We all know that from Halloween to New Years our gatherings and holidays tend to have a focus on bountiful food. Many cultures have their specific food items, such as the tradition of latkes for Hanukkah, and many families have their own food traditions to go along with their celebrations. According to this CNN health article, and some common sense, it only seems natural that such an emphasis on food would raise anxiety of those with eating disorders. The article suggests that the hard wiring of those with eating disorders to be more anxious than others, combined with perfectionist and people pleasing tendencies, can lead those on the path to eating disorder recovery towards a relapse in thought and behavior patterns. The following simple tips are suggested, and can be reviewed in length in the article itself:
1. Create your holiday schedule carefully
2. Shift the focus from food to family and friends
3. Lean on your supportive network
4. Be kind to yourself
I think these tips, and the gist of the article are important to remember if you are working with an eating disorder population however I feel a major point is underrepresented. As someone with a food related auto immune disease, and who works with digestion related illnesses as part of my profession, this article fails to discuss the complex relationship that individuals can develop with food. To me food related illnesses, whether physical or emotional, are about having a level of control and this relationship with your food can pour over into your relationship with others (especially in a culture which emphasizes food in gatherings at all times, especially around the holidays). When you have an eating disorder, you might be too controlling but recovery still requires it’s own level of control. When you have a food related physical illness such as an allergy, having control is the same as. For both, you can control what and when you eat when you are doing things on your own, but when your surroundings take away that feeling of control, simply being around food can be too much. In these circumstances food can become a beacon of the loss of control you feel and how different you might be. Therefore, for those who have alternate eating patterns than others, or who are recovering from eating disorders, the stress of feeling alienated from typical holiday traditions that so often focus on food can be overwhelming.
To me the most important tip in this article is to help your friends and family understand your needs so that they can make you feel valued and lessen your stress. Allow them to help change the focus of your traditions, create a new tradition, or do anything to make you feel more comfortable. But, this requires disclosure and trust, and therefore vulnerability, and can be very frightening. However, as Brené Brown put it “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage” and such honesty with yourself and with others can open doors and work wonders. In addition, following some simple self help tips, such as bringing something to share which you known you can eat, can always be helpful.
By Georgianna Reilly, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer
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