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Posts tagged ‘Eating Disorders’

Emotional Eating and the Holidays – Looking at Emotional Eating and Stress Management in a Different Way

The holidays can often sneak up on us, and so can holiday stress.  On top of the stress of making travel plans, coping with family tension, and the financial strains of holiday shopping we also worry a lot about holiday foods.  There are a lot of “helpful” websites out there that give advice about emotional eating during the holidays, but most of them are aimed at ways to maintain your diet and not gain weight.  In my experience as a therapist specializing in the treatment of Eating Disorders, focusing just on emotional eating in terms of weight gain or weight loss is not enough.  We need to look at what emotional eating really is and how it functions during the holidays.  Understanding it can help us feel like emotional eating is more manageable and not such a scary, powerful thing.

 

1.  ACKNOWLEDGE THE REASON WHY EMOTIONAL EATING EXISTS:  Emotional eating happens for a reason, and it is a good reason.  We all have emotional needs.  It is part of being human.  We come across stressful situations in our lives and we look for ways to meet those needs and cope with stress.  Finding ways to meet those needs in healthy ways is much harder than it sounds.   It is more common to look for ways to cope that make us feel good physically, which often involves using food.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but often it just is not enough.  Filling an emotional need with a physical feeling often only helps in the short term.

2.  LET GO OF BLAMING YOURSELF: After acknowledging that food is being used to fill an emotional need, the second and most important step is to have compassion for yourself.  You are not a “bad person” for wanting to feel better.  In the dieting world, it is seen as “bad” to “go off track” and eat “bad foods”.  Let go of the idea that certain foods are bad and that you should feel guilty for breaking the “rules” of your diet.  Instead, contemplate the reason why you are reaching for the foods you are craving.  For most people, the holidays are a mixture of comforting, happy memories, stressful, difficult memories (especially if you have lost a loved one) and high expectations for a “perfect holiday”.  Those are not easy things to deal with.  Let yourself off the hook and try to let go of any unrealistic expectations that are causing you stress.

3. TAKE CARE OF YOUR STRESS DIRECTLY, NOT INDIRECTLY:  If you are having a hard time during the holiday season, let yourself make your emotional needs a priority.   Ways to directly deal with your stress is to talk about it, spend time with people who do not add to your stress levels, and schedule some time just for yourself.  Sometimes just having a few brief moments of quiet time in a peaceful place can make a world of difference. The holidays can become so hectic and busy that we often put our own needs last.  The less we directly deal with our own stress levels, the more we rely on indirect ways to cope, which can lead to using food, alcohol, or other ways to “escape”.  Trying to escape our stress does not provide an adequate outlet for us to process our emotions.   If you are having a hard time grieving the loss of a loved one around the holidays, it can be useful to look at the positive side of emotional eating.  If a certain food reminds you of the person you have lost, let yourself enjoy those foods and remember your loved one.  Combine this ritual with writing a letter to your loved one, writing in a journal, or talking with someone who understands how much you miss that person.  Taking care of yourself is just as important as your other obligations this holiday season.

4.  MAYBE I NEED MORE SUPPORT?  For approximately eleven million Americans, emotional eating is part of an eating disorder (National Eating Disorder Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org).  Eating disorders can range in severity levels and unfortunately eating disorders can be misunderstood and many people do not seek out the help that they need.  If you feel like emotional eating is truly out of control or if food and weight is dominating your thoughts throughout the day, it is worth your time to talk to a professional who specializes in helping people with Eating Disorders.  You can find an Eating Disorder specialist in your area through the website www.EDreferral.com.

“I Think My Friend Has an Eating Disorder….How Can I Help?”

by Erika Hirsch, MFT, ATR – August 8, 2011

Most of us know someone who has suffered with an Eating Disorder.  It can be a friend, girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, sibling, roommate, or a grown child who is now out on his/her own.  Almost everyone knows someone who has been through it, but most loved ones struggle with knowing how to help.  Eating Disorders are daunting and scary for everyone involved.  They are incredibly difficult disorders to go through personally, and as the friend of someone with an Eating Disorder, it can be frustrating just watching it happen and not knowing how to help.  There are things that you can do.

