Archive for Monday, December 22, 2008

Holidays pose challenge for eating disorders

Strategies help sufferers navigate tables

December 22, 2008


Holidays pose challenge for eating disorders

Food and overindulging has become part of the holiday tradition. That can make the season a challenge for people with eating disorders. Enlarge video

When Kate, a 22-year-old Kansas University student, went home for Thanksgiving last month, she sat down with her family and laid out some ground rules.

She asked that they nix comments on how much she was eating, whether it be too much or to little.

Kate has spent the past nine years battling anorexia and bulimia. She says she deals with the pressures that come when she visits her out-of-state family for the holidays.

“The worst is when you feel like you are constantly being monitored,” said Kate, not her real name. “How many times you are in the kitchen, how much food you put on your plate, if you go to the bathroom or if you aren’t eating.”

Food — and overindulging on it — is part of the holiday season. From anorexics to morbidly obese compulsive eaters, the focus on food from Halloween to New Year’s Eve can be a struggle.

Angie Viets, a Lawrence psychologist with Renew Eating Disorder Recovery Center, said the highest incidences for relapses in eating disorders occur over the holiday season.

As with other addictions, eating disorders are a way to cope with the stresses in life, which seem to accumulate during the holidays. Adding to that pressure for people with eating disorders is not knowing what will be served at holiday meals, seeing friends or family after gaining or losing a significant amount of weight and fearing that others are monitoring your food consumption, Viets said.

“When you think about the holidays, you think about three things: food, family and friends,” Viets said. “That is what it’s all about.”

Patty Metzler, a clinical dietitian with Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said people with eating disorders also feel the need to “fit in and eat like everyone else.” That anxiety can keep people away from holiday gatherings.

“For them it’s not as simple as just going to grandma’s house and filling their plates with food,” Metzler said.

A time of trigger foods

For one 47-year-old Lawrence women who attends Overeaters Anonymous, the holidays can be cumbersome. In the past, food was a way to ease insecurity in social settings.

“If I’m not drinking alcohol and if I’m not eating, what do I do?” said the women, who wished not to be named. “The biggest piece for me is learning how to connect with other people.”

Her danger foods — tortilla chips, creamy dips and green bean casserole — are prevalent this time of year. Those trigger foods can often lead people to binge eating.

“Food served around the holidays — there are lots of sweets, high carbs, high starches — those are the foods that are the tricky ones,” said Naomi Lippel, who is managing director of Overeaters Anonymous Inc. World Service Office.

Overeaters Anonymous uses the same 12-step program and anonymous meetings that can be found at Alcoholics Anonymous.

Starting at Halloween, OA gears up for the challenges faced during the holidays. On Christmas Day, it will conduct telephone meetings around the clock.

“It’s just like New Year’s Eve is difficult for someone who has been drinking,” Lippel said.

Charting the holidays

People with eating disorders and their family and friends can take steps to help navigate through the holidays.

For OA, attending meetings and connecting with sponsors are recommended.

Another option is keeping in contact with therapists, dietitians or a support person who helps ground the situation.

For those worried about what will be on the menu, Viets said it helps to call ahead of time to know what is being served. That way, a plan can be prepared for how to handle the food. It’s also OK for people with eating disorders to ask that certain foods not be served, Viets said.

Metzler recommends not skipping meals and sticking with the regular food plan as much as possible.

For the hosts, Lippel said they can offer a special dish that would help the person with an eating disorder navigate the meal, or organize a potluck dinner so the person can bring a dish her or she is comfortable eating.

And, pushing food on someone with an eating disorder is a big no-no.

“You shouldn’t watch what they are eating and nudge them and say, ‘Well, don’t you think you might want to try a small portion of this?’ ” Metzler said. “Let them guide what they choose to eat. That is the important thing.”

Watch what you say

Kate said her eating disorder began her freshman year of high school when she wanted to lose weight for soccer tryouts. She said it’s a roller coaster ride toward recovery. Unlike a drug addict or alcoholic, people with eating disorders can’t quit cold turkey.

Along with the monitoring that occurs when she goes home, she also said too much attention is paid on physical attributes.

“If you haven’t seen someone in over a year, it’s the No. 1 thing they look at,” Kate said. “You feel stressed to impress the family when they are the last people you should have to impress.”

Viets recommends that people not comment at all about weight or food (even if it’s a compliment).

For Kate, off-handed comments, such as someone saying a pair of jeans she tried on while shopping were too tight or jokingly ask whether she is really hungry, have the power to derail her day and stirs thoughts of purging.

Viets, the psychologist, recommends shifting much of the holiday focus from food and weight to relationships. Instead of worrying about what to eat at the dinner table, Viets suggests putting more attention on connecting with family and friends. Rather than complimenting someone on how much weight they’ve lost, she recommends highlighting something they like about the person such as their laugh.

If family and friends want to talk about the eating disorder they should sit down one-on-one and ask the person how their recovery is going.

“Focus on the whole person rather than on this particular struggle,” she said.


