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How to Survive the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

How to Survive the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

For most people, the holiday season is a wonderful time of year. It is often a time of family reunion, socializing, and celebration – a time when families, friends, and coworkers come together to share goodwill and good food. Yet, for those who struggle with eating disorders, this is often the worst time of the year. For those who are trapped in the private hell of an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, the holidays often magnify their personal struggles, causing them great internal pain and turmoil.

For those with an eating disorder, the sheer prevalence of food during the holiday season makes it very difficult to cope with and there is little merry about Christmas. Turn on the television and you’re greeted by an advertisement for sumptuous Christmas fare; go to the supermarket and you’re bombarded by brightly-packaged goodies; go to a family gathering and you’re offered food, food and more food.

An alcoholic can avoid situations in which people drink. A compulsive gambler can avoid betting shops. A person with an eating disorder can’t, however, avoid eating and food – and therefore Christmas, with its focus on feasting, is often an extremely difficult time of the year invoking overwhelming feelings of panic, anxiety, fear, and even revulsion.

In addition to food excess, the holiday season is also characterized by an increase in media advertisements promoting weight loss and other appearance-related motivations for entering the New Year with a newly toned body, which can worsen an eating disorder’s desire to restrict food intake or to purge.

For many, there may be an added social pressure and fear of being expected to eat with relatives or friends who don’t know about their struggles with food, eating or body image issues and who may threaten to expose or criticize it unwittingly. The distress and anxiety provoked by this can be so severe that it causes tears, panic attacks, angry outbursts or total avoidance, which can lead to arguments and an atmosphere of tension.

So a time to be merry, Christmas is sadly often not, for those with eating disorders and their loved ones. What can we do to help support and manage an eating disorder during Christmas so it is less stressful and more joyous?