When you are recovering from an eating disorder, the holidays can be less than jolly. So, let’s identify what is harmful and make a plan on how to survive the holidays with an eating disorder.
While good cheer and tidings of joy abound, the reality is, the holidays are laser-focused on food, eating, and overindulging. Well-meaning family and friends spend hours food shopping and cooking special once-a-year dishes. Then, they unknowingly obsess about what others eat and wonder if they indulged in their culinary creations.
It can be an unbearable amount of pressure upon those who struggle with an eating disorder.
Harmful Food Messages During the Holidays
Food messages from loved ones can be unintentionally hurtful and oftentimes be incredibly contradictory. Your well-meaning Aunt tells you one minute, “Eat! I made this especially for you!” only to declare a minute later, “I’m going to gain 5 pounds this holiday!”
In one minute, someone is shoving food at you and delivering subtle shades of guilt for not eating (or eating enough). And, in the very next, they are disparaging the diet they will need to start in January because of all the indulgent food choices they made during the holidays.
Bottom line: Unhealthy food conversations are zinging all around you from Thanksgiving thru the New Year – otherwise known as 5 Weeks of Food Hell.
Making a Holiday Eating Disorder Survival Guide
1. Let’s start with this: You are stronger than you know. Remember that. What you are recovering from is something that takes incredible strength and courage. So, celebrate that whenever you can.
2. As much as you can, try and stay on your schedule. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the season impede the healthy tactics, events, appointments, etc. As much as humanly possible, do not cancel therapy appointments, mentorship meetings, treatments, dietitian appointments, etc. This is when you need them most!
3. Create an Eating Disorder Holiday Survival Plan. Make a list of people you can reach out to for various issues that may arise. Work with your dietitian or therapist to anticipate your concerns and map out a way to manage them. What are your triggers, and how do you cope with them? This is the time to discuss all the worst-case scenarios and write down precise coping plans on how to manage them. Planning is the key here.
Your plan will do two things. It will give you the tools you need to manage the stress as it occurs, but it will also provide you with a sense of calm and relief for all those days leading up to holiday gatherings too.
4. Identify and set healthy boundaries. This can also be part of your holiday survival plan. Identify and prepare your healthy boundaries in advance for when those unhealthy phrases come hurtling past you. Write down a few predetermined responses that you could say when this kind of unhealthy discussion inevitably comes up.
The following are some ideas for how you can respond if someone brings up diet-talk around the holidays:
- Change the subject or simply walk away.
- Declare a diet-talk-free zone.
- Tell others you just are just thankful for them and the food we have available to eat. How much or how often we eat is just not important.
- Tell them the time we spend together is more important than the food we eat. So, let’s talk about that instead.
5. Avoid food self-flagellation. Give yourself a break and never forget you are only human. As much as you possibly can, refrain from beating yourself up. Missteps and mistakes happen but remember that there is NO trophy for denying yourself food or avoiding certain foods. You are far too important and valuable. Practice self-compassion and be gentle with yourself.
6. Reward yourself. Instead of being hard on yourself, I challenge you to do the opposite! During this stress-filled holiday time, go out of your way to do nice and relaxing things for yourself. Reward yourself with meditation, a relaxing bath, or watching your favorite show. You deserve it.
Holiday time means so much to so many and can be a joyous and uplifting season. Enjoy the things you love most about the holidays and stay focused on your ongoing recovery. Use this holiday eating disorder survival guide and remember to reach out to others for help and support when you are struggling. Believe that you can do this. You are stronger than you think.