Holidays and Eating Disorders

Updated: May 3

When we think of holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, one of the first things that comes to mind is food. For some individuals, the holidays can bring stress as there is such a large focus on food and gathering together for meals.

It's important to keep in mind that while holidays are full of joy, happiness, and excitement, for some the events and gatherings can bring feelings of anxiety and dread. “The most wonderful time of the year” can be a stressful one when the holiday gatherings revolve around food.

For individuals who struggle with body image and disordered eating, holidays sometimes feel a lot different. The major focus on food and gathering around a table for meals can in some cases be difficult.

According to The National Eating Disorder Association, 20 million women and 10 million men are affected by eating disorders. NEDA describes eating disorders as, “serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.”

It can be helpful to step back and think about the fact that we never know who might be struggling. When gathering around for meals and spending time with friends and family, the best thing we can do is to be mindful of our words and actions.

Factors that can contribute to creating a stressful space for those who struggle can be, facing fear foods, pressure from loved ones to eat more or less, and the language and phrases others around us are saying.

Individuals often say things without realizing the effect that their words might have. Examples of phrases that are commonly said are:

“That's a lot of food for such a small girl!”

“That's all you’re going to eat?”

“Are you sure you’re going to eat all that?”

“Have you lost/gained weight since I saw you last?”

“Looks like someone has an appetite!”

Comments from others about what we are eating and or our bodies can take a toll on our mental health and self-esteem. Although they are not meant to cause harm, they can have a negative effect. We never know what another person is dealing with, what’s going through their mind, and what their struggles are. Comments related to body image and food choices can be triggering and harmful.

When it comes to conversations on holidays it’s also important to stay away from topics related to dieting, skipping meals, and weight loss. Comments about how “unhealthy” or “fattening” food can be can also cause anxious feelings and stress for those who hear them.

Instead of spending time on holidays solely talking about food and what's on our plates, check in on loved ones and ask how they are doing. During the holidays it’s important to put more focus on being thankful and spending time with family, friends, and the people we are surrounded by, and less focus on what and what not others are choosing to eat.

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