The festive season has its origins back to Paganism. People used to work and survive from the land; farming and foraging depended on the seasons; keeping morale up was also important since days were short and depressing in winter. Traditions give people hope and motivation to how things can improve- the days getting longer and warmer, fresh crops and food, and also a sense of community. Nowadays, we may not celebrate Saturnalia or the sun anymore, however we still engage in a number of traditions based on paganism. One of these traditions is to meet up over food, to cook and to spend a lot of time eating during the festive season.
This is also why many people suffering from eating disorders may look at the festive season with dread rather than reverie. From their perspective, the festive season may be fraught with worry about food, weight and body image, stress from expectations and reactions of family members, not feeling good enough and also facing other triggers for their ED. There is also a change in routine and perhaps an added burden on their usual healthy coping mechanisms and behaviours.
What are eating disorders?
According to Dannibale (2014) twenty million women and ten million men in the US suffer from an eating disorder at one point during their lives. This would include anorexia (low body weight, disturbance in body image, extreme controlling of food intake), bulimia (repeated binge eating and purging), binge eating disorder (loss of control with food intake) and EDNOS, eating disorder not otherwise specified.
How can the festive season impact an ED?
- Having increased anxiety, this may be due to financial constraints, social image and expectations on social media, work commitments and deadlines, finding the perfect gift or hosting the perfect party, etc…
- Feelings of increased loneliness or inadequacy may also be aroused during this time.
- Past trauma or unresolved issues may be re-triggered, especially in the case of unhealthy familial interactions since there would be an increase in events or time spent with them. These may also present additional pressure on the person if there is an unhealthy view towards the body and eating that is being perpetuated.
- Being overly concerned with the possibility of gaining weight during these months. This would in turn lead the person to be overly strict with one’s eating or losing more control with binging.
- Adding stress on relationships due to secrecy to hide the behaviour or since the person may choose to avoid meeting with people altogether during this time.
How can one cope better with the festive season?
- Being aware of what triggers the ED is very important. There is also a link between a lack of self-awareness and ED. Thus, the more aware the person is, the better able they are to engage in healthy coping behaviours rather than unhealthy ways of feeling in control through their food intake.
- Making a plan of who they are about to meet and how these people have an impact on them. This plan could also include when to meet with a supportive friend or relative after a stressful encounter with someone who may trigger the ED. It may also mean including an extra session with the therapist during this period or planning some time out for oneself.
- Keeping boundaries and knowing when to re-direct conversations from painful topics. This may also follow the plan that one would have drawn up and included some interesting conversation starters to avoid the conversation from focusing too much on one’s appearance, diet and eating habits.
- Finding the time to care for oneself and to process the experience of what is happening. This may also include informing someone that you trust about the struggles that the person may be going through so that they can have someone with who they can check back with.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to a professional here.
Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.
References:Dannibale, K. 2014. The Effects of the Holidays on Eating Disorders. New Errands: The Undergraduate Journal of American Studies. Volume 2: Issue 1.