Holiday Eating Trauma — A Field Ripe for Harvest

Human societies mark important days with food. If resources allow it, holiday food is richer and sweeter than plain old everyday grub, and more plentiful. The association of celebration with feasting is one of humankind’s oldest social phenomena…

This truth brings spectacular joy and also quite a lot of anguish. However bad the winter holiday season usually is for obese children and grownups, this year they might gain a bit of an edge, by being able to avoid some awkward situations. While many people feel sad and deprived because the pandemic limits socializing, some of us might be secretly relieved, because, for the obese, the holidays can be a terrible time.

Sometimes, even governments feel compelled to get involved, as when Taiwan’s Ministry of Education ordered the schools not to serve candy or sugary drinks for Christmas:

The story includes details about the reaction from Taipei Mandarin Experimental Elementary School, where “principal Yang Mei-ling said that while obesity was an issue, food safety was also a factor in the school’s decision to give other stuff instead of candies for the holiday.”

In the psychology realm, we looked at how the culture of holiday gatherings can encourage the adults to harm the children and youth, either by keeping too tight a rein on them, or by going to the opposite extreme of getting the kids out of their hair with bribes of unhealthful food.

Probably the world’s most knowledgeable person about the psychology of obesity was Dr. Billi Gordon, who said this about holiday binge eating:

It is a multifaceted, complex, socially encouraged pathological behavior. For normal eaters, holiday bingeing is circumstantial and not problematic, per se; for compulsive overeaters it’s a reoccurring nightmare.

In “Escaping Winter Holiday Hell,” we see how he learned, from a classically chaotic and abused childhood, that almost everyone probably shares the latent ability to bury feelings with compulsive overeating. In “Fitting Into the Winter Food Festivals,” Dr. Gordon casts a neuroscientist’s eye on the trauma that comes with the holidays and causes our rational systems and self-preservative instincts to shut down.

Another expert is certified bariatric nurse Tammy Beaumont, who herself lost 135 pounds with the help of gastric bypass surgery. Her burning question is,

So why, when this is supposed to be a happy, joyous and thankful time of year, are so many people feeling the effects of stress like not sleeping well, having more headaches, stomach issues, nervousness and maybe worst of all to most of us, the inability to use moderation with the never ending feasting that accompanies the holidays?

And she has answers. We ask the big questions too:

How do we show children we love them without ruining their health? How do parents withstand the pressures to abandon all caution and splurge out on treats? How do we restrain kids from accepting every offer of a free cookie or candy cane, without coming across like ogres?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by Chad Sparkes/CC BY 2.0


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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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