Disordered Eating Behaviors During the Holiday Season

What constitutes a holiday celebration? Spending time with loved ones, sharing gratitude and appreciation, upholding special traditions and customs, and – often – food. With so many holidays centered around traditional foods and sharing meals with family and friends, these activities can further trigger those who struggle with disordered eating. Many may feel a sense of deep shame or guilt around engaging in food centered activities, which can feel further isolating during this time of year.

Eating Disorder Behaviors

Eating Disorder behaviors can manifest in a multitude of ways. Eating disorder behaviors may consist of restrictive eating or dieting, but it may also look like binge-eating, self-induced vomiting, and laxative abuse. Eating disorder behaviors may be present before an eating disorder has developed. Signs that one may be struggling with disordered eating might look like having intrusive or obsessive thoughts about food and weight, consistently trying various diets or eating very little, fasting or skipping meals, overexercising, trying to compensate for eating certain foods by using laxatives or inducing vomiting, eating large amounts of food after dinner or in the middle of the night, eating as a form of comfort rather than when hungry, feeling guilty about eating, and feeling out of control when eating.

Why Holidays Can Trigger Eating Disorder

Holidays can already be a stressful time full of unrealistic expectations and pressures that can make people feel out of control and wanting to ground themselves in maladaptive coping patterns they have previously used to survive, some of which may manifest as disordered eating behaviors. In addition, holiday celebrations can also disrupt structured meal times and daily routines that are essential to recovery. Anxiety during this time period can stem from worries about quantity and type of food, weight gain, and comments from family members around what and how much they’re eating as well as appearance-focused or body image-related comments. It can feel like there’s no escape from the fear and stress which can result in falling back on previous disordered eating patterns, whether binging or restricting, to cope and feel in control.

How to Cope with Disordered Eating

Although disordered eating behaviors are destructive and can lead to dangerous consequences if not adequately addressed, healing is possible. Plan ahead with healthy coping strategies to utilize instead of disordered eating. Schedule routine check-ins with your support system or treatment team as you are able to during the holiday season.

Avoid triggering foods that may exacerbate symptoms. Despite the holiday hustle and bustle, carve out time for self-care and consider reducing the number of holiday events you attend if possible. Set boundaries with family and friends around food and body-image conversations. If your boundaries are crossed or disrespected, identify consequences for how you can respond to protect yourself such as changing the topic, confiding in a supportive person you trust to help with advocacy, or removing yourself from the conversation altogether.

Some may also find it beneficial to center on the meaning of holidays through practicing gratitude and mindfulness. As you navigate this difficult and often triggering time of year, it’s imperative to shift from shame to self-compassion and know you don’t have to face these challenges alone.

Seek Support

Contact Embrace Therapy for additional resources or to speak directly with a licensed mental health provider to aid you in your recovery journey. Click here for our Contact Form.

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