KSChick1 9 years, 4 months ago

On the other hand, if you think I'm going to watch somebody starve themselves or eat a huge plate of food and then go barf it up and NOT say something??? Yeah, right!

kujayhawk 9 years, 4 months ago

It must suck for everybody else to have to walk on eggshells when it comes to commenting on food, or clothes, etc. just to appease these individuals.

cthulhu_4_president 9 years, 4 months ago

Gosh yes, those annoying people with their darned mental illnesses. Sick people make life so inconvenient for the rest of us.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 4 months ago

One leave a bad taste in your mouth recently, cthulhu?,;-)

BigPrune 9 years, 4 months ago

It's too bad some folks have this problem. I wish I could lose weight easier. Seriously, are eating disorders confined to industrialized nations or do people experience these same kinds of disorders in third world countries? I'm curious, not trying to make a joke at all. We've all known people with eating disorders.

sarahsmilehawk 9 years, 4 months ago

BigPrune, eating disorders are pretty much confined to industrialized nations, and typically occur in middle or upper class families that have always had enough to eat.The holidays involve a LOT of walking on eggshells for anyone with mentally ill family members, be it eating disorders or otherwise. I don't the the article was suggesting that family members ignore unhealthy behavior, but rather discouraged the monitoring and "helpful" comments that tend to come up.

feeble 9 years, 4 months ago

I think we need a companion article about eggnog and the lactose intolerant.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 4 months ago

I used to have a drinking problem.... now I just suffer from a**hole-ism. Oh well.

Strontius 9 years, 4 months ago

I'm sorry, but I can't see eating disorders as a legitimate illness, mental or physical.

MyName 9 years, 4 months ago

It's too bad some folks have this problem. I wish I could lose weight easier. Seriously, are eating disorders confined to industrialized nations or do people experience these same kinds of disorders in third world countries?Eating disorders aren't exactly about food. The food is a proxy for other things a person may be missing in their life (a happy family/social life, a healthy sense of how the person views their body, etc.). It's more likely to happen in an industrialized country simply because food is cheaper here, but if the person in the poorer country isn't getting what he or she needs and has the same social problems, then it will still show up, just in a different way.As for why people get fat and have problems losing weight, that's mostly biological. Cheesecake didn't exist in the jungles and savannahs where man first started out. So any food rich in fat or sugar was so rare that your body is still conditioned to eat as much of it as it can. And since food in general was harder to get, your metabolism is also set up to try and resist losing weight.This is not to say that eating healthy or working to lose weight is bad or impossible. It's just that you're fighting a rigged game and you need be aware of that going in.

Danielle Brunin 9 years, 4 months ago

Strontius,It's really hard for a lot of people to grasp, but people die from this illness. My best friend growing up developed anorexia after high school. The problem was, nobody around her thought that it was a legitimate illness either. People told her she "looked hot," or insisted that she was just trying to get attention. Nobody in her life knew what to do to help her, even though her doctor told her that if she didn't get help, she would irreparably damage her body. She died of heart failure nine years ago last Thursday.

Confrontation 9 years, 4 months ago

If you someone who has been overweight, and they lost weight, then compliment them. This is very motivational to those who have been putting in a real effort (not shoving their fingers down their throats). Don't deny a compliment just because some people have issues.

Strontius 9 years, 4 months ago

Rodent, I know people die from lack of food consumption. It happens everyday, all over the planet, particularly in overpopulated regions of Africa. It's hard for me to see this as an illness because it just seems like common sense that if you do not consume nutrients, you will die. Even a doctor, as you said, told her what she was doing was harmful. Why didn't she listen? I have to seriously wonder if we aren't just slightly better off as a species when someone removes themselves from the gene pool due to their own inability to control their actions.

bunkinbaby 9 years, 4 months ago

I had a drug addition in the past (been clean 4 years) I feel an eating disorder is the hardest addition to overcome. If I was told I had to use in moderation everyday and had to be in control of my use Im afraid I would fail. I never have to face my addition again and thats the way I like it! I Thank God everyday!

Danielle Brunin 9 years, 4 months ago

Strontius,Thanks for your kind thoughts! I don't understand why she didn't get help either. What I also don't understand is why her family didn't forcibly commit her into a treatment program, or why the doctor didn't hospitalize her, for nourishment if nothing else. Clearly, she wasn't in her right mind so they should have been able to intervene on her behalf. However, let me assure you that she was beautiful and intelligent, and very strong. The world is a worse place for her being gone, but I hope she is finally at peace. It's a pity that she died from a simple lack of control, as you so eloquently put it. I also hope that none of your loved ones fall victim to anorexia because with your attitude, they will probably suffer the same fate as my friend. I'm sure it will never happen to you though.

AdvertisingExec 9 years, 4 months ago

As someone who pushes people to buy things they don't need for a living, I'm surprised that people would be so quick to judge others for buying/consuming things they don't need. Maybe your compulsion is shoe shopping, maybe it's makeup, maybe it's a certain type of clothing, maybe it's food, maybe it's bad relationships. I make a six figure salary getting you to buy things you don't need.Mental illness is not an exact science - and I guarantee if someone you loved struggled with something like this, you wouldn't be so quick to judge people as gluttonous. We are so lucky to speak our minds - but it always makes me laugh that we are so quick to tell others they're wrong but expect everyone to see our point of view. We are the most hypocritical society on earth.Judging other people's problems and issues, for which we know nothing about, is uneducated and sad.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 4 months ago

'twould seem the solution is supplantation... supplanting the eating with anything else... supplanting judgment of others with empathy.

bryceholladay 9 years, 3 months ago

i love u to amelia and i have not smoked in two days lol but n e way i got arrested nothing to trip about it was for possesion of alcohol but it was not mine i love u we n u go on pass we need to get together and have a long conversatrion i love u

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