating. But while overindulging during the holidays may be a annual guilty pleasure for some, for those with eating disorders the stress of either staying away or giving in to this culinary ritual may cause more severe behavior.

It should also be noted that those with eating disorders (like bulimia, anorexia nervosa, etc.) also have increased anxiety leading up to the holiday festivities because they don’t know how they are going to be able to “hide” their disordered behaviors.

What are some coping strategies?

The good news is that there are some ways to get ahead of this problem. Our therapists at Waters Edge Counseling have some tips to help.

Refrain from Fasting Before a Holiday Meal or Party

Many people – those with or without eating disorders – avoid eating regularly leading up to a gathering during the holidays. But this strategy is actually counterproductive. Eating regularly leading up to an event or family gathering, will go a long way in keeping you from overeating. Depriving yourself of food could make resisting overindulging extremely difficult.

Plan Your Plate Ahead of Time

Choose to eat a balanced meal. For those with eating disorders, it can be helpful to think about the meal ahead of time. Since families often follow a similar menu each year, it’s usually not hard to guess what will be served. From there, make a plan of what you will have. Map it out.

Doing this will also decrease anxiety because it gives you a level of control. Planning ahead for how you will handle the meal, holiday spread, etc. will help calm your fears of overdoing it.

Stay Away from the “All or Nothing” Thought Process

Many who suffer from eating disorders also suffer from a lot of negative self-talk. They see their relationship with food as “being good” or “being bad.” Try to avoid this – challenge your inner voice. The holidays are not an excuse to overeat, but then again, it’s not the end of the world if you do.

Be kind to yourself. It’s ok to have a little extra of something you truly love and practice moderation with the other dishes.

Take a Look Around Before Making Your Plate

Especially in a buffet situation, it is wise to cruise the line and see what’s being served. That way you can plan what you will or won’t be choosing and not be in a panicked state of mind and feel “on the spot” in line.

A good rule of thumb is to choose one protein, one starch and maybe two vegetables. This method – instead of going back several times to try everything being offered – will help keep you feeling in control and at peace with your choices.

Pace Yourself

Be intentional with the way you eat your meal. Every few bites, put down your fork and really just enjoy your surroundings. When you’re eating really good food, it is easy to overdo it. Taking some time to enjoy each bite and pace yourself will make you feel full more quickly and help you avoid overeating.

Enjoy the Meal or Gathering

It is the holidays, after all. You are allowed to have a meal a little larger than what you’re used to. It is perfectly fine to have some foods that you otherwise wouldn’t eat. Be gentle with yourself, and use these tips to give you some control and lessen your anxiety.

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If You Need More Support

We have therapists at Waters Edge Counseling who are trained in working with clients who have eating disorders. If you or a loved one are suffering, please give us a call at 912.319.5552 or email us. Waters Edge would love to help you overcome your disordered eating and lend support along the way. We are here to help.