Holiday events can induce anxiety for eating disorder patients

There’s no good time to be struggling with an eating disorder but the holidays would likely rank as one of the worst, according to a dietitian.

Gatherings centred around food can be triggering for those with eating disorders, says dietitian

While this photo may look like an inviting dinner table to many, those trying to manage an eating disorder might find the idea of gathering around food anxiety inducing. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There's no good time to be struggling with an eating disorder but the holidays would likely rank as one of the worst, according to a local dietitian.

"With parties and social events and everything structured around the dinner table, it often evokes a lot of anxiety within the eating disorder population," said Shallah Panjwani, a registered dietitian with the College of Dietitians of BC.

The full tables and big spreads of baked goods can be a trigger for those who struggle with binge eating and purging, and can deter people who under eat from attending family gatherings.

"It evokes loneliness in some patients where they would rather not attend a family dinner or event because they think that they'll be around food and everybody will be watching what they're eating," Panjwani told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

Talk of the unbelievable amounts of food consumed or buttons bursting on jeans that used to fit are things we're used to hearing at seasonal parties, but being aware of the challenge this time of year can present to people with eating disorders can help make these events easier and more inclusive, Panjwani said.

She recommends keeping the conversation away from body shape and weight and if the topic does come up, to gear it more toward health and nutrition.

"I encourage families to stay away from critiquing the patient or judging what's on their plate," she added.

"If they come and just want to have a cup of tea at the dinner table, that's fine too."

When it comes to overeating, Panjwani said it's important to stick to meal plans and regular snacks to avoid making unhealthy decisions when it comes time to dig in.

Approaching the subject of food before dinners and events with the host can be a solution as well, she suggested.

Requesting a specific item or snack can help ease anxiety about how the food was prepared and how many calories are being consumed.

With files from the CBC's On The Coast.