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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Psychotherapy: Overcoming Binge Eating During the Holiday Season

Many people who have problems with binge eating really struggle during the holiday season. The holidays are an especially challenging time because they often involve many of the issues that trigger overeating in binge eaters: family stressors, excessive amounts of food, and stressful emotions. The combination of these three triggers can have a powerful impact on binge eaters.

For people who are separated from their families, feelings of loneliness and isolation can become overwhelming during the holidays. For others who have conflictual relationships or tension in their families, they might experience anger, frustration, anxiety and sadness. For many people, childhood memories, whether they are positive or negative, can trigger a binge as these people try to cope with their feelings by soothing themselves with food.

As a psychotherapist in private practice in NYC, I hear many clients talk about how food was the only form of comfort they felt when they were growing up. As an adult, food is still associated with comfort and feeling soothed for these people. So, it's understandable that during stressful times over the holidays these clients turn to food to feel better. But, just like any binge, which initially might feel comforting, for most people, there is a lot of discomfort after they have eaten an excessive amount of food. For many of these same people, the discomfort which comes from excessive food intake and fear of gaining weight leads them to purge their food, which is very dangerous to their health and overall well-being.

If you know that you tend to overeat or binge during the holidays, it's best to plan ahead and think about how you'll handle stress and the availability of a lot of food.

Here are a few tips that might work for you:

Eat Regular, Well-Balanced Meals:
Many people make the mistake of skipping meals with the idea that they can then eat more at holiday social events. But research has shown that when people skip meals, they're more likely to overeat when they attend social events because they're hungry. It's better to eat three regular, nutritious meals (or four or five smaller meals) than to skip meals.

Be Mindful of Your Food Choices and Stand Away from the Food Table:
If you're at a party where there is a buffet, take a small plate and fill it with nutritious choices, avoiding high calorie foods. If you exercise a certain amount of mindfulness about what you choose, rather than eating in a dissociated way, you're more likely to make better choices. Also, if you're standing in close proximity to the food, you're more likely to go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. It's better to stand away from the table to avoid temptation.

Focus on the People at the Party Rather than the Food:
Ideally, getting together with friends and family is about talking to them, getting caught up with what's going on with them and telling them about yourself, and having a good time. It shouldn't be primarily about the food. Even if you're around difficult people, it's better to find one or two pleasant people that you can interact with than making the food your central focus.

Wait 20 Minutes to See if the Food Craving will Pass:
If you've eaten well-balanced meals before the social event so that you're not starving, most food cravings will pass after about 20 minutes. Often the food craving is not so much about being hungry as it is about relieving stress and other uncomfortable feelings. Usually, if you can wait 20 minutes, the food craving passes and you won't overindulge.

Engage in Stress Management Techniques:
During this time of year, it's especially important that you engage in stress management techniques that help you to stay calm. Whether it's meditating, going for walks, going to the gym, attending a yoga class, venting to a friend, listening to music, or whatever would help you to ease your tension, you'll be less likely to engage in binge eating if you have other ways to manage your stress.

Seek Support from Overeaters Anonymous:
http://www.oanyc.org
Attending support groups where other people are struggling with the same issues as you can be comforting and help you to get the support that you need.

Seek Professional Help from a Licensed Psychotherapist:
If you've tried the techniques that I've mentioned above and you're still struggling with binge eating, you could benefit from talking to a licensed psychotherapist with expertise in helping clients to overcome binge eating.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and EMDR therapist. I have helped many clients in my private practice overcome binge eating so that they can lead more fulfilling lives.

I am conveniently located in Manhattan.

To find out more about me, visit my web site: http://www.josephine-ferraro.com.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.