Dealing with the festive season when you have an eating disorder

The approach of holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas can be anxious times for those suffering from an eating disorder but researchers say they don't have to be difficult.

The festive season is equated with food and drink and many attach a great deal of social and personal value to what, and how, we eat, often through family rituals and for many, family gatherings are positive events.

But for the millions with an eating disorder, the holidays can be nightmares and experts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have some tips to offer such people.

They say by preparing themselves with these tips they can make the season less about their affliction and more about holiday cheer.

Dr Cynthia Bulik says three out of four American women have "disordered eating" behaviour, and 10% have an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder.

Dr Bulik and the Eating Disorders team say those with an eating disorder must plan ahead and they have some suggestions which might help navigate the food minefields of the holidays: -

  • Have a "wing man" - someone you trust to help run interference at family 'get-togethers' or office parties who is trusted and knows your triggers and can help distract you from temptations (or someone pushing your buttons), change the subject or assist you while you handle the stress.
  • Make up a code signal or phrase with the wing man before going to the holiday party and if you start to feel overwhelmed give a signal so that you can both step out of the room and they can offer you some support.
  • Keep your support team on speed dial and call them at any time during or after a party as talking relieves the pressure.
  • Don't hesitate to take a food you prepared to a potluck that feels safe enough to you so that you will have at least one manageable entree.
  • Don't allow lavish holiday spreads be the enemy so before getting a plate, evaluate the options, consider which foods you'll sample, portion sizes and whether you feel comfortable trying a "feared food - make a decision and stick with it!
  • If your treatment team has given you a meal plan stay on track so you aren't starving when you get there.
  • Listen with your heart, not your head to the happiness and caring in a person's tone when they tell you that you look "so much better and don't let the eating disorder lead you to misinterpret those words in a way that deprives you of hearing that people really care about you.
  • Get Real as all too often people have a fantasy about "perfect" holidays and try to anticipate some of the possible emotional traps in advance so you can cope (and maybe even laugh) when you encounter them.
  • The well-known HALT slogan works for any type of recovery so don't get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired and forgive yourself if you have an eating slip.
  • Try your best not to skip appointments with your treatment team as this is an important time to stay in touch with people who can help.

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