When Holiday Meals Aren't a Gift

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 General News
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Medical Director from Chicago's Timberline Knolls Talks Openly about Handling an Eating Disorder During the Holidays

CHICAGO, Nov. 24 -- The holiday season can be a time full of joy, cheer, parties and family gatherings.

But for many people, especially those recovering from an eating disorder, it's a time of self-evaluation, loneliness, reflection on past failures and anxiety about an uncertain future. Family gatherings with a loved one in recovery from an eating disorder can be challenging and sometimes awkward.  

"In my practice, I have even seen evidence that innocent exposure to overeating with the family and during the holidays can often mark the beginning of a problem or even trigger a reoccurring one," said Kim Dennis, M.D., medical director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center. "For those in recovery, of course, overeating during the holidays and for special occasions is commonly dismissed as traditional, and therefore, okay. However, because holidays can be a stressful time, it's important for those in recovery to do what is needed in order to make it easier on themselves and not be pressured into eating more than can be handled."

Pre-planning is important for overall success, and keeping some important tips in mind – and practicing those – can be the difference between a good experience during the holidays and a disaster. Here are some tips from Dr. Kim Dennis and the staff at Timberline Knolls for family members dealing with a loved one with an eating disorder:

Talk it Out

It's important for family members to be able to have open, honest and loving communications with their loved one. Family members need to be able to address what they are seeing and be able to state how they are feeling, as long as it's in a loving and supportive manner. 

"If a family member, who has a loved one in recovery from bulimia or binge eating, wakes up and two leftover pumpkin pies are gone, it's important to address it, but address it in a loving manner. That's not always easy to do," said Dr. Dennis. "Yet, not saying anything is one of the worst things to do in the situation. The 'don't talk rule' is a big part of the disease and family members can help their loved ones recover with open, honest and loving dialog."

Join in Support

Support your loved ones by becoming involved in their support group and going to recovery meetings and family therapy sessions.

"It's important to stay in touch with your loved one's support environment, especially during the holidays because the disease doesn't take a holiday," added Dr. Dennis.

Ask Questions

Ask your loved one what would be helpful in their recovery, especially around the holidays.

"Are there certain foods that are triggers for their disease? If so, it's important, especially with loved ones in recovery from binge eating or bulimia, to get those foods that act as triggers out of the house," said Dr. Dennis.

Take Care of Yourself

While it's important for the person in recovery to continue to get support from support groups, sponsors, etc., it's just as important for family members to get their own support. By attending Family Anonymous or Al-Anon meetings, family members not only get the help needed to lovingly support someone in recovery, but also set an example to the person in recovery of the importance of support in the recovery process.

"Be in close contact with your sponsor or others in recovery before or after social and family gatherings," added Dr. Dennis. "Bringing along a support person, someone who knows what you are going through, is also a good idea."

As many as 10 million females and one million males are fighting a life and death battle with anorexia or bulimia and another 25 million are fighting a binge eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Eating disorders are usually shrouded in secrecy, but those who are suffering should realize that reaching out for assistance is the first step to getting back on track.

Located just outside Chicago, Timberline Knolls is an innovative residential treatment center designed exclusively for women. The center specializes in helping women aged 12 and older, offering treatment for eating disorders, substance abuse, co-occurring disorders and mood disorders.

SOURCE Timberline Knolls


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