Achieving Financial Peace during the Holiday Season – How This Supports Recovery

Contributor: Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

coffee shopLadies and gentlemen, put on your seatbelt and cling to your pocketbook, we’re heading straight for Thanksgiving and right into Christmas.

The holiday traffic of families, friends, and other social duties is almost inevitable, but you can control finances to reduce stress and support your recovery.

Holidays are a time for us to step back from the busyness and appreciate our lives free from an eating disorder.

Financial Stress

Unfortunately financial stress is endemic to America. Almost 75% of adults report feeling worried about money at least some of the time throughout the year; and 26% say they’re stressed about finances most of the time [1]. Holiday buying and gifting amp up already high levels of pecuniary pressure, which is no breeding ground for recovery.

shoppingFinancial difficulties increased susceptibility to eating disorders in a group of 444 female college students involved in a recent study [2].

Greater financial problems and lower family affluence predict worsening eating attitudes over time in the students. “It may be that those at higher risk of having eating disorder feel like they have no control over events in their life, such as their financial situation,” the researchers wrote.

If you can strike financial peace during the holidays, you’re more likely to maintain recovery throughout the New Year. Here are some tools to help.

  1. Plan ahead. Like right now. Make a list of people for whom you would like to buy, and then seriously look at this list. Are you giving to Aunt Fran because you want to? Or is it because you feel obligated? If it’s the latter, send Aunt Fran a card.
  2. Make a budget. How much can you spend without getting stressed about spending?
  3. Reflect on last year’s holidays. What were the happy memories and how can you recreate similar ones this year. Maybe baking Christmas cookies with Grandma meant more to both of you than the turtleneck you gave her. So make cookie mix in a Mason jar and give to Grandma with a promise to bake cookies together during your visit.
  4. Give the gift of time, which tends to be more valuable than a material present. Can you give the gift of time with someone? Or perhaps make a donation in the name of friends and/or family.
  5. Be realistic. Yes, you want to give to give everyone something amazing, but look at your budget. Is giving that gift worth falling into a financial hole?

Physical Stress

Stress and negative feelings are known to precede “emotional eating,” and while we don’t fully understand why, some science points to the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is secreted by adrenal glands when we’re under prolonged stress; and this cortisol increases appetite and may also “ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat, according to a Harvard Health report.

Cortisol levels should go down when the stressful episode is over, but when the stress is long-term, as financial problems can be, or if a person’s stress response gets stuck, the hormones stay raised. Chronic overeating may result.

Purple and silver Christmas ballsThis cortisol may also be the reason people typically binge on food high in fat, sugar or both.

Numerous studies, although many of them done on animals like rats, show emotional distress increases the intake of high-fat, high-sugar foods.

Somewhat mysteriously, foods filled with fat and sugar, the Harvard Health report continues, inhibits activity in parts of the brain that process stress and related emotions. “The foods really are ‘comfort’ foods in that they seem to counteract stress – and this may contribute to people’s stress-induced craving for those foods,” it says.

Stress can also have the opposite effect by reducing appetite and emotional desire to eat. One study at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania found a clear effect of stress level on those with eating disorders. The study looked at people with eating disorders and found those under significant amount of stress had less reaction than non-stressed subjects to food-related words like “pizza” and “restaurant.”

“It’s as if, when stressed, eating-disordered individuals suppressed thoughts of food,” says researcher Lauren Feldman. “This makes sense, because blocking out such thoughts would facilitate eating-disordered behaviors like dieting and restricting.”

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How have you balanced financial stress during the holidays to support your recovery? What tips do you have to share?


[1]: Stress in America: Paying with Our Health (2014). American Psychological Association.
[2]: Richardson, T., Elliott, P., Waller, G., & Bell, L. (2015). Longitudinal relationships between financial difficulties and eating attitudes in undergraduate students. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 48(5), 517-521.

Leigh BellAbout the Author: Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 7, 2015
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