For most people, one of the best things about the holidays is the food. Platters of all flavors of Christmas cookies, pumpkin pie, turkey and stuffing, fudge and other candies combine their fragrances throughout the house and workplace almost continuously from Thanksgiving through the New Year.
But this season is one of the most grueling seasons of the year for those who struggle with an eating disorder. While the struggle is difficult enough during the regular year, the holiday season, with its push on sweets and large dinners at both work and home, literally stares them right in the face. It is this time of year that those with an eating disorder need the most support of all so that they don’t suffer from relapse or cause their disorder to get worse.
Holiday dinners, office parties, family dinners, and the pressure that you should be baking sugar cookies, all encourage us to eat as much sugar and other foods as possible. But this is the very reason that leads those with an eating disorder to actually become anti-social so they are not faced with the pressure and temptation of holiday foods. Two common eating disorders are bulimia, where a person binges on food and then purges it, and anorexia nervosa, where they hardly eat at all and even though they may be very lean, they still fear gaining weight.
For those struggling with an eating disorder, Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, recommends keeping a support team of therapists, doctors, family, and friends close during the holidays. Additionally, Dr. Craig Johnson, director of the eating disorders program at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic & Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, suggests that those with eating disorders follow their meal plans without taking any pressure from others to eat more. They know what foods they will probably encounter at gatherings and it helps to already have an idea of what or how much to eat.
Johnson cautions family members and friends to not force anyone to take more food. The fact that their plates may look lean is no affront to the food on the table and the cook should be respectful and understand that the person cannot eat as much as they would wish. Pressuring them about it only reminds them of that fact.
Also, some people may not have disclosed to their family that they have an eating disorder and pressure will only make it worse for them. If a person with an eating disorder has a set meal plan that helps them control their eating habits, others should respect and support that plan and not jeopardize all of the success for which they’ve worked so hard. A trusted family member or friend who knows the meal plan could be a lifesaver when extra support is needed.
Lynn Grefe, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, emphasizes that if it is known that a family member has an eating disorder, it’s not the time to talk about it over a meal or h’oerderves and not a time to monitor what they are eating. It is a time of celebration of family and friends. In order for them to feel comfortable enough to come home for the holidays, they need to feel comfortable and know they won’t be pressured or interrogated about their eating habits. With an atmosphere of sensitivity, respect, support, and love each person in attendance will be well-fed with happiness.