The Role of Food in Holiday Celebrations: Eating Disorders
By: Nancy Tikunoff, IMH
In the United States, our holidays are rife with references to food as a central part of the celebration. Who can imagine a Thanksgiving get-together without all the traditional favorites? The meal is planned, budgeted, shopped for, cooked and eaten with much attention and relish. Along with the emphasis on the food comes an expectation that we will overeat. Oh yes, we’ll then complain about how “stuffed” we feel like the turkey itself and make jokes about the now-needed after dinner walk. We might even take the walk but we will still eat too much. The naps will abound before the football games start. All of this is within the normative experience of Americans during this special time of friends, family, relaxation and food. After it’s all over, we’ll go back to our usual eating habits that don’t include two pieces of pie and extra helpings of all of our favorites. It was only for a day or two and not a lifestyle and we won’t be seriously harmed.
There will be those, however, who will not be laughing and whose usual eating patterns will remain hurtful and destructive. Their intense adversarial relationship with food will rage on unabated. This “food fight” can reveal itself in different forms such as through anorexia, binge-eating, bulimia, bulorexia, compulsive overeating and other forms of disordered eating. Their common theme is the use of food to kill or quiet painful emotions, to grasp onto a sense of control or to try to find comfort when other methods (people) have let us down. Yes, you heard me right. These “food fight” maladies are not about food! They are just expressed in food-centric ways.
Why food as the drug of choice?
The reason some of us become obsessed with food is because it’s all that we have available to us. If we are children when the maladaptive relationship began, we don’t have the resources to obtain other common sources of self-medicating that adults choose such as drugs, alcohol, sex, work or gambling. But most of us in America have an ample supply of food available. In other words, we take what we can get and have easy access to. Makes sense, right?
For the anorexic, their body and their ability to make decisions about its intake and output is the sole area in which they feel they have a voice. Again, this is especially true when we are in relatively powerless and vulnerable positions, which is the case in childhood and is also when these patterns usually develop. For bulimic purgers, food allows the comfort of reducing distressing emotions to a manageable level without the added pain that excess weight gain brings.
Other reasons for food as the choice for pain control and comfort are that it is a societally and religiously “safe” addiction. Drug and alcohol addictions are frowned upon openly in our society but food addictions don’t seem to be so detrimental to the person, their families or society at large. Don’t be fooled by appearances – they are just as deadly as pills or alcohol can be. Untreated eating disorders will progressively worsen with an accompanying decline in self-esteem and physical health in conjunction with a rise in fear, a sense of being out of control and self-loathing at one’s inability to stop. The isolation and the associated sense of aloneness increases due to the secrecy required to “hide” our disordered eating from others and because of our shame and guilt.
Physical illness and death can result from the physical results to our bodies from the dangerous eating habits. Death can also occur from suicide secondary to a loss of hope that anything other than “this nightmare that has become my life” is possible.
Is help available? Can I recover from an eating disorder?
Yes, help is available and you can rediscover a normal relationship with food where it’s really about what food is – healthy nutritional fuel for our bodies. I know that may feel impossible to you now because this problem could have been present for decades. But it’s true nonetheless. There is HOPE. You can get well. The food relationship that once seemed so empowering or comforting for you but then turned on you so that it is now producing more pain than it relieves can be righted. It can be turned around. But you have to ask for help. You’ve already figured out that you can’t do it alone or you already would have fixed this mess, right? You would have stopped the pain if you could.
Call and make an appointment with a caring, understanding professional today to get started on the road back to a healthy relationship with food where it is neither your friend nor an enemy but it’s just food (just like gas for your car at the gas pump). The suffering needs to stop and IT CAN!
Glossary of Terms
Anorexia–a serious disorder in eating behavior that is characterized especially by a pathological fear of weight gain leading to faulty eating patterns, malnutrition and usually excessive weight loss
Binge- Eating Disorder – excessive or compulsive consumption of food, usually those foods high in fat, carbohydrates and/or sugar, with the potential for ingesting thousands of calories in a short period of time; the eating feels out of control and produces weight gain, fear and shame
Bulimia- excessive or compulsive consumption of food, usually those foods high in fat, carbohydrates and/or sugar, with the potential for ingesting thousands of calories in a short period of time followed by some mechanism to rid the body of the calories and discomfort (self-induced vomiting, overuse of laxatives, excessive exercise or some combination of these methods)
Bulorexia – a pattern of eating that combines periods of anorexia with periods of bulimic behaviors
Compulsive Overeating–not an official diagnosis of an eating disorder but similar to binge-eating wherein the person’s eating feels out of control and like an addiction that they cannot stop and results in unwanted weight gain, fear and shame; by far the most common pattern of maladaptive eating
Disordered Eating – any type of relationship with food and eating wherein food and eating somehow rules the person’s life; it can exhibit itself in the form of over concern or obsession with food safety, rigid rules of eating, only eating organic foods or only eating at certain times or places
About Nancy: Having suffered from an eating disorder for decades and become free, Nancy has a deep compassion and a non-judgmental understanding for those struggling with eating disorders. It doesn’t matter what you weigh (no matter how little or how much) she just wants to help you get free. Nancy would count it as her privilege and honor to be the one to walk this out with you.
In addition, Nancy is a Registered Nurse with education in nutrition and also a Professional Life Coach in the area of Health and Wellness. She holds a Master’s Degree in Health and Wellness and a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing as well as a Master’s Degree in professional counseling. Please contact Nancy to make an appointment at: LifeWorksgroup@aol.com or by calling 407-647-7005. You can read Nancy’s biography at www.lifeworksgroup.org