Experts say holidays bring added stress to those suffering from eating disorders

LITTLE ROCK, Ark — With one more party to go in 2019, we may be letting out sighs of relief that the hustle and bustle of the holidays are finally coming to an end. 

Many of us may feel like we need a fresh new start, maybe even a cleanse. 

There’s another side to holiday social gatherings, though, for people suffering from an eating disorder.

Imagine one of your biggest stressors in life being food and it’s all around you during this time of year. 

Tonya Johnson, Director of Nutrition Services at UAMS, said this is how those suffering from eating disorders feel and these get-togethers can easily set off their internal battles. 

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“We do see a lot more trouble during the holidays because food is more prevalent,” she said. 

Johnson said it’s a fight that 10 to 15 percent of Americans suffer from.

“Most people think about eating disorders as anorexia or bulimia, but actually binge eating is the number one eating disorder,” she said. 

Which Johnson said is not surprising. 

“Around 40% of Americans are considered obese and of that 40%, one-third of those have a binge eating disorder,” she said. 

Johnson said when the holiday season is in full gear, this disorder gets especially hard to handle. 

“You go to a social situation and there’s all kind of temptations out there. Unless you have a plan going into that situation, the likelihood of you going on a binge is very high,” she said. 

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Johnson said a plan like having a supportive person with you when those temptations become overwhelming can help. 

Joshua Halamek, owner of Rock City Counseling, said this type of support is crucial. 

“You have to have that one person that’s going to be your advocate,” he said. 

Halamek said psychologically these settings cause people who are struggling to overthink. 

“They might under eat, or they kind of avoid foods. They might have family members who target them and say ‘eat, eat, eat,'” he said. 

Johnson said comments like, “that’s a lot on your plate” or “you didn’t get a lot food,” can be detrimental. 

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“Those negative words can really push them over the edge,” she said. 

These are words Johnson said most people don’t think twice about. 

“We need to be more cognitive of if they say no, they mean no. We don’t keep pushing food on them,” she said. 

Johnson said some signs you can look for in your family or friends if you think they’re struggling with an eating disorder is isolation, a routine of eating large portions of food and clinical signs of depression—like insomnia and fatigue.