How to survive the holidays with an eating disorder Print

MyndCare-logoSince we see many clients struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders at our practice, we know that the holidays can be an especially difficult time of year. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder read this article by Registered Psychologist Adele Fox that offers some practical tips to help you survive and thrive this holiday season:

Surviving the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

There is Little Merry about Christmas for those with Eating Disorders

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 suffer 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?

Here are a few tips we hope will help you survive and thrive during this holiday season:

For the person struggling with an eating disorder:

  1. Be Proactive! The holiday is not a time to challenge yourself, it’s a time to embrace as much joy as possible by setting your environment up for success. Plan out approximately when you will eat meals and snacks, what they will be, and who will be present as it will enable you to anticipate and have as predictable and safe an experience as possible.
  2. Prioritize. The holidays can be a whirlwind of parties, gift exchanges, and visiting family members and friends. This frenzy of activity can add stress and compound what is already difficult. Cut down on events and obligations, say no, and give yourself time to relax and recharge.
  3. Have an exit strategy so that if you become overwhelmed, you can make a brief or extended escape. Tell people you can’t stay long as you have (blank) to do or someone waiting for you, or ask a trusting friend to call you at a certain time so you can use them as a reason to step away. Try to avoid putting yourself in situations where you have no control over being able to take care of yourself.
  4. Eat regularly. Do not starve yourself in anticipation of Christmas dinner or an event. This can lead to an increase of symptoms and stress. Eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks a day will enable you to manage your urges and allow your body the fuel it needs to manage the day.
  5. If having to eat at a buffet or family style (food in serving dishes on the table) take a time out. When you sit down at a family style meal, take a look at the food (if you are unable to find out ahead of time what is being served) and then excuse yourself for a bathroom break in order to breathe, and visualize what you will put on your plate. Similarly at a buffet, do a walk about of the food table, and then step back and make your decision before serving up. Remember that even though there are numerous food items to choose from during celebrations, you don’t have to choose them all.
  6. Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol can cause you to be disinhibited and lead to binging/purging behaviors and difficulties with managing your emotions. As well, you may find yourself being reluctant to eat because you believe you’ve drank your calories for the day.
  7. If attending a house function take one or two food items that are safe for you so that worst case scenario, you will be able to eat something. Another option is to arrive at a function after the meal and enjoy the after dinner events.
  8. Take time to look around and acknowledge the things around you that can put a smile on your face. A loved one’s off tune singing voice, your friend’s crazy holiday sweater, lights on a tree, or watching your co-worker’s antics at the work party! Don’t let your eating disorder monopolize your holiday.

For loved ones:

  1. snowflakeAvoid talking about dieting and making weight/shape or appearance related comments. If you want to share a compliment, focus on non-appearance related traits… a person’s laugh, how their eyes light up when they smile, or their great sense of humor or intelligence.
  2. The holidays are not the time to cheerlead or challenge a loved that has an eating disorder. Asking them to eat more or telling them how great they did may only draw attention and cause added stress. If you are not sure what your loved one needs… ask!  “What do you need me to say or do that can help you with this” is a great way to find out what you might be able to do that can be supportive. If you think a family member may not adhere to this, then reconsider inviting them.
  3. If possible, have meals served in the kitchen so there is not an abundance of food on the table. Ensure that you have a protein based food item that your loved one will be able to eat. Serve fun foods (chocolates, candy, dessert items, etc.) at set times or have them laid out for a limited time and then put them away (freezer is great) or send them home with your guests.
  4. Take the focus off food and appearance. Board games, watching a movie, making a snowman, and attending events your community puts on over the holidays can be a way to distract the focus from the stressors faced by someone with an eating disorder.
  5. And last but not least, take care of yourself! Make sure that you have support such as a therapist, a trusted friend, online support groups, or literature on the recovery process. Loving someone who is struggling with an eating disorder can be exhausting and stressful.

AdeleFoxWith Best Wishes…

Adele Fox, Registered Psychologist
MyndCare

Providing individual and group based support for eating disorders

About Andrea Holwegner

CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker

Andrea the «Chocoholic Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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