Holiday season

The Holiday Season Can Bring Difficulties for People With Eating Disorders

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) — The holiday season often involves family, friends and food. The dangers for people with eating disorders can be very difficult to manage during the holidays. This could cause a worry that many may not think about on vacation, but could impact the health of a loved one.

Sandy Bettis has struggled with an eating disorder for most of his life, but it got significantly worse nearly three and a half years ago.

“It’s amazing that just one choice in an eating disorder can change the dynamics of your whole household and your whole family,” says Bettis.

The holidays in particular have been a struggle for her.

“There was no happiness on the holidays when it came to everyone sitting around the table having a meal together because I wouldn’t be at the table,” Bettis says. “I would cook food for them but I would never touch it.”

Bettis says it usually starts around Halloween. All sweets and treats were triggers for her, leading to avoidance and isolation.

“The feeling, the emotions that come out of that are so much better than when you blame yourself because you did or didn’t do something right or wrong,” Bettis says.

Burrell’s psychologist, Dr. Molly Six, says it’s important for anyone in treatment or recovering to make plans ahead of time before heading to a family event.

“It’s great to have some sort of structured plan,” says Dr. Six. “I’m going to stay there for two hours and really stick to it. Really have a timeline so you know when that’s when you can go. I think sometimes it can bring a bit of comfort and it can also help you be more engaged during this time.

This also includes setting boundaries.

“Who I feel comfortable disclosing my eating disorder with,” says Dr. Six. “Who are the ones I might not be so comfortable with and really focus on those sources of support when you need eating disorder specific support.”

Dr. Six says triggers can be comments made by family members about weight and appearance, negative comments about food or overeating, and even just the food itself.

“If you have a huge expanse in front of you, it can be incredibly overwhelming,” says Dr. Six. “Even sometimes just the feeling, the sight of food, the smells, all of that can be a trigger.”

It’s important for people to be aware of their triggers and how they can deal with them.

“Know what your reactions are and consider even if I encounter this trigger, what might be a way to manage my distress related to it,” says Dr. Six. “Is there any way I can maybe go to another room for a few minutes?”

However, it is also important that family members approach conversations gently.

“Expressing that concern and also giving space by saying that you don’t have to share with me right now, but just know that I care about you and see you and hear you,” says Dr Six. “I just think about leaving and empowering them to have that choice to share.”

Dr. Six says it’s important for people to ask, listen and affirm. By asking, Dr. Six means asking how the loved one can be supported and what their needs are. Then, when they tell you what they need, listen to it and respect their wishes.

For the first Thanksgiving since her diagnosis, Bettis allowed herself to eat certain foods. Bettis says she’s really excited for Christmas.

“We’re going to enjoy it all together as a family,” Bettis says. “I’m not going to isolate myself and separate myself in another room and it will be family. It’s gonna be really cute.

Anyone interested in connecting with Burrell’s services can drop in or call the Connection Center at 1300 E Bradford Pkwy Bldg A, Springfield, MO 65804. The phone number is (417) 761-5000. Burrell says the wait time for the eating disorder program will be about one to two weeks.

For anyone who needs help right now, they can call Burrell’s toll-free crisis line, 24/7: 1-800-494-7355.

The National Eating Disorder Association offers free educational resources. It includes a support line that you can call, text, or chat. NEDA also offers a map to locate where you can find services and how to find free and low-cost support.

More information about navigating the mental health system can be found here.

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