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Mental Health and the holidays: Managing eating disorders

The holidays are known for two things; gifts and of course food, but for those who suffer from eating disorders, this time can be especially tough.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — For the close to 29 million Americans suffering from disordered eating, the most wonderful time of the year can also be the most difficult time of the year. It is common for people who suffer from eating disorders to experience an increase in symptoms of their illness as the holiday season approaches. This may be due to stress over the impending festivities and/or anticipation of the presence of challenging (often high calorie) food in the weeks to come. 

Many sufferers tell themselves that if they lose a few pounds prior to the holidays, they will be able to allow themselves to eat like everyone else. In reality, this approach rarely works, and the eating disorder reasserts itself during the family time. Dr. Jenn Mann, psychotherapist and author notes that these gatherings might heighten the problem.

"You're at a ton of events, that revolve of food, and if you have an eating disorder, even issues around food or your weight, then it's likely to be a troubling, difficult, stressful time for you," Dr. Mann states.

Social media can be a problem too around holiday time. "There are some really interesting studies that show that for teens in particular, the more they are on social media, the higher the rates of eating disorders," Dr. Mann shares. "And with adults, the more social media time they spend actually the higher rates of depression, anxiety, and all sorts of mental health issues."

Dietician Kylie Sakaida is utilizing TikTok to make a positive impact and break stigmas for her more than 2 million followers. "With my history of having eating disorder myself, I understand that experience I always want to make sure that I'm presenting information in a very again positive way that isn't going to be harmful to people," Sakaida states.

TikTok is joining in the promotion of healthy body images with its more than a billion users. Dr. Tracy Elizabeth, Head of Family & Safety Developmental Health, shares TikTok is offering ways to avoid potential triggers. "We're really committed to making sure that folks have this safe, comfortable environment to express our own creativity," Dr Elizabeth shares. " You can select a specific search term that might not be comfortable for you and block that term. If you see a video that you really just don't feel comfortable with, you can just long press on that video and say, not interested."

While TikTok maybe be safeguarded against triggers, there are a few that you won't find online, and Dr. Mann says the best solution is making a plan.

"Make sure that you have an action plan," Dr Mann states. " Make sure that you have support lined up. Make sure that you bring food with you to a family event where food is being served. It is a safe food for you. Be aware of what your triggers are and have your support system on call ready to get text from you or call if you get into trouble."

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