Recovering from an eating disorder is extremely difficult, and it only get more difficult during the holidays. You may be wondering “what is the difference between coping with anorexia vs bulimia?” In this guide, we’ll explore the different ways to support your loved ones and help them heal throughout the holidays.
It’s hard to believe that over 70 million people suffer from an eating disorder in America. That means 1 out of every 10 men and women can suffer from eating disorders, with women reporting at 3.5% and men at 2%. These are just the cases that get reported.
Too often, eating disorders can lead to both men and women turning to other dangerous behaviors such as drug and alcohol use. They find ways to help them cope with their negative emotions, even if the things they choose are unhealthy.
The holiday season can be difficult for both men and women who struggle with eating disorders. For most, the holidays mean indulging in favorite drinks and foods, celebrating with family and friends, and having an overall feeling of happiness.
Why Are the Holidays Difficult?
All of these can be triggers for those with eating disorders, creating great stress and anxiety. Someone with an eating disorder can start mentally struggling with the holidays long before the holiday season begins.
They may be thinking of how they can look thinner for the family get together. They start worrying about answering questions about why they are so thin, or why they are not eating much. They practice what they will say if someone asks them directly if they have an eating disorder.
Here’s where you come in. There are things you can do to help your loved one cope during the holidays. The first, educate yourself and understand their specific eating disorder. This will help you avoid well-meaning, but very wrong, statements or actions on your part.
Anorexia vs Bulimia
There are many differences when it comes to anorexia vs bulimia.
Someone with anorexia will often obsess over their weight, even when they are underweight. They are insecure about the way they look and think they are much larger than they are. They also obsess and may constantly count calories and fat.
Anorexics, because of their lack of nutrition, may have very low energy. They may withdraw from society and isolate themselves, even from friends and family. Some anorexics choose to exercise excessively to try and lose additional weight.
Bulimia has similar characteristics, like the obsession over their weight and the food they intake. However, bulimics do not starve themselves like anorexics do. Instead, they spend a period of binge eating. They are unable to stop eating.
After a while of binging, they will start to feel guilty for their actions. This is when they begin obsessing about removing that same food from their bodies. Some sufferers choose to make themselves vomit, while others use laxatives to clean their systems.
They become caught in a cycle of binging and purging. The more they do this, the worse their health becomes. Purging brings up the food, as well as acids from the stomach. These acids can wreak havoc on the esophagus, teeth, gums and more.
Once you have a good understanding of anorexia vs bulimia, you can start to plan how you will cope with your recovering loved one this holiday season.
How to Help Loved Ones Cope
Those recovering from an eating disorder during the holidays may find it very difficult. In order to support them, you must first empathize with them.
The strategies to help a family member or friend heal will differ between anorexia and bulimia, but there are some of the same approaches.
1. Keep the Focus Off the Food
When you think about it, our society uses food for so many wrong reasons. During the holidays, it becomes our focus. Yet, none of the major holidays original meanings had anything to do with food. It may have been part of the event, but it was not the focus.
This holiday season put food further down on the priority list. Let it be an extra to your main celebration, which can be sharing time with family or helping others in your community. Rediscover the true meaning of each holiday, then eat.
2. Don’t Be the Food Monitor
If you think your loved one has an eating disorder and is not eating enough, or eating too much, you can be concerned. You can even express your concern in private. But please don’t act like the police and interrogate your loved one about their eating pattern.
To prevent this from happening, you and your loved one could establish an eating plan with their therapist or eating disorder treatment team. Preparing ahead of time can ease the pressure off your loved one. They won’t feel the stress of trying to please you, and you won’t feel the stress of monitoring what they eat.
3. Watch What You Say
Understanding the difference between anorexia vs bulimia is important here. Men and women around the world make comments about their own weight, especially during the holidays when there are more parties to attend, and more treats being passed around.
Making “fat” comments around someone with an eating disorder can be a trigger, even though you meant nothing by it. Likewise saying things such as “I am so full I need to vomit” has the same consequences.
Be respectful with your words to avoid making someone you care about feel anxious. This is especially true at times when you feel angered.
4. Cope with Your Feelings of Anger
It makes sense that you get mad at your loved one with an eating disorder. You love them and want them to be healthy. You know how to make them healthy. But they can’t follow your directions.
They don’t want to eat when you want them to eat. They can’t smile when you want them to be happy. You are frustrated and may feel as if they are being defiant.
It is not your loved one’s goal to anger you or defy you.
Change your expectations this holiday season to be more realistic and based on what your loved one can achieve rather than what you want them to achieve. This will help you better cope with your feelings.
5. Establish a Plan B
Recovering from anorexia vs bulimia requires different approaches, but you can help your loved ones. There will be moments when your loved one gets overwhelmed or feels triggered to binge eat, over exercise, or whatever actions they use to calm their anxieties.
You can plan for these times by working with your loved one. Create a plan of action that includes reaching out to your therapist, an eating disorder hotline, or your loved one’s treatment team. You may even want to attend a therapy session or support group with your loved one.
You can feel like you are helping, because you are.
Paradigm Austin is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.