Going Home For The Holidays…And Bingeing. Are You Worried?

All the food of the season might be freaking you out now, but there's hope! You can get normal about food—even during the holidays.

For many people with food and body issues, the holiday season can feel like a minefield. Rather than just enjoying being with your family and friends, and nibbling on some of your favorite seasonal foods, you’re stuck in a cycle of bingeing and guilt, or fear about being surrounded by food and emotionally triggering family members. That’s where Jackie, 19, is now. I’d love your help giving her some hope for this holiday. Here’s her email, plus some initial responses from me. Please weigh in at the end!

Q: I have been reading HealthyGirl for several months now and I desperately want to overcome my eating disorder! I am a recovering bulimic and for several months I have been suffering from binge eating disorder. I am so thankful that I no longer purge, but I really want to stop the bingeing. I hate how it makes me feel…I hate that I eat when I’m not hungry, I hate eating in private, I hate hiding my disorder from my friends and family. I have opened up to my parents about my disorder but I am too ashamed to tell them everything. My parents have been very supportive but they don’t understand what it’s like to be a binge-eater! I have asked my mom to help me stop the binges and sometimes she is very helpful but other times she inadvertently makes me feel worse.

I am a college student and I have found that being at school is very beneficial in controlling my eating because I am not always surrounded by food. However, at home it’s another story! Being home is difficult because I feel as if I have unlimited access to food. Even worse, I have made a habit out of bingeing at home and it seems as if every time I go home I binge no matter the circumstances. It’s awful because I love being home and spending time with my family, but I have this awful fear of bingeing. I think that having this fear is contributing to the binges, in that I am so fearful of a binge that I almost anticipate and expect it to happen.

Do you have any advice or any thoughts? I really want to overcome this disorder and be happy and healthy. Bingeing makes me feel awful! I feel wonderful when I go even a few days without bingeing or other disordered behaviors. I just want to put an end to the bingeing and live the rest of my life disorder-free. Please help! —Jackie

A: Jackie, first a big hug and congratulations on letting go of the purging. That’s a huge first step for your physical and mental health. How did you manage to get to this point? What tools did you use or what kind of help did you get to stop throwing up? The same kind of tools can also help you let go of the bingeing.

Perhaps you did it on your own, through self-help and just becoming aware of the issues you were having around food and your body. If that’s the case, now to go even further and kick the rest of the disorder you’re dealing with, you may need to take it a step you’ve never taken before. Try something new for your recover, whether it’s books, support groups, inpatient eating disorder treatment, or therapy. Your mom, as much as she loves you, can’t fix this (especially since you haven’t even told her the whole story!). Believe me, my mom tried to help, too! But ultimately, I had to enlist the help of a therapist and support group, and read and journal on my own. The best thing my mom ever did to help me with this disorder is make an appointment for me with the family counselor she was seeing at the time.

In terms of bingeing at your parents’ house, like you, bingeing at my mother’s place had become sort of a habit. I found that a big part of that habit was staying up later than everyone else and watching TV on the couch. Being alone, and zoned out on TV always led to eating. I would lie there half watching, but half waiting for everyone to fall asleep so I could get up and rifle through the fridge and eat all the things I hadn’t eaten during the day.

I remember vividly the first holiday trip to my mom’s house during which I did not binge. I had been going to my binge eating support group meetings for several months, and had a “food plan” in place that was really liberal and enjoyable, but didn’t include midnight marshmallow-and-peanut-butter binges. I called my mentor from my group for extra support, read motivational quotes in the mornings, and made sure I wasn’t the last one on the couch at night. It was the first time I’d ever felt safe from bingeing during the holidays, and it felt amazing.

As you’ll notice, it didn’t just happen. I had laid the groundwork for it, like I’m sure you’re doing now. And I used all the tools I needed for my recovery—reading, journaling, support—every day while I was away. A holiday from work didn’t mean a holiday from my recovery from binge eating. (Once, when I was on vacation in Iceland, I even rented an international cell phone just for the purpose of calling a support group member each day to leave a message about how I was doing. It was what I needed at the time, and it really helped.)

All that said, don’t let the guilt monster attack too much if you do end up bingeing this holiday. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it means that’s just where you are in your journey. I tried and failed lots of times before I was healthy enough and had the right combination of support to break the holiday bingeing habit for good.

Now, to the rest of the HealthyGirl.org community, what experience can you share with Jackie? And, do you have your own concerns about bingeing this holiday? xo…Sunny

6 Responses to Going Home For The Holidays…And Bingeing. Are You Worried?

  1. Kim says:

    I so understand what you are going through. My parents didn’t even try to help; they pushed food at me all the time! I found that giving myself a little more freedom was helpful. The more restrictive I was, the more shame I experienced. Being healthy is so much more than rules; it’s about managing freedom. The world is your oyster and you have more strength in you than you realize. Just by opening up and asking for help, you have shown tremendous courage. Hang in there! You are in good company!

