For many people, the holidays are a highly anticipated time of the year. However, for those recovering from an eating disorder, the holiday season can be anxiety provoking and pose an obstacle to their recovery journey. Prior preparation can help to lessen the anxiety and tension that often accompanies the holidays for those recovering from an eating disorder. In today’s blog post, we are going to look at some tips to help take away some of the uncertainty and anxiety that this time of the year may bring for those on their recovery journey.
Having a support system is a crucial component of the recovery journey, but is especially important during the holidays. Choose at least one person whom you trust to be your support. