Pass the Mashed Potatoes? Eating Disorders and the Holidays

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By Carolyn Schweitzer, Editorial Intern

Photo by Christina McCafferty, 18, Massachusetts

The holiday season, though “the most wonderful time of the year,” can also be the most stressful. As  a teen, besides end-of-the-semester schoolwork, there may also be trips to plan, cards to send, parties to attend, and presents to buy, not to mention the colder weather! Holidays can really take a toll on all of us, but this time of year can be especially difficult for those who struggle with eating disorders.

According to the Eating Recovery Center of Denver, Colorado, more than 11 million Americans struggle with an eating disorder. Major life events, such as leaving home for college, can cause those who are genetically predisposed to having eating disorders to develop them for the first time. In fact, the average age at which an eating disorder first develops is 19. The pressures of living away from home, class work, making new friends, and all around stress can trigger these unhealthy habits in some students. Approximately 10% of women in college are estimated to have an eating disorder.

Families and loved ones often don’t realize that their loved one has developed an eating disorder or may be at risk for one until they come home for the holidays. It’s important to be aware of how new college students are dealing with stress and of any possible problems that might have developed.

The Eating Recovery Center recently outlined five important warning signs that families and friends should keep in mind over winter break.

  1. Noticeable weight loss or weight gain since he or she entered college.
  2. Helping with the preparation of holiday meals but not eating them.
  3. Excessive exercise, even outdoors in poor winter weather conditions.
  4. Withdrawal from family and friends and avoidance of gatherings, even if he or she has not seen loved ones for months.
  5. Discussing college in a “stressed out” or obviously anxious manner or altogether avoiding conversations about school.

If you do notice any warning signs, set aside some time to talk to your friend or family member in a private place. Even if he or she denies any problems, be sure they know that you’re there for them. Showing someone with disordered eating that you care is important before, after, and during treatment. If someone does need professional help, be informed about the counseling services available on campus and nearby treatment programs that specialize in eating disorders. Asking for help is hard to do, but you can make it easier for them by simply being there.

During the holiday season, it’s easy to get wrapped up (pun intended!) in everything you have to do. But take some time out of your busy holiday schedule this year to check in with all of your friends and family. Let them know that you care. Keep in mind that early treatment is the best way to combat eating disorders and reach out now!

To learn more about eating disorders and what you can do to help, visit:

The National Eating Disorders Association:

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

Eating Recovery Center: http://www.eatingrecoverycenter.com/

 

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One response to “Pass the Mashed Potatoes? Eating Disorders and the Holidays

  1. This is a really good article. I had no idea that eating disorders typically started at 19 and that 10% of college girls have eating disorders. I am afraid of the Freshman 15 and hope to find a way to master it and work on my self control. I want to make exercising at least three times a week a priority; it’s not only healthy for my body, but also for my mind.
    I also like how you addressed how to deal with people who have signs/symptoms of eating disorders.
    This past summer, I met two girls who created the Project Heal organization. They met in rehab years ago for anorexia, and they now raise money to send girls to treatment, which can cost $30,000/month.
    Thank you for this wonderful article.

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