Surviving the Holidays during Eating Disorder Recovery
The holiday season can mean high levels of stress and anxiety, particularly for those in recovery who struggle with eating disorders and disordered eating. It takes some preparation, but with a little planning and support, the holidays don’t need to be daunting. In challenging yourself and continuously working to maintain your recovery, you are doing something that takes incredible strength and courage.
Tips to Help You Enjoy the Holidays
- Keep Your Appointments – This is always a good rule. Around the holidays it is tempting to cancel an ‘inconvenient’ nutrition appointment or skip weekly therapy. Try to remember that during difficult or stressful times, this is the best opportunity to stock up on the support you have, rather than trimming away at your normal therapy routine. Going without the support you are used to, could make the holidays even more stressful.
- Plan Ahead And Visualize The Holiday You Want – If you plan on visiting with friends and family, plan in advance to avoid extra stress and anxiety. Before you reach your destination, or before your own guests arrive, spend some time visualizing the day in a positive way and picture yourself handling the stress and meals in a calm, healthy way. It is much easier to get through the real situation if you’ve already “seen” yourself succeed.
- Make A List – Write down the things you need to prepare for this holiday season. Getting things done ahead of time and having a list so you don’t forget anything, can save a lot of unnecessary stress.
- Eat Regularly And Follow Your Meal Plan – Despite the fact that many people eat excessively or eat a large amount of snack foods during the holidays, try to stick to your normal meal plan and routine.
- Offer To Bring A Dish – If you are unsure of what may be offered at a holiday event, offer to bring something you prefer to eat and is on your meal plan.
- Identify A Support Person – Ask someone in advance to be your support buddy at a holiday gathering. Your support person can distract you from a triggering moment with relatives, or help change the subject during an awkward dinner conversation about food, weight or diets. Discuss with them ahead of time exactly what would be helpful to you in specific situations.
- Plan A Timeout – Think ahead for how you will give yourself an immediate break from the hustle and bustle of a holiday gathering, if you need it. Offer to take the dog outside to play, or find another creative way to get some quiet time or fresh air.
- Don’t Leave Home Without Your Toolbox – If you’ve established a toolbox full of coping skills that work when you feel overwhelmed, or have thoughts of acting on your eating disorder, be sure to pack a “travel version.” If writing in your journal or listening to a special playlist or Podcast helps, then throw them in your suitcase.
- Focus On Gratitude – Stay focused on what is good about the holidays and the things you do have, instead of what you dislike, or what you are missing. Sometimes this can be as simple as focusing on the breath in our bodies, the ability to walk, to see, to hear, to taste, to touch, or to enjoy the roof over our head. You may surprise yourself to see how many things you are grateful for this holiday season! Try to keep these in mind, even if things aren’t going so well around you.
- Try Not To Pack Too Much In – During the holidays there is often so much to do, so much we want to do, but too much of anything – even a good thing – can have negative results, both physically and psychologically. Trying to do too much often leaves us frazzled, and can make everything else seem less enjoyable. Look over your plans. Are there things you really want to do? Keep them. If there are less important things on the list, or you don’t have to get done (like that 2-page holiday letter you keep planning to write), maybe leave them until next year.
- Practice Self-Compassion – Beating yourself up for feeling anxious around the holidays will only make you feel worse. By stepping out of your comfort zone and facing your fears, you are doing something that is amazingly brave. True strength is not denying yourself food or avoiding certain foods, rather it is challenging yourself, despite what the eating disorder voice may be telling you. The following are some ideas for helpful coping statements you can tell yourself:
- I am so brave for facing these foods that I fear.
- Being scared in recovery is normal, but I don’t have to let fear control my actions.
- No food is “good” or “bad,” and all foods can fit into a healthy diet.
- I am strong and I know I can do this.
- Being more flexible with food allows me to have a full life.
- Be Flexible – Being flexible with plans and situations can relieve tension that may come with the holiday season. This can also help prevent emotional eating.
- Set Limits And Determine Your Reactions Ahead Of Time – If you have a family member or friend that cause you stress, it is okay to set limits. This might be the year you don’t visit with them (see above), or the year you finally tell them ahead of time that it is NOT okay to discuss food or weight issues around you. Here are some ideas on how to respond if someone brings up diet-talk around the holidays:
- No food is “good” or “bad,” all foods fit in a healthy diet.
- The only reason to feel “guilty” for eating a brownie, is if you stole it from the store.
- I’m declaring this table a diet-talk free zone.
- I hear you’re really into a new diet, but can we talk about something more meaningful?
- So how is your new job?
- I’m just really thankful to have food to eat and to be able to spend time with family and friends today.
- Set A Goal That Has Nothing To Do With Your Eating Disorder – Anxiety about holiday meals can be overwhelming. To make sure the holiday doesn’t pass you by while your thoughts are on your meal plan, or on blocking symptoms, try to set a goal for yourself that has nothing to do with food. Maybe ask your grandmother about her favorite holiday memory. Meeting your positive goal for the day can help distract you from anxiety, and can even create a positive memory for you to associate with the holidays for years to come.
- Don’t Forget To Breathe! – This may sound simple, but it’s really important advice. Breathing affects the whole body. When you take a few seconds to breathe slowly and deeply you can actually produce a state of relaxation, even in a stressful situation. Try it! Then, check in with yourself – are you feeling a little better? If so, return to the activity around you. If not, take a few more minutes to repeat the process, or try another coping skill instead.
You didn’t choose to have an eating disorder, but you can make the choice to continue working on your recovery. Putting your own health above anything else at all times is both smart and brave. Recovery from an eating disorder is tough. You are so strong for continuing to challenge yourself.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, call (866) 771-0861 today or submit an Inquiry Form online. EDCare offers free, confidential assessments. Don’t lose hope, help is just a call/click away.
Sheila Swearngin, Ph.D., CEDS