Binge Eating and the Upcoming Holiday Season

There are multiple holidays between now and the end of the year that can create extra challenges for those struggling with body image and food. For many, the holiday season can cause anxiety, making it difficult to manage a healthy relationship with food. Among other responsibilities, the extra stress surrounding holidays can act as a trigger for food-related issues.

From a cognitive behavioural perspective, binges, whether objective or subjective, are largely due to dietary restraint or dieting (Cooper & Fairburn, 2011). Many of us, particularly around the holiday season, attempt to stick to dietary rules on how we should eat. For example, this could look like implementing rules such as cutting out all carbohydrates or refined sugars from your diet. We often fail to realize that restriction can come in many forms – whether actual calorie reduction or different food rules (i.e. mental restriction). However, even when these rules are broken slightly, we often view this as a lack of self-control, and we throw the ‘food rules’ out the window (Cooper & Fairburn, 2011). When the food rules are thrown out the window, temporary uncontrolled eating, or binges, may occur (Cooper & Fairburn, 2011). This can fuel the desire to further control one’s eating, shape and weight – and we essentially shame ourselves into restricting again (Cooper & Fairburn, 2011). This leads to a cycle, known as the restrict/binge cycle, in which binging and restriction go hand in hand. This cycle is further exacerbated by daily stressors, in which eating is seen as an adaptive response to life’s difficulties.

Regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder or have a difficult relationship with food, it is important to be curious about what may be maintaining your behaviours and thoughts. Being curious can shift your mindset away from shame and guilt. This shift can allow you to see that your behaviour may be an adaptive response to various factors, instead of a loss of self-control. There is ultimately more to changing your relationship with food, however, therapy can help you develop the necessary skills to tackle triggering events, regulate intense moods and disconnect weight from health.

References

Cooper, Z., & Fairburn, C. G. (2011). The evolution of “Enhanced” Cognitive Behavior Therapy for eating disorders: Learning from treatment nonresponse. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 18(3), 394–402

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