BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The holidays can be the toughest time of the year for people struggling with eating disorders, according to one expert.
Layne Roland is a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in helping people recover from problems like bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating. She says the problem is worse than many people realize and can even manifest itself in ways that seem healthy.
“Sometimes, it looks like a great diet, and other times, it looks like a person eats too much,” she said. “Eating disorders are really a way to cope with stress, manage, or change the way you feel, and gain a sense of control.”
Roland says that’s why she has spent the last few weeks mentally preparing her clients for heightened stress around Thanksgiving. It’s not just the food on the table that provides a challenge though. Sometimes, it’s the people around it.
“Large groups of people, seeing relatives you haven’t seen in a long time, travel, and a change in routine,” Roland said, listing stress factors that are uniquely prominent during the holidays. “Of course, the large quantities of food contribute too."
Roland says eating disorder recovery is not a linear process, like alcohol or drug abuse recovery, because a person cannot survive without food. There’s no such thing as quitting an eating disorder “cold turkey,” meaning slip-ups are an anticipated part of the recovery process.
“If they have a little setback around the holidays, it’s not the end of the world," Roland said. “They can start over during the next meal or the next day and get back on track.”
Roland says it’s important for people struggling with eating disorders to communicate their needs with family members during the holidays and for family members to be compassionate.
“We have a society that’s pretty obsessed with thinness and achieving, and we’ve got social media now where you can follow all these famous people and there’s fad diets,” Roland said. “We don’t really have a society that promotes balanced, healthy well-being. That breeds eating disorders.”
Roland says family members should validate a struggling loved one’s needs and concerns, offer to help, be emotionally available, help make a meal plan, and create a quiet escape for high-stress moments. She also says it’s important for family members to validate their own needs and de-stress.
“Holidays are supposed to be about having fun with your family, making memories, and enjoying each other,” Roland said. “Be kind to yourself, knowing that recovery is hard on the loved ones, as well as the person recovering.”