Why the holidays are hard for people with eating disorders

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COLUMBIA - For some people battling eating disorders, the holidays don't give much reason to celebrate.

Danielle Woods, a registered nurse and spokesperson for the McCallum Place Eating Disorder Treatment Center, said eating disorder patients are normally very susceptible to relapses. Woods said patients have to confront their sickness every single time they eat. Because there are lots of opportunities to slip up, relapses are often common.

Woods said day-to-day stress, paired with the additional stress of holiday activities, is often enough to push someone over the edge.

Shanda Weathers, an eating disorder survivor, said one reason the holidays can be hard is simply because there's more food around.

"On Thanksgiving and Christmas, everybody brings in something," Weathers said. "There's so much more food around, and it's a big part of celebrations."

Weathers said the coming of the new year can also be difficult, but for a different reason.

"With the new year's resolutions, the conversation around food changes," she said. "People start talking about a shame around food. They say, 'Oh, I can't eat this,' or 'I can't eat that...' When you have an eating disorder, you hear that 24/7 in your head already. So when you're surrounded by people, and you hear that, and you're already trying to eat... it makes things that much harder."  

Woods and Weathers both agree the key to getting through the holiday without relapsing is preparation. Weathers said before holiday meals she will draft up a very structured, specific eating plan with her nutritionist. 

"That way, I can just look at it, and know I've had the food I need," Weathers said. "That takes some of the pressure off of me."

Weathers recommends people reach out for professional help as soon as possible, so they can develop a support system during the most difficult part of the season. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, McCallum Place in Columbia offers a free support group. The group meets on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month, from 6:15 p.m. to 7:15 pm. Each meeting is held at the McCallum Place's Columbia branch on 3215 Wingate Court, Suite 100. No registration is required.