COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — The holidays are a time to enjoy feasting with loved ones, but the idea of that does not bring warm and fuzzy feelings to everyone. Especially when “diet talk” is at the top of new year’s resolution conversations.
Between Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas morning breakfasts, the holiday season can be a stressful time of year for people with eating disorders.
At the Medical University of South Carolina’s Health Center for Eating Disorders, they make sure to plan carefully for the holidays.
“We know this is a hard time and actually spend a lot of time trying to plan with people,” Dr. Elizabeth Wallace, Director of the MUSC Health Center for Eating Disorders, said. “We encourage people to, as much as possible, kind of stick with a normal eating routine. Don’t dramatically change what you’re doing if possible.”
Wallis said having large family gatherings can lead to a lot of opinions crossing the dinner table.
“Whether it’s like great Aunt Nancy talking about the next best diet that she’s gonna go on, or eating food that maybe is different and scary to someone with an eating disorder, we actually know this is a hard time,” Wallis said.
Conversations like the one with Great Aunt Nancy can be triggering, which is why Wallis suggests families avoid body talk altogether.
“It starts on an ‘oh, my stomach is terrible’ or ‘I need to lose X number of pounds,’” Wallis said. “We talk with families about really just trying to avoid that talk in general.”
Wallis has been in the field for more than 15 years. Throughout that time, she has seen negative body and food talk only get worse. She said social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok are a big part of the problem.
“Several recent research studies [are] looking at how much social media content that adolescents like kids and adolescents view are focused on exactly that,” Wallis said. “Social media content definitely plays a role.”
The MUSC Health Center for Eating Disorders primarily uses an evidence-based therapy called Family Based Therapy. This type of treatment focuses heavily on relying on families to help support a young person with an eating disorder. Dr. Wallis said it really all boils down to eliminating negative talk.
“Setting a boundary of, ‘hey, this is not gonna be a conversation about dieting,’ is good for everybody,” Wallis said. “The more that we can model for young people not having that conversation dominate, probably the better off we are in terms of both preventing and treating eating disorders.”