Most would agree that the holidays are a stressful time of year, but especially so for those facing an eating disorder. The Moore Center in Bellevue reports the number of patients seeking treatment for an eating disorder has increased nearly 20 percent this holiday season.????
The Moore Center has been treating patients for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and compulsive overeating since 1991. In that time, Clinical Director Jeanne Wicomb says she typically sees an increase in eating disorders or eating disorders relapse around the holidays.
"This is something we see every year," says Wicomb. "This is a time of year that creates a lot of anxiety for a lot of people and people that struggle with an eating disorder cope with that disorder."
Wicomb says that visiting family or friends can trigger an eating disorder. When seeing someone for the first time in awhile, patients can put a lot of pressure on themselves. Wicomb says visitors may notice weight changes and tend to comment on how their friends or family look.
"Expectations from people around you can create higher anxiety," Wicomb says. "People with eating disorders tend to compare themselves to others."
The large quantity of food everywhere can also be challenging for people with an eating disorder, Wicomb says. This can lead to patients restricting food or over-eating.
Wicomb offers this advice to people struggling with an eating disorder this holiday season:
- Prepare yourself. Go into events with a game plan, but try to be flexible
- Talk with therapist, dietitian or someone you trust before holidays
- Have a safe person around you. Come up with a signal or have someone plate your food for you
- Take a break when things get stressful. Take a walk.
- Be prepared for triggering topics in conversation – food, calories, diets
- If people make comments about your appearance have responses prepared
- Have an exit plan if the situation becomes too much to handle
- Limit the time you spend in a stressful environment
- Focus on relationships, not food. Think about conversations and connections with your favorite people. Be genuinely curious about people you haven't seen in awhile.
- Be present in the moment.
- Be kind, gentle and realistic. Don't overreact if you slip.
- Balance obligations with relaxation and reflection time.
- Don't take a vacation from recovery. Stay active with your treatment.
Wicomb offers this advice to people who want to support someone struggling with an eating disorder:
- Try to have a sit down meal rather than grazing for hours
- Don't comment on what someone's putting on their plate
- Focus on conversations with people rather than food
- Stay away from food- or diet-related conversation topics
- Try not to comment on a person's weight or appearance changes
- Try to make the meal a happy time, with light conversation, not emotionally-charged discussions
If you notice a loved one skipping meals, prefering to eat in private, fasting or over-eating, Wicomb recommends setting up a private, uninterrupted time to talk to that person and communicate your concerns from loving, caring place.
"Understand this is a psychological disorder," Wicomb says. "People don't chose to have an eating disorder, they get sucked into this behavior and its really, really hard to get out of it."