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  • Holiday “Food for Thought”: Cope with Eating Disorders

    by Dr. Richard Frances
    with Nancy Helle

    The holidays are a challenge for anyone concerned about his or her weight, but they are one of the worst times of year for someone with an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia.

    “The holidays can trigger negative and dangerous behavior because with all the parties and family get-togethers, the focus is on food,” said Pearl Berger, a master’s prepared social worker specializing in eating disorders at Silver Hill Hospital, a behavioral health and substance abuse treatment center in New Canaan, Connecticut.

    “For many young people, the emotional stress is too much and they take it out on their bodies. It’s often difficult for college kids coming home whose families expect them to be the same person they were, when they’ve grown up and become more independent. The pressure of juggling those two worlds may cause them to use food as a coping measure,” explained Berger.

    “Most eating disorders stem from underlying emotional causes relating to self esteem, personal relationships, fear of conflicts, and feeling a lack of control over one’s life. A need for perfection is also a key issue,” she said.

    Accordingly, Silver Hill recommends a few tips on how to cope:

    Prepare in advance. Refocus attention on the real purpose of the holidays—that it’s not really about food and the preparation of food. Plan family activities that are not food related.

    People with eating disorders should communicate with their families, let them know what’s helpful. Reach out to a friend, and have a list of people in advance to call for support. Bring along a hobby or project.

    If someone is in treatment for an eating disorder, it’s important to stay with the meal plan. The structure works for most people. Plan ahead, have the right kind of food in the house and keep mealtimes at regular hours.

    Families can help by expressing a feeling of acceptance to the person struggling with the eating disorder, even if they don’t really understand it. Don’t dwell on what someone is eating or not eating, or attack the behavior. Do let the person know that they’re accepted and they don’t have to be perfect. It’s OK to eat differently.

    The goal is not to resolve the issue now, but to get through the holidays as smoothly as possible. #

    Dr. Frances is the president and Medical Director of Silver Hill. The hospital has comprehensive inpatient and outpatient programs for the treatment of eating disorders. For information, call (203) 966-3561x2575.

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