Do you loathe holidays? Dread social invitations? Can’t stand the thought of a Christmas party? Those with eating disorders (Bulimia, Anorexia, Binge Eating or Overeating) shiver at the upcoming holiday season, not for the social aspect but for the food. Almost every single holiday tradition or event for most cultures and religions involves food. Thanksgiving is routinely touted as a day where Americans gorge themselves on turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Christmas day is viewed much the same as Christmas parties are seen as full of cookies, cakes, cocktails, and ciders/punches.
Having been to numerous holiday festivities myself, I can personally attest to being someone that is consciously attempts to avoid too many sweet treats. Sometimes, I have been the one person in a group to abstain from the sweet treats, only to be chided while others partake. In some cultures, declining an appetizer, entrée or dessert offends the host, and guests feel obligated to partake. Sometimes we have a legitimate health issues, i.e. nut allergy, acid reflux, which makes eating certain foods harmful to our health.
Many with eating disorders choose to shun an entire event, just because of the food. They don’t want to feel the pressure of being “forced” to eat, and they do not want to insult the host by not eating. Others have intense eating rituals, and they do not want to call attention to themselves. Regardless of the reason for dreading food at holiday social events, know you are not alone.
Tips for holiday party-going if you have an eating issue
- Eat before you go so you are not as tempted to over-eat or can honestly say you’ve already eaten and came just to socialize.
- Stop by; stopping by a party gives you a chance to socialize without all of the pressure of feeling ‘forced’ to eat or drink.
- Holiday lunches and dinners at family or friends’ homes are challenging – accept that fact. Most likely, those close to you know about your eating issues. Although you may feel as if you are under a microscope, do your best to ignore the people who say “Just eat!” or “Here, you need extra!” Practice relaxation techniques, and focus on what or whom you enjoy. If your family is extremely unhealthy and triggers your eating disorder, you might want to make an appearance at their event, and/or schedule a volunteer activity immediately afterwards or overlapping that you have to get off to.
- Turn to an etiquette expert for excellent dinner-party food/cocktail advice such as the classic Emily Post or Orlando’s local etiquette expert Marilee McKee.
NOTE: Eating disorders, unlike many other mental health issues, can be life threatening, or lead to severe physical harm. If you have, or suspect you have, an eating disorder, please consult a professional. At the very least, visit your primary medical care provider, and have a full physical examination with blood work to make sure you are in good physical health. Additionally, please disclose to your medical doctor that you are experiencing eating-related issues so that he or she may run tests specific to your eating issue(s). Read More about Eating Disorders like Bulimia, Anorexia, Bing Eating or Over Eating.
Not all eating disorders require hospitalization; many, but not all, people struggling with an eating disorder, families of origin unknowingly contribute to or exacerbate peoples’ eating disorders. You know your family best; either they are approachable and wish to be a part of your healing, or, they may be extremely unhealthy and lead you to feel worse. If you’re 100% sure that the holiday with your family will end miserably for you, and your eating disorder is severe, you might want to reconsider your definition of “family.” Perhaps you could schedule time during the holidays with a “family of choice,” which is a self-created family that you choose to spend time with, and forgo time with an unhealthy family dynamic.
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Laura Bravo, LMHC – Orlando Body Image & Self Esteem Counselor