Thanksgiving is this week which means Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays are around the corner.  The Holiday Season can be difficult for many people for various reasons.  The Holidays can exacerbate family disagreements, someone may be grieving the loss of a loved one or some people are barely surviving financially and have no idea how they can afford gifts for their children.  Another major stressor during the Holidays is food.  This year due to the economy many families are having difficulties affording food.  For others, food is the enemy and they spend most of their days trying to manage what they eat and trying not to draw the attention of others to their eating habits.

During the Holiday Season there are a number of Holiday parties and family dinners.  They tend to all revolve around food.  Many people are concerned how they will survive the Holidays without gaining a lot of weight with all the food they will be eating.  However, if you have an eating disorder, the Holidays can pose a different problem.  How do you survive the parties and dinners without drawing attention to yourself because you do not want to eat?  Or maybe you tend to binge and purge. What do you do if people are telling you to eat?  For someone with an eating disorder, which could be anorexia or overeating, the Holiday Season can be a very stressful time.  How will you survive without people noticing you have an eating disorder or if they know, how do you survive without lectures and feeling like everyone is watching what you do or don’t eat? 

If you have a loved one with an eating disorder, the Holidays can also be a difficult time.  Do you say anything or not?  What if they are in therapy for the eating disorder and someone says something?  What if people are asking you about your loved ones eating habits? These are all issues that you maybe thinking about and worrying about regarding a loved one’s eating disorder.   Therefore the Holiday Season can be stressful if you have a loved one with an eating disorder who is seeking treatment or not seeking treatment yet.

Dr. Pooky Knightsmen has created a video dealing with how to cope with the Holidays if you have an eating disorder.  She offers some very good strategies to help a person cope with the Holidays and food.  Also if you have a loved one or close friend with an eating disorder, I would strongly recommend you watch it too.  This will help you understand what your loved one is dealing with during the Holidays and provide you with ways that you can help make the Holidays less stressful for your loved one with an eating disorder. Here is the link to the video. Eating Disorders: Managing the festive period via @YouTube.

Most people are dealing with stress during the holidays.  However, someone with an eating disorder has their stress increase significantly because so many holiday activities revolve around food.  A person with an eating disorder spends a majority of their time covering up the fact that they have an eating problem.  This is significantly harder to do during the Holidays.  Therefore, you may notice that their behavior changes and you don’t understand why.  Please watch the video above to understand why and who to help.  Confronting the person and forcing them to eat is the worse thing you can do.  Also dropping comments about eating disorders is not helpful either.  Again, the video above will provide you with ideas about how to be supportive.  Eating disorders can be very complex and the person is probably dealing with a great deal of stress.  Therefore, try to be supportive, don’t add to their stress and shame.

Remember, the Holidays are about spending time with family and friends not about food.  If we remember the Holidays are a time to show people you care and bring people together, people with eating disorders do not have to live in fear of the Holidays.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience treating children and teenagers.  For more information about his work or private practice visit his website or his Facebook page