Eating Disorder Signs to Watch for in Your Patients Over the Holidays

Doctor and patient talking

For those living with an eating disorder, the holidays may be the toughest time of the year. Holidays are often synonymous with large amounts of food, increased stress, and extended periods of time with family—all factors that can exacerbate eating disorder symptoms. Because eating disorder thoughts and behaviors can increase during the holidays, it’s important to be especially vigilant of your patients this time of year.

There are many common signs and symptoms healthcare providers should look for that signal the presence of an eating disorder. During the holidays, certain symptoms may become more noticeable, such as:

  1. Weight loss or weight gain. Individuals struggling with eating disorders of all types may attempt to lose weight in order to “prepare” for the holidays or “offset” the consumption of festive meals and snacks. This desire can trigger an increase in restrictive and/or bingeing behaviors which may result in weight changes. If you notice extreme fluctuations in weight, especially during the holidays, it is recommended that you address this concern with your patient and refer them to eating disorder specialty care.
  2. Increased body talk. During the holidays, individuals with eating disorders may find themselves talking more frequently about their body size, shape, and weight. They may compare themselves to others or alter their daily routine. If you notice a patient engaging in negative body talk during the holidays, it’s vital to speak to them about it and potentially increase communication during this challenging time.
  3. Refusing to eat, eating small amounts, or overeating. If an individual dramatically changes their eating over the holidays, this may be a cause for concern. It’s important that patients with an eating disorder or in recovery from an eating disorder maintain their meal plan and recovery during the holidays. You can support your patient by helping them set clear goals and having conversations about concerns.
  4. Isolation. There are times when holidays become so challenging for an individual that they choose to isolate. Isolation is a drastic change in behavior and is different from taking a break from a situation. If an individual is refusing to leave home or interact with others, or becomes increasingly distant, that is a cause for concern. If you are aware this is happening, it is recommended to encourage the patient to meet with their therapist or began therapy to cope with the overwhelming emotions they may be feeling.

If you are concerned that your patient is suffering from an eating disorder, the most important thing you can do is address it. Speak openly with the patient about your concerns and potential treatment options. It’s essential to refer the patient to eating disorder specialty care where the illness can be treated promptly. The referral process for The Emily Program is simple; you or your patient can call 1-888-364-5977 or visit our Get Help page to get started. From there, our admissions specialists will work with you and your patient to find an appropriate treatment option that will facilitate recovery and healing.

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