Health

Holiday Stress Can Trigger Eating Disorders

The holidays can be a challenging time of year for many people.

Some get stressed out because of hosting duties, while some are anxious because of the time with family or being around a lot of people.

Others may have a really hard time being around so much food or alcohol since both of those tend to be cultural aspects of the holiday season.

It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about how uncomfortable they feel after Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, leading to negative discussions about weight and size.

While that may not seem like a big deal to most people, it can be extremely difficult for someone in recovery from an eating disorder, said Emily Locke, a college student, writer and dancer.

“In previous years, I honestly dreaded the holidays because of the importance placed upon food. I used to love the magical feeling of the holiday season when I was a kid, but it was a very different experience with my eating disorder,” Locke wrote in a blog for the National Eating Disorders Association, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing eating disorders, providing treatment referrals, and increasing the education and understanding of eating disorders.

“The amount of food stressed me out, and there were many times when I would have strong bingeing urges or even panic attacks,” Locke said. “Last year was my first holiday season feeling truly stable in my recovery from binge eating disorder, and that allowed me to genuinely enjoy the holidays once again. I intuitively ate the delicious food that my family and I had prepared.

“Instead of feeling guilty at the end of the day, I felt satisfied and grateful for the time I got to spend with some of my favorite people,” she said.

Eating disorders affect individuals of all races and ethnic groups, according to the Chicago-based National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. (ANAD).

At least 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder and at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder every 62 minutes, according to ANAD officials.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and 13 percent of women over 50 engage in eating disorder behaviors, statistics from the organization show.

In a large national study of college students, 3.5 percent of sexual minority women and 2.1 percent of sexual minority men reported having an eating disorder while 16 percent of transgender students reported having an eating disorder.

Also, in a study following active duty military personnel over time, 5.5 percent of women and 4 percent of men had an eating disorder at the beginning of the study, and within just a few years of continued service, 3.3 percent more women and 2.6 percent more men developed an eating disorder.

Kerry Fannon, a registered dietitian and founder of Namaste Nourished, LLC, posted 10 tips and strategies to thrive through the holiday season on the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness website.

Among them, Fannon said individuals should develop SMART goals — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Further, they should set intentions for meals because anxiety can mask physiological hunger and/or fullness.

“Despite any disordered eating, you know that consistency will keep you on the journey toward recovery,” Fannon said.

Individuals should also practice being flexible with their thoughts and eating patterns, she said.

“Holidays often involve seeing family and friends. Practice flexibility with your plans and other people’s decisions,” Fannon said. “Be sure to discuss flexible eating with your dietitian and how to manage any anxiety around this idea.”

Other tips and strategies include using opposition action to the often repetitive traditions during the holidays; planning events and finding a balance with a treatment team on what events are manageable and those that may not be manageable; planning self-care; making a New Year’s Resolution; practice reaching out because a support system is crucial to recovery; taking a look back to keep moving forward; and to think about what holidays are truly about.

“The holidays can be a really challenging time of year and having your eating disorder’s constant presence can make the season even more difficult,” Locke said. “If you choose to celebrate, then you deserve to feel as though you can genuinely enjoy them.

“This season, try to remind yourself that there is more to the holidays than food,” she said. “You’re eating disorder doesn’t deserve to take control of yet another part of your life.”

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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