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Making It through the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

Making It through the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

The holidays can cause stress for just about anyone, as the rush to buy presents, travel to family gatherings and events, or prepare one’s home for visitors adds additional work to our already busy lives. For men and women with eating disorders, the holidays are particularly stressful, as many activities during this time of year center around food. The food-centered nature of the holidays, as well as the stress of socializing with family members or others may threaten the recovery of people in eating disorder treatment programs or exacerbate the symptoms of those who are not.

Holiday Cookies

Big Meals, Big Problems
During the holidays, food consumption spikes, as typical American families celebrate by having huge meals with their families and friends. Consider these statistics about holiday eating:

  • The U.S. Census Bureau states that the typical American consumes 16.1 lbs. of turkey each year. About a third of that consumption occurs between Thanksgiving and the New Year.
  • Americans ate 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving Day in 2012, according to CNN.
  • The average person eats about 4,500 calories during the annual Thanksgiving meal – that’s 3,500 from the meal and 1,000 from snacking.
  • Americans eat more than 7.3 billion shrimp during holiday parties, according to Delish.
  • Experts estimate that the average person gains one to 3.5 lbs. over the holidays, but that overweight people are likely to gain more.

The big emphasis on food and events revolving around food creates significant amounts of anxiety among men and women with eating disorders. Couple that with the advertising messages that begin during the holiday season – ads by the diet industry urging the public to resolve to lose weight and by gyms exhorting members to work off their holiday pounds – and it’s easy to see why the holiday season can pose such a challenge for people struggling with eating disorders.

Fat man measuring his stomach

On top of the food-related triggers, the holidays create anxiety among people with eating disorders because they often include interactions with family members and others that may be triggering. A difficult relationship with a parent or other significant person may cause people to engage in behaviors related to eating disorders, such as overeating or purging.

While the holidays are meant to be a time of joy and cheer, for people in eating disorder treatment programs they’re often a minefield. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. With the right coping techniques, triggers can be mitigated, allowing men and women with eating disorders to enjoy the holidays rather than dread them.

Strategies for the Holidays
To make the holidays less stressful, men and women with eating disorders need to be mindful of their surroundings and potential causes of stress. By maintaining a sense of awareness, they can avoid or mitigate potential triggers and catch themselves before sliding into behaviors associated with eating disorders. The following tips can help people suffering from eating disorders during the holiday season:

  • Identify the stressors that may cause negative behavior – Know which people and scenarios may cause you to engage in behaviors related to eating disorders. Decide what you will do to mitigate or avoid these potentially triggering people or situations.
  • • Keep the focus off the food – Reflect on the significance of the holidays and the opportunity these provide to enjoy the company of friends and loved ones. Don’t focus on meals or eating; instead, think of vacations, shopping, holiday activities, and non-food related aspects of the season.
    Vegetables and water distant from woman
  • Establish an accountability buddy – Designate a trusted person as the “buddy” you can check in with during the holidays. Talk with them regularly about your worries or anxieties, and also give them permission to speak up if they notice you falling into obsessive or addictive behaviors.
    Woman looking at smartphone while walking
  • Open a dialogue with your family – Be frank and honest with them about your issues regarding food, and solicit their support. If your family is unable or unwilling to be supportive, this is still helpful, as this at least lets them know where you stand. Also, don’t be afraid to avoid gatherings or people who will threaten your recovery, even if they are family.
  • Establish a support network – Develop a group of friends and/or family members who understand where you are at and what you are going through. The support of others can be crucial to getting through the holidays.
  • Avoid overbooking – Don’t stress yourself out by trying to make every gathering or event. Decide early on what activities you will participate in, and avoid events or gatherings that might threaten your recovery. Don’t become a recluse, but do take care of your health first and foremost.
  • Encourage healthy meals – Take control of your menu. Eat a healthy meal during the holidays that provides the nutritional content you need, even if it involves avoiding traditional holiday fare.
  • Stick to your recovery plan – Discuss the holidays with your eating disorder treatment specialists and come up with a plan. Be firm on what you will and will not do during the holidays, and make a game plan for potentially stressful scenarios and how you will deal with them.

Eating Disorder Facts
Eating disorders affect a large number of men and women in the U.S., and their destructive potential cannot be overstated. These disorders are very real and have concrete consequences for the health, careers, and relationships of men and women who suffer from them. They are not a lifestyle choice or “just a phase.” They are serious and potentially life-threatening – eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness – and require professional intervention by compulsive eating disorder treatment and other treatment professionals.

More than 30 million people in the U.S. will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Organization. The most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or other specified eating disorder (OSFED). The vast majority of eating disorder sufferers are women, but a significant number of men also suffer from these disorders.

One of the best-known contributors to eating disorders is body dissatisfaction and the undue pressure our society places on women with regard to body issues makes this fact no surprise. By the age of six, many young girls already express concerns about their body shape or how much they weigh. As they grow older, this pressure only intensifies and, as a result, many develop eating disorders.

Little girl eating apples

Consider these statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association regarding pressures related to dieting and body image:

  • More than 40 percent of girls in the first through third grades want to be thinner.
  • About a quarter of elementary school girls are already dieting.
  • More than half of teenage girls and a third of teenage boys engage in unhealthy behaviors to control their weight, including fasting, smoking cigarettes, taking laxatives, and skipping meals.
  • More than 80 percent of 10-year-olds express a fear of being fat.
  • The average American woman is 5’4” and weighs around 165 lbs. The average Miss America winner is 5’7” and weighs about 121 lbs.

Because of societal pressure to be thin, it is little wonder that young people in America, particularly girls, are developing eating disorders at increasing rates. Overcoming an eating disorder developed over many years requires time, effort, and the help of qualified professionals trained in counseling men and women with bulimia, anorexia, and other food-related disorders.

Crouched Woman

Rebecca’s House offers caring and compassionate eating disorder treatment for Los Angeles and surrounding area residents. Rebecca’s House takes a holistic approach to the treatment of eating disorders, seeking to heal the mind, body, and spirit. Treatment modalities are tailored to suit individual clients, and programs offered include residential care, partial day treatment, intensive outpatient, and transitional recovery living programs. Rebecca’s House staff members are highly trained and qualified, and some have personal experience in recovering from eating disorders.

For compulsive eating treatment and other eating disorder treatment that really works, investigate the services offered by Rebecca’s House and reach out to a treatment center representative who can fill you in on the programs offered there.