Eating Disorders and the Holidays
It’s the holidays!! This time of year is accompanied with so many feelings, memories, and expectations. There are little reminders all around us of holiday memories past and of what we’re looking forward to and expecting this year. I recall holiday memories with my siblings where the aura of holiday magic seemed to be specifically present. Sugar cookies, a big Christmas tree, and wish lists for Santa were the highlights, only to then be trumped by Christmas morning and stocking surprises.
This is the time of year we’re expected to be happy and excited. This is the time of year to have gratitude and connect with others. This is the time of year to contemplate the larger meaning of life and to celebrate a year well spent. But, what about the rest of it? The rest of me? What do we do with the sadness, the loneliness, the stress, and the disappointment that can be amplified around the holidays? Where do these things fit this holiday season?
It can be difficult to acknowledge these competing parts of existence. It can be hard to acknowledge our feelings of gratitude alongside our sadness, to celebrate meaningful connections during the holiday season while also feeling lonely, to ponder the coming year with hope and with fear.
The conflicting holiday emotions can be even more challenging for those suffering from an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). The expectation to engage with family and friends, usually around food-related gatherings, can spike eating disorder symptoms and avoidant behaviors. Holiday celebrations can create a perfect storm to struggle with anxiety and other symptoms for those who are battling an eating disorder.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, I encourage you to try the following during the holidays.
- Work toward acknowledgment and acceptance of the complexities that exist within you.
- Hold your desire for celebration and holiday festivity equal to the reality that we are complex, and can feel insecurity and pain simultaneous to love and happiness.
- Offer yourself and others compassion towards these conflicting experiences.
If someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, have compassion towards the complicated presentation that they may carry as they attempt to engage during the holidays.
The holiday season is an important time of reflection, contemplation, and new beginnings. If you or someone you know needs eating disorder treatment, call 888.822.8938 for help.
I wish you moments of celebration, joy, peace, and compassion this holiday season.
Amber Parris, LICSW, CEDS
Senior Director of Clinical Services, RTC, PHP, IOP