Ways to Support a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

1. It’s not about the food.  Approach your friend, ask them what’s on their mind, and talk about what kinds of things are causing them stress.  Are they having a hard time dealing with family or relationship stress?  Do they feel pressure at work or at school?  Are they being too hard on themselves?  Did something stressful or traumatic happen recently?  Listen to them and don’t worry about giving the “right” advice or “fixing” it.

2. Let your friend know that you are concerned about what you are seeing.  These are the basic categories of Eating Disorder behaviors that most loved ones notice and express concern about:

 

  • Binge behaviors – eating large quantities of food, almost in a “zombie-like” state.
  • Restricting behaviors – refusing food, having a lot of fears about food, not eating or only eating “safe” foods.
  • Purging behaviors – excessive or obsessive exercising, throwing up after meals, abusing laxatives.
  • Fear of weight gain – talking daily or often about weight and weight loss, weighing themselves often, emotions or self worth are determined by the number on the scale, weight gain is something they are intensely afraid of.

 

Be kind, compassionate, and non-judgmental when you talk about these behaviors.  Most of the time the person is hesitant to talk about their secret eating disorder behaviors and it’s very hard to be confronted about them.  They might not be ready to have it all out in the open.

3. Consider your approach.  Tough love is not going to help.  “Forcing” someone to eat with you or saying, “snap out of it and just eat”, will not help.   It’s more appropriate to try to help this person in a way they’re comfortable with.  For example, they might ask you, “Can you stay with me after I eat lunch and distract me so I won’t go throw up?”.  However, it’s best not to try to push this approach onto them.   Let them guide you in how to provide support.  Also, keep in mind that unless you’ve had an Eating Disorder yourself, there are limits to what you will understand about what they are going through.  Let your friend explain it to you, and listen without judgment.  For example, if a friend confides in you and tells you that he/she throws up after meals, replying with, “Wow, that’s gross! I don’t know how you can do that, I hate throwing up”, will most likely cause your friend to feel that it is unsafe to talk about the Eating Disorder.

4. Encourage your friend to get professional help. Seeing a therapist who has experience in Eating Disorder treatment is vitally important.  If your friend refuses to see a therapist, then please encourage him/her to see a doctor to get a check-up.  There might be serious medical complications from the Eating Disorder that the person is not aware of, and these complications can be life threatening.  If your friend passes out or seems like they are in some kind of state of medical emergency, do not hesitate to call 911 immediately.

5. You cannot expect yourself be your friend’s therapist or doctor.  Be a concerned and compassionate friend, be there to listen, but you are not the person who is responsible for “fixing” your friend’s Eating Disorder, or watching him/her to make sure they are eating.  Becoming the Food Police will not be helpful for your friend or yourself.   If you are a parent with an adult child who has an eating disorder, collaborate as much as you can with your child, ask them what kind of support they need from you.   Parents should also not be their child’s therapist or doctor.  Kindness, an empathetic ear, and a non-judgmental approach will go a long way in helping a loved one get through eating disorder recovery.

Finally, my last tip for loved ones is to take care of your own emotional well-being.  Consider seeking out therapy for yourself, especially if you have an adult child, spouse, or very close friend or family member with an eating disorder.  Therapy can help you gain insight into what your loved one is going through and can help you in managing the emotions, worries and fears that you have for their well-being.  Things can get better with the right kind of support, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

 

 

Erika Hirsch, MFT, ATR (MFC #45824) is a psychotherapist in Los Angeles who specializes in Eating Disorder treatment.  www.erikahirschpsychotherapy.com

 

This is a brief list of tips for loved ones and it is not a replacement for individualized treatment or a consultation with a licensed mental health professional.