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Holidays Bring Heightened Risk for Eating Disorders Relapse

Americans who regularly have high levels of overall stress are most likely to feel stress specific to the holidays, according to a recent survey conducted by Mental Health America. For individuals in recovery from eating disorders, who are typically predisposed to higher levels of anxiety, this is particularly true. The frenetic pace of the holiday hustle and bustle and increased emphasis on food-centric gatherings can lead to heightened stress, and in severe cases, eating disorders relapse. To help individuals in recovery from an eating disorder maximize the chances for a healthy, happy holiday season, Eating Recovery Center recommends patients and their loved ones take proactive steps to plan for recovery-focused holiday celebrations.

“Treatment professionals frequently see increases in eating disordered thoughts and behaviors in patients during the holiday season. Often, these lapses in recovery are a response to the anxiety that can accompany gatherings of friends and family, as well as more emphasis on and exposure to food,” explains Ovidio Bermudez, MD, FAAP, FSAHM, FAED, CEDS, chief medical officer and medical director of child and adolescent services at Eating Recovery Center. “To minimize the effects of these stressors and protect recovery during the holiday season, it is important to plan activities that emphasize recovery, commit to a manageable schedule and prepare for the ‘what-ifs’ that may arise.”

Eating Recovery Center offers the following strategies to help individuals in recovery, as well as their support systems, healthfully navigate the holiday season and minimize chances for eating disorders relapse.

If you are in recovery from an eating disorder:

1. Turn the focus from food. Make togetherness, rather than food, the central theme of your holiday season and seek opportunities to plan and attend events that do not center around a meal.
2. Avoid “overbooking” your schedule. Prioritize your health and wellbeing over attending every holiday party, and be realistic about what you can manage.
3. Surround yourself with people who have healthy relationships with their bodies and food. If possible, bring a trusted family member or friend with you to holiday gatherings for support.

If you are supporting someone in recovery from an eating disorder:

1. Include your loved one in holiday activity planning. With the help of his or her treatment team, your loved one can guide you as you plan new recovery-focused holiday traditions.
2. Give your loved one “the 411.” Provide information about holiday activities in advance, including what types of food will be available and if alcohol will be served. Preparation can help those in recovery avoid situations that might trigger a relapse.
3. Make your loved one’s recovery a priority. Consider altering holiday traditions in the short-term to protect your friend or family member’s wellbeing in the long-term.

“Additionally, staying connected to an outpatient treatment team, including dietitians, therapists and physicians or psychiatrists, can be extremely helpful during the holiday season,” explains Dr. Bermudez. “Whether from eating disorders treatment professionals, friends or family, it is important that individuals in recovery from an eating disorder seek out the support they need to successfully navigate this complex time of year.”

To learn more about Eating Recovery Center as a treatment resource for addressing escalating eating disordered thoughts and behaviors this holiday season, visit www.EatingRecoveryCenter.com.

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