“For so many, the holidays are a painful, difficult season. What do you see your clients struggling with most during this time of the year?” The interviewer was Dr. Connie Mariano, former White House Physician and my esteemed colleague, her sensitive question posed during a recent taping for her new Dr. Connie Radio Show.
Over the previous hour, our holiday-themed discussion had run the gamut from how to emotionally survive the milestone first Christmas following the death of a loved one, to how to heal from not-so-jolly memories of Christmas’ past. Tough, emotion-laden challenges, made that much more poignant during the holiday season.
In response to her question, I thoughtfully replayed the myriad of therapeutic hours I had recently spent embracing the pain and circumstances of my clients’ lives during this most recent holiday season and, a bit astonished even within myself, shook my head and replied, “They are worried about what they might eat over the holidays.”
Whether anorexic or obese, bulimic or binge-eater, my therapeutic sofa at A New Beginning, the outpatient eating disorder treatment facility which I own and direct in Scottsdale, Arizona, is being worn thin by anxious clients, eating disordered AND non-eating disordered, who are obsessive and worried over the possibility of succumbing to food over the holidays.
Research related to this phenomenon dishearteningly supports my therapeutic experience. Specifically, a survey conducted by Mental Health America reported that concern over “overindulgence” during the holiday season causes a significant amount of stress in 28% of the American population, a full percentage point higher than the stress associated with “being alone.” Similarly, television ads aired during winter months focus excessively on the stress associated with “holiday weight gain” and emphasize the need to lose weight in the coming New Year.
Concerned and intrigued, Dr. Connie leaned in towards the studio microphone and asked, “So tell us, Dr. Julie, how do you help your clients to stop overindulging during the holidays?”
Somewhat tongue and cheek, and taking a deep breath in to emphasize the extent of my emotions, I answered rather pointedly, “I tell my clients to STOP TRYING to not overindulge” and, as if I needed to underscore my point further, added, “…and I tell them to NEVER diet over the holidays!”
As a psychologist, eating disorder specialist, and advocate for the eating disorder recovery process, my ever-so-frequently chanted mantras, “Stop Dieting” and “Allow yourself to enjoy all foods within healthy moderation!” are never stronger – or repeated more often - than they are during the holiday season.
Enjoying food, partaking in the culinary pleasures of the holidays and socializing around familial traditions involving food does not, and I (quite often) repeat, does not cause significant weight gain and/or make people “fat.”
Quite the contrary, whether over the holidays – or at any other time of the year - as an eating disorder expert, I unequivocally know that whenever you diet (or significantly restrict your food intake), you are setting yourself up to overindulge, binge, and/or binge-purge at some point in the near future.
Like so many pieces of inaccurate information circulating around the holidays, the unfortunate – and irresponsible - myth that people gain an extraordinary amount of weight during the holidays is just that, a myth.
Dig deep beneath the hype and diet-media-propelled surface and you will find an abundance of research which reveals the inaccuracy of these statements. For example, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health reported that the average weight gain for adults between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day was less than one pound (although most participants estimated that they had gained much more). Similarly, a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that most Americans gain about one pound of body weight on average during the holidays.
So, this holiday season, stop stressing about the potential to overindulge! Instead, allow yourself to partake, taste, experience and enjoy, albeit with a merry bit of healthy moderation, the foods and splendor associated with this glorious time of the year.
And if you feel compelled to make yet another New Year’s diet resolution, make this the year that you resolve to never diet again!