Holiday Meals Not Easy for Eating Disorder Sufferers

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The majority of Americans embrace the holiday season as a festive time to eat, drink and celebrate with friends, family and co-workers. For those with eating disorders such as binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, however, the holiday season can be a nightmare.

People with eating disorders usually begin to worry about food consumption at holiday gatherings weeks — sometimes even months — before the event, says Leslie Sim, Ph.D., clinical director of the Mayo Clinic Eating Disorders Program.

“Unfortunately for our patients with eating disorders, the holiday season is really a nightmare. It’s something that they dread and talk about and anticipate for months ahead of the holidays,” Dr. Sim says. “It’s really a stressful time because there are large amounts of food around. That’s how people celebrate.”

About 10 million females and 1 million males suffer from an eating disorder and millions more are struggling with a binge eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

Dr. Sim suggests a few tips to navigate through holiday gatherings:

>> Always have a plan. People with eating disorders should eat like they would on a normal day and not skip any meals. Make sure to eat breakfast, lunch, and a light snack in addition to the meal. People who starve themselves are more likely to skip out on the meal entirely or engage in binge eating.

>> If family or friends know someone is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s not a good idea to comment on their weight during a holiday gathering. Even a compliment can be taken the wrong way.

>> If you’re hosting a holiday gathering with plenty of food, don’t take offense if someone doesn’t eat.

>> People with eating disorders should have a coping strategy if they begin to feel stressed during a gathering.

Dr. Sim suggests tactics such as deep breathing, meditation and talking to a close friend or family member.

For broadcast-quality audio and video of Dr. Sim discussing eating disorders, visit newsblog.mayo.org.