During the holidays, no matter where you turn, you find food, food and more food. From vendor treats filling the office breakroom to celebratory dinners with family and friends, virtually everything and everyone seems to be focused on food. For someone working to overcome an eating disorder, it makes the season anything but festive.
Eating disorders affect 20 million females and 10 million males in the United States and can be diagnosed in boys and girls 7 years old and sometimes even younger.
Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice; they are mental health disorders similar to depression, bipolar disease or schizophrenia. It is not an individual choice to develop an eating disorder, but rather severe underlying pathological factors which drive individuals to take part in self-destructive behaviors associated with eating disorders.
Genetic, environmental and social factors all play a role in the development of an eating disorder. Interpersonal issues, past trauma, low self-esteem, abuse, co-occurring mental health disorders, substance abuse disorders and unhealthy family and personal relationships can all contribute to the environmental and social factors associated with eating disorders.
Even for someone who is well into a successful recovery program, the holidays can trigger unwanted thoughts and comments surrounding food. Whether you are actively treating your eating disorder or suspect you may have one, you can take steps to make this holiday season more comfortable with these tips from eating disorder expert and licensed therapist Dawn Delgado, director of clinical development at Center for Discovery.
1. Always have a safe plan. If you plan on attending a holiday party or gathering, you may want to consult with your dietitian to have a plan beforehand, especially if you feel you may be inclined to binge. If you feel triggered to binge, or if you feel pressured by another individual, create an escape plan, which may mean having a friend accompany you to the party or even come pick you up. Your plan may also involve finding a safe place at the party where you can be alone to gather your thoughts until you feel comfortable re-engaging with others.
2. Be prepared to say “no.” Many individuals, with good intentions, will push food your way. They will want you to try their favorite dessert or their new recipe without understanding your struggle. Know that it is OK to say “no” and to take care of yourself in these situations. You can choose to clarify why you are saying “no,” but do not feel obligated to do so. Also give yourself permission to decline joining holiday office parties, family parties or other holiday-themed get-togethers if your recovery could be compromised, or plan to bring a supportive friend.
3. Know your triggers before you engage in social situations. Understanding your triggers and learning how to use coping skills to control them at holiday functions can help keep negative thoughts and self-sabotaging at bay. If there are certain topics of conversation that trigger you then avoid those topics or change the conversation when those topics arise. Be honest with yourself, be honest with others, recognize your emotions and learn to take control of your scenarios.