Cool, crisp air, cozy sweaters, sparkling displays in every storefront and spiced scents reminiscent of childhood recipes and family meals… that’s what might come to mind when you think of the holidays. For many, the holiday season brings feelings of excitement, warmth and closeness with family and friends. However, for those who struggle with disordered eating, the holidays may also bring anxiety around the many food-focused events and gatherings. This can be especially true for those with binge eating disorder (BED) or other eating disorder related binges.
What Is Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Binge eating disorder is defined by consuming larger quantities of food, often quickly and to a point of physical discomfort. Feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety often follow these binge experiences.
Binge eating may also be present within other eating disorders, most often a repercussion from restriction of food. This is caused by the body’s instinct for survival – it begins to predict a pattern of starvation, and so triggers an almost uncontrollable urge to binge when food becomes available. Episodes of binge eating in those who restrict are often followed by feelings of guilt and discomfort, like what’s felt in those with BED.
Tips for Coping with Binge Eating Disorder Around the Holidays
Exploring the behavior of binge eating is an important part of recovery and will be addressed by your treatment team while in active treatment. Once the maintenance stages of recovery is reached, there will likely be triggers for the old, disordered thoughts and behaviors that pop up from time to time. The holidays may act as one of those triggers, for a variety of reasons. However, it’s possible to cope with those triggering moments. Here are a few tips you can use to arm yourself ahead of time.
1. Anticipate feeling the desire to restrict in the moment
Parties and events are often based around food, and people may begin making judgmental comments around food or their bodies. Being in a situation where you are exposed to comments of this nature could create the desire to restrict food on the spot, leading to later bingeing. Prepare yourself by coming to a holiday event with a few coping skills that work for you, such as:
- Words of affirmation
- Having self-compassion
- Deep breathing
- Grounding techniques
2. Check in with your hunger and fullness cues
Experiencing an eating disorder of any type will throw off our innate ability to sense when our bodies are hungry and when they’re full. Part of recovery is reconnecting to this ability and allowing your body to dictate when it is satisfied with enough to eat. Both binge eating and restriction can alter these internal cues, and it does take work to reconnect. You can start with a visual hunger-fullness scale to help yourself practice at each meal, and it may also be helpful to go through this process under the guidance of a dietitian.
3. Give yourself permission to eat and enjoy all foods
An important part of recovery is recognizing that All Foods Fit™ into your life without need for restriction or rules. If you see something that looks appetizing, eat it! Allow yourself to fill your plate with foods that sound good and that you know will help you feel satisfied. If you restrict foods based on a disordered voice setting the rules, it will likely set you up for a binge later.
4. Have a support system set up
Coping with triggers from an eating disorder is hard, and you don’t have to do it alone. Communicate with your therapist or dietitian when you have concerns about any upcoming event so that they can help you plan, or even just provide words of support and motivation. Friends and family who are familiar with your history can also be very valuable support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Every person who struggles with binge eating will experience it differently and use a unique set of skills to support their recovery. Recovery is about increased agency and choice. The above strategies can be personalized to fit your needs, but if you find yourself continuing to struggle, don’t be afraid to reach out to Center for Discovery for help. And remember, self-compassion goes a long way as we challenge our go-to coping strategies.
Madeline Radigan Langham is a registered dietitian with experience in mental health and eating disorder residential treatment. She is passionate about advocating for weight inclusivity and a non-diet approach to help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors and spending time on trails with her family. You can find more of Madeline’s thoughts and work at radnutrition.net or on Instagram at @mradnutrition.
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