"I'd say, 'Oh, I don't like this food. I'm not interested in having this right now. I'm not that hungry.'”
As soon as she could, she’d excuse herself from the table and escape to her room.
Gorge Then Guilt
The holidays also create a lot of angst for Ryan Sheldon. But instead of starving himself, he’d gorge.
“I would use the holidays as an excuse for me to binge and for it to be accepted,” he says.
Sheldon is a big-and-tall model who’s recovering from a binge eating disorder. For him, the affliction meant consuming huge quantities of food with a giant chaser of guilt.
“Family is really, really, really stressful and that would trigger me to binge," Sheldon says. "It became like this really dark time. I began to dread the holidays."
He remembers tortured flights from the East Coast home to Los Angeles after celebrating Hanukkah with his relatives; he ruminated over and over on offhand comments from family members about his size or eating habits.
“I couldn't shake the sense of feeling worthless," Sheldon remembers. "The sense of feeling lonely. The sense of feeling like I don't deserve anything.”
Often the moment the plane touched down he’d start a new fad diet like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers or SlimFast to shed holiday pounds.
“I would obsess over the diet," Sheldon says. "I would get very meticulous. Then it would go one of two ways. I would either go off the diet immediately or I would go severe on the diet. It was sick.”
Lauren Muhlheim, a psychologist in Los Angeles who specializes in eating disorders, says experiences like Dean's and Sheldon's are typical this time of year.
“When people eat, in contexts that they don’t eat ... on a daily basis, they face a higher level of difficulty," she says.
Muhlheim advises her clients to prepare before a festive gathering by asking:
- How are you going to go through the buffet?
- How are you going to make decisions about what to eat?
- Who is your support person during the meal?
- Who can help you afterward?
If the holidays trigger a relapse, that’s okay, Muhlheim says. “The goal is to not beat oneself up when there is a lapse but to learn from it and figure out how you can get stronger in your recovery skills."
She hopes friends and family can add extra helpings of compassion for anyone with eating disorders during the holidays.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, you may call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.