Binge Eating and Holidays: How to Heal

Holidays present some of the biggest challenges for those living with binge eating disorders. Maybe you are struggling with binge eating. Maybe you suspect or know a loved one who is. Thanksgiving can be an incredibly challenging time for someone with an eating disorder.

This holiday is centered on eating. In reality, it almost promotes overeating. But take this holiday as an opportunity to support your loved one or to help yourself grow and heal. Learning about the nature of binge eating disorder, its signs and symptoms, and what you, family, and friends can do will help everyone have a safe, happy and healthy holiday season.

What is Binge Eating Disorder, and How Do You Recognize It?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a clinically diagnosable eating disorder characterized by frequent, recurrent bouts of consuming large amounts of food and a compulsion to continue eating, even if uncomfortably full.

Sometimes referred to as overeating or compulsive eating, BED is a serious condition. If left unchecked, BED can cause debilitating health complications, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chronic heart diseases, diabetes, and more. It’s a serious condition and should be treated as such.

Signs and Symptoms

The holidays are supposed to be joyful occasions. The holidays are about coming together to share a meal with family and friends—people you are thankful to have in your life. Because of the large amounts of food, it may be more difficult to identify when an unhealthy cycle occurs. Knowing the signs and symptoms of BED can help you recognize when overeating has become a serious problem.

Those with BED often experience distressing feelings, such as depression, a loss of control, shame, embarrassment, and guilt. You might notice a loved one experiencing this emotional distress. Embarrassment and shame can get so bad that some people become experts at hiding their actions, eating alone or in secret. You may notice tons of empty wrappers in the trash or large swathes of food disappearing from the fridge or freezer.

Individuals with BED can live in all sized bodies and many people with BED experience weight fluctuations so it doesn’t always fit a certain mold. BED is a complex disorder, and this list is not comprehensive: if you feel like any of these criteria indicate you or a loved one has BED, it’s important to reach out to a mental health provider, registered dietitian and doctor for help.

What You Can Do For Someone With BED

If you know or suspect that your loved one has BED there are some things you can do to help them through this time of year. If you are hosting, it may be tempting to simply reduce your food spread/buffet or serve smaller portions, but for someone struggling with BED, simply hiding the food will not help them very much (and oftentimes backfires). It is far more important to be mindful, supportive, and aware of potential triggers that might cause triggering disordered eating behavior.

Stress is one of the most common triggers for those living with BED. Be mindful of what you say to your loved ones or what you ask them to do. Openly commenting on food behavior (equivalent to public shaming) is not the way to go. A food neutral approach without discussion of body image is best. As hard as it is to hear, there is nothing you can do to cure someone of BED in one holiday (and without professional help). Providing a generally supportive and welcoming environment is the best thing you can do.

If your loved one is open about their disorder, you may be aware of the treatment they are undergoing or potential coping mechanisms they utilize to avoid triggers. Please do what you can to support them in their coping endeavors and help them get through the day. While you can’t cure BED, your support could mean the difference between a joyful holiday and one ridden with anxiety.

What You Can Do If You Have BED

Know that you are not alone. And that this is one day. You know yourself best, such as what triggers set you off and what causes you undue stress. Trust yourself and plan ahead. Take advantage of your support network, whether that be family, friends, and/or your healthcare providers.

As you’re probably aware, anxiety and BED go hand in hand—they’re common comorbidities. Controlling your anxiety and stress will go a long way in helping you tackle the day. Don’t take on too much for this upcoming holiday. It’s okay to say no if someone asks you to do something that you know will negatively impact your health (e.g., if someone asks you to host or cook a slew of food for the holiday).

Moreover, utilize any coping strategies you have developed or learned in therapy. If you don’t have any coping strategies and have never sought help, it is important for you to do so. There is a broad spectrum of mental health therapies designed to treat BED and any additional mental health issues you are experiencing.

Contact Toledo Center For BED Treatment

You don’t have to go through this alone. Support from family and friends is important. But seeking professional help from providers like the clinicians at the Toledo Center for Eating Disorders is just as important. Located in Sylvania, OH, our facility proudly serves the community by providing comprehensive, compassionate care tailored to your own unique experience. Toledo Center clinicians are well-versed in various therapies designed to help treat your binge eating disorder, including cognitive-behavioral therapy exposure and response prevention, symbolic modeling (metaphor) therapy, and more. Reach out today to schedule an appointment.