Holiday Eating and Eating Disorders - Is There a Difference?

As we enter into the holiday season and all of the celebrations surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas, most of us look forward to the gatherings and festivities that include favorite foods and treats we save to savor for this special time of year. For someone who struggles with an eating disorder, however, the disproportionate focus on food during the holiday season can produce intense anxiety and stress.

Some people think that holiday eating and eating disorders are synonymous. In fact, when I tell people I work in eating disorder treatment, I often get a thoughtful pause, and then a comment about how they must have an eating disorder because they love to eat! The truth is, like all good things God gave to us, He meant for us to enjoy food. It has so many good purposes. Aside from the obvious purpose to nourish and fuel our bodies, food can also bring us together to celebrate, or mourn, or simply to connect in community. God meant for us to enjoy food and for it to be a part of a life well lived in honoring Him – “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)

Those caught in the throes of an eating disorder don’t enjoy food the way God intended. In fact, the relationship with food is off balance. Food, calories, and nutrition content become a complex obsession, rather than a simple enjoyment. Sometimes the obsession is about calorie counting and restricting certain foods, driven by an intense fear of gaining weight. Other times the eating disorder manifests in a love-hate relationship with food, and with one's body, resulting in binges, followed by attempts to purge the vast calories consumed through vomiting, laxative abuse, or excessive exercise. Then there are those who work hard to numb uncomfortable emotions through a cycling of binges, without the compensatory behaviors afterward.

The cycle of shame and self-loathing around any type of eating disorder takes a toll on the body, the mind, and the spirit. For those who already struggle with a sense of connectedness to themselves, others, or God, the holiday season can be a particularly emotionally painful time. While many are connecting in celebration around them, the person with an eating disorder feels more isolated – the disorder steals that person’s sense of joy, peace, hope - and the ability to connect with others.

At KellerLife Center for Eating Disorders, we recognize that the need to treat the body, the mind and the spirit are all equally important when it comes to full recovery from an eating disorder. Our intent is to help women get back to the life God intended – free from the grips of a life-threatening disorder, and overflowing with the good things He has to offer: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

Around the holidays, we often get questions from people who are concerned they may have an eating disorder because they ate too many holiday goodies, and put on a few extra pounds. A Thanksgiving-day binge, or even a holiday season of more than average eating, doesn’t mean you have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex mental health disorders that have multiple biological, psychological, and sociocultural contributing factors. Moderation and balance around food are always good lifestyle habits, but if you are concerned that you, or someone you love, may have an eating disorder, we are always happy to talk through your concerns with you. Feel free to call us at 800-291-5045 or visit our website at


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Laura Sabin Cabanillas, MA, LMHC, NCC is the Director of Communications at KellerLife Center for Eating Disorders. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a Certified Domestic Violence Victim Advocate, and a Certified Crisis Response Therapist. She has worked in outpatient clinical settings, as well as residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programs, specializing in eating disorders. Her background is a unique composite of experience that includes broadcast and written journalism, motivational speaking, clinical mental health work, collegiate education, and program marketing. She is also a published author and active blogger.




Author: Laura Sabin Cabanillas

Tags: Eating Disorders, Holidays, Christian Treatment, Mental Health, Keller Life

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