Avoid the Winter Holiday Blues

The previous post finished up by quoting an officer of the National Obesity Forum who advises taking relatives aside at family holiday gatherings to discuss their weight problems and recommend intervention. And yet, many people hold a contrary opinion.

Just to pull one at random, Meredith Noble wrote an essay titled “Dear Non-Fat People.” It discusses the ignorance of fat-shaming someone with the excuse of concern about their likelihood of getting diabetes, etc., when in actual reality the overweight person might be healthier than the skinny critic. Noble also emphatically points out,

If you are overweight, it is impossible to exist in our society without the awareness that you are overweight… When you are overweight, other people’s judgment is constantly on your mind… If shame helped overweight people develop good habits, we would all be thin already.

So, anyone who has an irresistible urge to talk with a friend or relative about their weight might be well advised to at least put it off for a while, instead of spoiling the holiday celebration. The target of this concern will not be missing out on anything. They know.

The flip side

But even worse than the “concerned” discouragers are the encouragers and enablers. Some people’s notion of fun at a party is to cozy up to an overweight person and egg them on, getting some kind of twisted thrill from urging that person to eat more and richer treats. This is quite a reprehensible thing to do.

Dr. Billi Gordon, who weighed as much as several people, wrote for Psychology Today,

[A] single morsel of high-sugar and high-fat palatable food triggers binge eating in rats. Likewise, it only takes that “one bite can’t hurt you” of a rich dessert to trigger binge eating in compulsive overeaters.

Dr. Gordon was an expert on and a participant in holiday binge eating, and his words are quote-worthy:

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.

Never one to mince words, Dr. Gordon also wrote this alarming explanation of how it all works:

It is like we all have the capacity for violence. That is not the problem. The problem is what external and internal cues cause us to access that capacity. For the gang kid, the symbol of disrespect can result in violent assault or death. For the compulsive overeater that symbol can cause compulsive overeating, which is just a differently directed assault and a slower death.

Under the wrong circumstances, and given the availability of calorie-rich food, probably almost anyone could, through compulsive eating, learn to mask and obliterate their feelings. So, let’s take the trouble to get some education and some therapy, and not let that happen. And when we meet up with others who have already fallen victim to compulsive eating, let’s try not to be the negative relatives, or even the slightly less toxic, ostensibly positive ones.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Dear Non-Fat People,’ Medium.com/09/08/15
Source: “Thanksgiving: Danger in the Brain,” PsychologyToday.com, 11/24/14
Source: “Christmas Cookie Blue,” PsychologyToday.com, 12/06/13
Source: “Symbolic Eating,” PsychologyToday.com, 11/23/13
Image by Tim Evanson/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

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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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