The festive season is a busy but happy time for many people, but new research suggests that it can be an extremely difficult time for those who suffer from eating disorders. That is because these food-centric celebrations such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve can raise a number of issues which those who have anorexia and bulimia can struggle with.
One problem is that festive holidays can create a lot of stress. There's the expected sources of pressure, such as crowded Christmas shopping, hosting parties and travelling long distances in heavy traffic to see loved ones. However, one expert believes that holidays can be a stressful reminder of negative psychological and behavioural patterns.
Geneen Roth, author of Lost and Found and Women, Food and God, told the Huffington Post that holidays can become an "evocative, associative time".
"It becomes easy to say things like, 'Last Thanksgiving, things were better.' For example, if you're not in a relationship and you really want to be and you once were, then unfortunately, what can happen is that your mind can start in on you -- you can build an unhappy story about the holidays that can lead you to eat. We tend to build stories and the stories we build often lead to feelings that lead to eating," she said.
Some experts even believe that when those who suffer from eating disorder who eat compulsively are literally "swallowing" their problems; eating provides a sense of instant and simple gratification in a way that is otherwise denied to them.
On the other side of the scale, eating disorder sufferers who severely restrict their meals can find that feeling a lack of control when putting into certain situations during the festive season - for example, because they're in an an unfamiliar place or they aren't cooking their own meals - can cause relapsed behaviour, one expert believes.
Andrew Getzfeld, PhD, a professor of psychology who specialises in eating disorders at New York University, told the source: "Part of the problem is that the holiday revolves around family, but to me these disorders are family disorders - they start with and affect families."
The question is, what can those who suffer from eating disorders do in order to cope with this stressful season? One way is to avoided placing emphasis on how the holidays relate to mealtimes, as challenging as that is. Instead, they should focus on viewing it as a time of celebration and being with friends and family.
If the talk does turn to food, it is important that no emotional investment is given to it; for example, it can be easy to think of certain foods as 'good' (salad, fruit, any diet food) or 'bad' (buttery mash potatoes, Christmas pudding, biscuits) but doing so can create unnecessary pressure. People should instead focus on sensible portions, rather than worrying about which dishes are saintly or sinful.
As for the loved ones of those with eating disorders, the most important thing that they can do is be as supportive as possible. "The best thing you can do is be sensitive to people’s needs, talk to them and don't take it personally," Getzfeld advised.