Dealing with extended family, increased commitments and even celebratory occasions can cause a compulsive overeater to gain too much weight during the holiday season. “Many of us deal with depression, disappointment, loneliness and unfulfilled expectations during the holiday season,” said Stefanie C. Barthmare, a psychotherapist with the Methodist Weight Management Center in Houston. “When our ideal holiday expectations are not met, we feel bad. That’s when many of us resort to eating more food, more often, to keep the deeper stuff at bay.”
Compulsive overeaters use food to deal with stress. Daily anxiety, challenges and frustrations are often softened by things like cookies, chocolate and nuts, all common holiday gifts. This problem, often beginning in childhood, may continue into adulthood and appear to go unnoticed because it’s just a normal part of the holiday season. Unfortunately, dangerous weight gain may be the result. Gaining the weight then brings on feelings of guilt and shame and, eventually, more bingeing. Learning to deal with and manage these difficult feelings requires patience and persistence, especially when food is used as a way to cope.
“Quite frequently, even the feeling of fullness does not prohibit one from eating vast amounts of food,” Barthmare said. “The food might initially help ease anxiety or difficult feelings, however, then it becomes a way of always managing feelings and then causes excessive weight gain.”
Barthmare says because the compulsive eating behavior gets established a little at a time, the consequences are gradual, thus the motivation to change is lower. The time to begin changing the pattern is now because most of us gain anywhere from 5 to 15 pounds during the holiday season.
“Changing this destructive pattern requires support from those around you, and an awareness of what is going on with your body,” Barthmare said. “Structured meal times, menus planned with a full-range of a person’s schedule, needs and lifestyle all need to be taken care of for you to successfully breakthrough and stop compulsive eating.”
Editor’s Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.