family eating

Writer's note: Article contains subject matter which may be triggering

While the Thanksgiving leftovers have been neatly put away, there are a host of parties and gatherings, from now until New Year’s Eve, which will offer additional  opportunities for us to fill our freezers with a surplus of our favorite seasonal  foods. 

However, for a significant number of men and women, who are in recovery for eating disorders (or simply have patterns of disordered eating), the holidays with its continuous celebrations centered around food can be stressful and anxiety provoking.  

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Furthermore, spending prolonged periods of time with relatives, who don’t understand eating disorders or make insensitive comments about weight gain, dieting or eating habits, can also be overwhelming for those who are struggling with a range of issues related to eating, not just eating disorders that have been diagnosed.

According to the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders (ANAD), approximately 30 million Americans (who cross ethnic, racial and social stratas as well sexual orientations and genders) are affected by eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.  

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Not all eating disorders are the same. Nor do they just present as the one super-thin body type that has been stereo-typically portrayed in the media.

“The basics as far as the Anorexia, is they’re restricting their intakes primarily. Whereas, say bulimic clients are trying to fill a void, so they are eating. Binge-eaters are actually primarily eating,” Tracy Hamilton, a licensed independent social worker for Life Steps Counseling, explained.

Hamilton, who  further explained the differences between the behaviors during a conversation about eating disorders earlier this year, added: “ (With) Bulimia you are going to have that avenue of purging, which can be actual purging itself or exercise,” she said as she fielded additional questions about social media and where our ideals about thinness originate from?

She said Bulimics look for other ways to get rid of the food. "Whereas, the binge-eating person wouldn’t necessarily try to get rid of the food or purge the calories, but you can have the behaviors overlapping a little bit in eating,”  she added. 

In addition to answering inquiries about the type of clients who are good candidates for support groups as well as social media’s impact on eating disorders? Plus, discussing additional variables like the pandemic and mental health, Hamilton also clarified a few misconceptions about binge-eating.

Also, Binge-eating disorder (BED), which more Americans suffer from than once thought, was added to the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) in 2013.

Hamilton, who works with clients 12 and over who struggle with eating disorders, anxiety, depression or  adjustment disorders, noted there aren’t a lot of local resources available in Richland County for people who are struggling with eating disorders.

However, there are credible websites such as the National  Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), which she suggested as a resource in addition to places such as the Emily Progam with a residential treatment center in Cleveland and treatment centers in Columbus and Beachwood as well as  the Center For Balanced Living in Columbus.

Additionally ANAD, which was founded by a nurse, whose daughter struggled with an eating disorder, is another reputable organization that offers free support groups as well as tons of tips to help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety associated with the season.

Fortunately, since the pandemic there has also been an upswing in virtual spaces  as well as tele-health services that address the issue. Virtual support groups are also being offered online.

In fact, having a plan, practicing self-care and seeking support are several of the recurring tips that experts and people in recovery alike  have suggested for  people struggling with eating disorders to get through any holiday. 

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Have a plan

Whether it's a meal plan with specific foods to eat at specific times, or a list of names of people  to call in case one is  feeling triggered and need  to talk, or simply strategies on how to leave a family gathering if  “eccentric”  uncle Joe or snarky aunt Jane start making comments about diets and body image. 

Experts have suggested that having a plan could help survivors address their triggers or feel more comfortable around  certain family members or possibly feel more in control of their recovery instead of harried. 

Practice self-care

While battling breast cancer acclaimed author Audrey Lorde wrote the oft quoted-quote that has been quoted in and out of context: “Physically. Psychically. Caring for myself isn’t an act of self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” 

Those struggling with eating disorders are advised to practice self-care even if it means choosing to put one’s own mental health first. Even if it means  not attending every party or accepting every invitation to socialize that has been extended.

Furthermore, finding something to do  that  helps one to relax or disengage from the madness is pertinent  advice for anyone experiencing a hectic time during the holidays.

Seek Support

Whether it's online or in person, with a therapist, dietitian or family member, people in recovery for eating disorders are encouraged to have strong support systems. 

NEDA”S 12 Ideas to help people with eating disorders navigate the holdays:https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/twelve-ideas-help-people-eating-disorders-negotiate-holidays suggests the following: Stay active in your support group, or join one if you are not currently involved.

The article noted that "Many support groups can be helpful," whether it is 12-steps groups, codependency groups, eating disorder therapy, groups, book clubs, neighborhood game groups, and religious or spirituality oriented groups.

All were examples of groups that  NEDA suggested might  give real support, noting "Isolation and withdrawal from positive support are not the way to get through trying times."

Holidays or not,  those in recovery, are advised to be mindful of how much time they are spending on social media.  Social Media for all  of the good it offers has also been noted for  compounding  eating  and body issues for some, especially during the pandemic.

“I think I would probably encourage people to consider how much time they spend on social media because you don't really think about the effect of it,  but reality is just seeing pictures of people.  Then, people start comparing themselves more and think they need to meet certain expectations rather than everybody being okay with themselves and who they are and their differences,” Hamilton, who works with individuals, couples and families, in therapy said.

As recently as October, media giants such as Facebook and Instagram have come under fire for allegedly contributing to  body issues among adolescents and adults. Researchers  such as Pamela Keel, a psychology professor, at Florida State University, have looked at the possible correlation, if any, between the two, having noted that correlation isn’t causation. 

Finally, practicing a bit of compassion i.e., being  compassionate with yourself is one of the tips, written by  Gina Susanna, a brand ambassador  for  NEDA. Click here to read the blog in its full context https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/tips-surviving-thanksgiving-recovery. It offers helpful tips  for not only  getting through Thanksgiving, but other  holidays as well. Susanna also has an instagram page which can be accessed here:https://www.instagram.com/nourishandeat/?hl=en

ANAD offers free webinars and Insta-lives in addition to free peer support groups. Plus, a YouTube Channel. Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXXnJBAoB5o, Eating Disorders & Body Image (Educational Video) | ANAD

If you or a loved one is in need of assistance for an eating disorder  or  need to talk to  someone immediately, please contact someone at  ANAD or the NEDA helpline (800) 931-2237.

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