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The Enemy Holidays

Facing the season with an eating disorder

By Amy Austin, RN, PSY.D, LMFT

The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous and fun-filled time surrounded by beloved family and friends who gather to reminisce, catch up the last year’s events and pass on childhood traditions that are held dear. This is the idealistic view held by many, yet there are many people who wish they could sleep through the holidays and wake up when all the festivities and frivolity are over. 

Since most holiday celebrations and observances center around traditional holiday feasts, people with eating disorders usually see this time of year as the enemy; anything and everything centered on food is something from which to hide, or with which to conjure up ways to make meals as normal as possible. Those with eating disorders are filled with angst and anxiety attempting to count calories, figure out how to make it look like they are eating while dodging questions about food consumption from well-intentioned family members. 

For someone dealing with an eating disorder, whether it is anorexia, bulimia or both, the holiday season can feel like a nightmare. Feelings of fear, anger at the disease, and stress can be overwhelming. An eating-disordered person often views their “disease” as an entity with a life of its own which is constantly trying to claim ultimate power and control over them. And during the holiday season the “disease” is continually, actively voicing its disapproval. 

Here are a few tips for anyone dealing with an eating disorder – especially during the holiday season:

1. First and foremost, I urge people to comprehend that you don’t have to deal with an eating disorder alone. Having a nurturing professional ear can be healing and helpful. There are times when our “fixed beliefs” need to be gently challenged. Otherwise, we can develop what I call “hamster wheel syndrome,” thoughts and feelings that we obsess over that never have any resolution. They just keep spinning round and round in our heads. Feelings of guilt and shame are prevalent with eating disorders and while there are no quick fixes, having someone to talk with can support the attainment of a healthier sense of body image and self. Discussions with a therapist, dietician, physician and/or support group about your anxious thoughts and state of being can be very healing and helpful.

2. Try to be flexible with your thoughts. If you slip up or don’t achieve your goals after establishing a game plan for the holidays, don’t beat yourself up. Remember that wonderful phrase, “Each Day a New Beginning.”

3. Remember you are not eating to please anyone and that food is not the enemy. 

4. Make sure to have a phone number of a dear friend or crisis line for support.

5. Try to see yourself from the inside out. Worry about the size of your heart and not the size of your hips!

The holiday season is a time for reflection, renewal, spiritual growth, friendship and living life on life’s terms, and focusing on blessings that are received. Yes, dealing with an eating disorder is extremely challenging, but with a solid recovery plan and loving support, you might be able to gain a new perspective for this and future holiday seasons. 

Dr. Amy Austin is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC # 41252) and Doctor of Clinical Psychology in Rancho Mirage. Dr. Amy can be reached at (760) 774.0047.

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