  2. Hope says:

    Wow, this is so relevant for me. I am also a college student and although the dining hall promotes some anxiety, it is nothing in comparison to being home. I think keeping yourself busy is the best remedy and of course staying active. I think it’s also important to remember that it’s only X amount of weeks, and any damage that may occur to your body can be fixed when you return to school or your regular schedule.

  3. Heather says:

    It’s really difficult to come up with something concrete to say on the issue of Christmas and time with family and moving on from

  4. Kat says:

    This is my same issue. I binge eat as well, without the purging. If you can just break the habit of bingeing a few times in order to show yourself that you can, you can get through it. Just keep busy, know your triggers, and have a plan. Also, it’s the holidays, so i know my diet isn’t as perfect as I’d like it to be. For me, I just try to keep tabs on what I’ve eaten, so I don’t feel too out of control. Knowing I ate two cookies makes me feel better than feeling like I mindlessly ate all night. For me, it’s a lot easier to eat healthy in the day, so if I can stay on schedule and remind myself at night time that the morning will bring the same healthy routine, I feel less apt to binge because I know I’ll regret it in the morning.

    Coming home itself has a lot of emotions for me that go beyond the ease of access to food, so maybe keep that in mind too.

  5. Emily says:

    This has been a really hard year for me. It’s the first year I’ve actually tried losing weight/”dieting” (I hate that word since I’m trying to make a lifestyle change, not a temporary one) through the holidays. I’ve lost about 50 lbs since May through very strict calorie counting and food tracking, and I’ve been very happy with my success, mostly.

    However, I’ve been finding lately that I will binge at home here and there, and my parents are being as supportive as they can, but they don’t understand. I still want to lose about 18 lbs but they are telling me that I shouldn’t lose any more and are concerned that I’ll become anorexic like my cousin. I’m still a bit heavy in my opinion for my height (I’m pretty short) so it’s a struggle. I want to eat enough so that they aren’t worried about me, but then that tends to send me over the deep end and I find myself eating cookies, boxes of chocolate, pop tarts, big bowls of cereal, etc. My dad said “I’m glad you had that slice of pound cake tonight, it makes me relieved that you don’t have an eating disorder.” Yet, I consumed 4000+ calories today instead of my normal 1200-1500…

    …and to compensate I will not eat for days at a time, which I KNOW isn’t good for my body and metabolism… and sets me up for future failures… I found a big tub of prescription strength laxatives in the cupboard when I had a stomach issue a couple of years ago and… well.. you can see where this is going.

    I just am praying once January rolls around (just new year’s to get through at this point) I’ll finally get back on track for good… and not have the holidays (“Everyone relaxes and gains weight” – my mom) as an excuse for my binging.

  6. Sophie says:

    I used to binge frequently, gaining 10-15-20 pounds in a month to a few days of extreme binging (of course after losing the same 10-20 pounds from dieting). Holidays were the worst for me! I binged and binged, I would feast on the leftovers and stuff myself to sickness. I would obsess about why I developed this eating disorder, why I am compelled to stuff myself, why why why. I never found the answer. I read lots of books on the subject, which helped.
    Heres my progress (I’m not trying to talk myself up I just want to offer encouragement to those who are struggling and doubting themselves)-This year, I overate normally like everyone else at holidays! I don’t binge anymore, sometimes very infrequently I have overeating days- when for whatever reason I feel like eating all the time and overdo it. Right now i’m still in the slight overeating phase, i’m still working on my hunger/fullness cues. My compulsions to eat are almost gone, but they do come back at times of high stress or doing hormonal shifts. It took me 2 YEARS to get here, it was gradual progress. At first, I was terrified and stressed, hated myself and my body, hated myself every time I ate when I wasn’t hungry. I’ve stopped doubting myself around food, I trust myself, I honor my hunger, I can eat ANYTHING and my weight is stable. If I eat when i’m not hungry, I honestly don’t see it as that big of a deal, everyone does it. I DO NOT DIET, nor will I ever again, this never ever ever ever worked for me, controlling tracking monitoring watching myself like a hawk drove me mad. This is not the answer to binging. Binging is not a willpower issue!
    It takes time to heal from these eating behaviors people! It took my 10 years to find my way back toward semi-normal eating. Reading Geneen Roth’s books over and over helped. I finally understand and actually ‘follow’ the principles and advice in her book (in the beginning I only did what I thought would help me in my obsession to lose weight).
    I’m not a skinny mini, but I’m a normal healthy weight. I am a bit over my natural weight right now because I haven’t totally mastered stopping when full, but I don’t care. It will happen in time. Lately I’ve been less inclined to eat when i’m not hungry, i just dont ‘feel’ like eating (i never thought I would get there).
    Don’t hate yourself for eating when you’re not hungry! I hated myself and my eating behaviors and it never did me any good. Don’t hate yourself for anything! Be patient, accept yourself, it takes time, and then some more time. Read lots of books!

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.