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Health professionals: holidays can be stressful for those battling an eating disorder

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As 2020 draws nearer, the familiar conversation surrounding New Year's resolutions ramps up. Many revolve around food: maybe they want to try a new diet or exercise more.

But these resolutions and holiday gatherings that center on food can be stressors for someone struggling with an eating disorder.

"If someone is recovering from an eating disorder or going through their recovery process, that can make things really challenging and really difficult because it kind of goes against what their treatment team is telling them to do," said therapist Melissa Walden.

Walden is part of a hub of professionals in Madison that team up to help treat patients with an eating disorder. It's called the Eating Disorder Support Network.

At least 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the United States. An eating disorder can manifest itself in many ways, not just binging or purging. Some people may overexercise, or they can only eat a certain food, going without if they cannot get it.

The holidays create an added anxiety and each patient is different, so the support network works with each of them to plan or figure out the best ways for them to incorporate healthful eating during this season.

Janice Antoniewicz-Werner is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works alongside Walden. She said she tries to normalize things for her patients, and ask questions.

"We talk about 'How does this affect you? What strategies do you want to employ before you go to event? Do you have coping strategies lined up? Someone that you can call or text if you're struggling, what's on the menu, if you're going to follow your meal plan, are you gonna have a meal before you go on a snack there or they have the meal and then find out what's available?'" she said.

Then, they can use those moments as learning experiences, whether they go well or not.

"How the managing eating during the holiday is less important than how it's utilized going forward," said Antoniewicz-Werner. "It's always a great opportunity for learning one way or the other."

Friends and family can help lower the stress, partly by changing the conversation surrounding food and body image.

"I think try to be very neutral around food and not having it be good or bad," said Walden. "Food is just food."

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Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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