February 5th, 2018
Edited By: Bianca Miller, LCPC
It’s that time of year again! As warmer weather is quickly approaching, we will likely be spending more time with friends and family and gathering more than we did in the cold, winter months.
With these types of gatherings comes food and drinks. For some people, this can be very comforting and something they look forward to. Being around family, spending time outside, grilling, and eating all sorts of different treats sounds great! Doesn’t it? If you are one of the many people that suffer from an eating disorder, it most likely does not.
Whether you have anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, constantly being in the presence of food that makes you uncomfortable and feeling the pressure to eat while others are around and watching can be very intimidating and uncomfortable.
Of course, eating disorders are not strictly about food. Some of the other issues that can arise are related to self-esteem, self-worth, family and relationship issues, perfectionism, and the risk of developing disordered body image.
So, what can we do to prepare for this challenging time? How do we get to a point where the season itself can become as enjoyable as it is for others?
Is there anyone in your family who is aware of or understands your struggles? If there is, talk to them ahead of time! Sometimes knowing there is someone there who you can talk to or go to when you are feeling overwhelmed can reduce that feeling of anxiety.
It can ease the feeling of being on edge and remind you of the main reason you are there, to begin with, to spend time with those you love. This person can be there to take a walk with you to get some fresh air or just to help provide a positive distraction.
If your family members are not people you feel you can go to in this time of need, have a plan for a friend you can call if you feel like you need some extra support. Let them know ahead of time so they have their phone with them and can be ready to talk. Having a plan as simple as this one can bring some comfort knowing you are not alone, and you have support when it is needed.
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) also offers a free hotline for support, resources, and treatment options for yourself or a loved one.
After all, this season is not only about the food! We have spent the majority of the last year inside, missing our friends and family. We have been looking forward to being able to congregate outside for quite some time now, so do not let the fear of being around food bring you down and ruin the moment.
One good way to allow yourself to enjoy this season is to practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude can help you feel present and connected to the moment. It allows you to take a moment and stop all the anxious, racing thoughts in your head and just ground yourself.
When you start to feel uncomfortable or nervous, take some time to list all that you have to be grateful for during this period of time and use that to reframe some of your anxious thoughts.
With the focus of some of these gatherings being partially about food, try not to get too wrapped up with all the food and diet talk. If you notice the conversation shifting in that direction either try and remove yourself from the situation or change the subject to something else that everyone can talk about.
It can be greatly beneficial to set these boundaries for yourself so you can enjoy all of the other great things there are to celebrate. People with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa often have a fear of losing control in a situation like this which can trigger another intense fear of gaining weight. Being involved in conversations about food and weight gain can cause feelings of distress. Know when a conversation becomes too difficult to handle and remove yourself if necessary.
One of the negative thinking patterns that a lot of people struggle with is “black and white thinking” or “all or nothing thinking.” People with eating disorders often think that they either need to completely deprive themselves of any of the food that they fear, or their eating will get out of hand and they will gain unwanted weight. It can make you feel hyper-aware of your eating habits.
On the other hand, binge eating disorder can present another form of black and white thinking; the idea of eating an excessive amount in an attempt to cope with the anxiety of the day. Your mindset does not have to be all or nothing.
Make a plan and try to stick to it. Try and listen to your body and what it really wants and needs versus losing control of the situation due to negative thinking. Do not lose sight of all you have learned because the focus is on food. Use these events to focus on the positives and enjoy them for they are; a time to be together with people you love.
People with different kinds of eating disorders will handle these kinds of gatherings in different ways. Someone with anorexia nervosa might restrict themselves from eating either prior to the gathering or during the gathering. Someone suffering from bulimia nervosa might binge at the gathering and go home and purge. Binge eating disorder might lead someone to eat excessively while at the party as a way of masking their emotions.
Regardless of what type of eating disorder you might struggle with, it is important to reach out to a trained professional if you notice food becoming the main cause of stress and anxiety, especially if it starts to interfere with your personal and social life.
If you feel like you might be developing an eating disorder, or are currently struggling with one, schedule an appointment with a therapist and allow them to guide you in a direction of being able to find peace within yourself and learn how to cope appropriately with the negative thoughts and emotions associated with it. To learn more about how we can support eating disorder treatment and recovery, call Clarity Clinic on (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.
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