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Surviving the holidays with an eating disorder

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When we think of the holidays, our thoughts often go to family, friends, gift-giving, shopping and, yes, food, says Jennifer Lombardi, Executive Director, Eating Recovery Center of California. Celebrating the season while sharing food with loved ones is part of our collective culture and something we look forward to. But for individuals struggling with an eating disorder, this can often be one of the most distressing times of year.

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During the holiday season, it’s particularly important to make exceptions to typical family traditions if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder. Some tips for surviving the holidays include:

  • Set up realistic expectations: This may be the year to forgo a huge family gathering in favor of something smaller and more intimate. Sitting at a dinner table surrounded by 50 people can be overwhelming for someone who is in treatment. There will be future holidays where returning to tradition makes sense, so be open to altering your plans for this year if needed.
  • Use your support system: Talk openly about the challenges associated with holiday meals. Some individuals with eating disorders find it helpful to plan an activity or outing after a meal. Healthy distraction can aid in decreasing anxiety and distress.
  • Don’t skip meals: So many people tend to skip meals during the day in order to “save up” for the big holiday meal. Not only is this unhealthy, it sets up a situation where the anticipation of the meal causes more distress. For family members and friends, consider what you may be modeling to your loved one who is struggling and ditch the “fasting for the final meal” mentality.
  • Create a code: If you do have a large family meal to attend, chances are that someone will, at some point, make a disparaging comment about weight and/or food. Predict it. Write down who will likely say what, and when it will probably occur. Predicting these comments can help take the power and impact out of them. Coming up with a covert signal from one of your support members, such as a wink or tapping your fingers on the table when such comments are made, can also be helpful. It’s a silent acknowledgement between you and your loved one that a triggering comment was just made, which can decrease feelings of being alone.
  • See the big picture: Food is just one aspect of the holiday season. Consider doing volunteer work or creating special time with friends and family away from the dinner table. While meals are a traditional and loving component of the holiday season, be sure to incorporate the “spirit of giving” in ways that are emotionally rewarding. Isolation often goes hand in hand when you are struggling with an eating disorder. Break this cycle by creating traditions that speak to your heart.

Thanks to Jennifer Lombardi for providing this informative information about "Surviving the holidays with an eating disorder."

Eating Recovery Center of California is a Joint Commission-accredited center for eating disorders treatment and prevention based in Sacramento, California. Founded in 2000 by eating disorders experts and formerly known as Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program, Eating Recovery Center of California is a medically-supervised treatment program serving female and male adults and adolescents with Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) and related conditions including trauma, substance abuse, exercise compulsion, diabetes and medical/psychiatric complications. A multidisciplinary team of professionals oversees comprehensive outpatient levels of care, including a seven day-per-week Partial Hospitalization Program, an Intensive Outpatient Program and flexible Outpatient programming in Sacramento, as well as flexible Outpatient services in Fresno. Eating Recovery Center of California works closely with Denver-based Eating Recovery Center, an international center providing comprehensive treatment for adults, adolescents and children struggling with the full spectrum of eating disorder diagnoses and co-occurring illnesses.

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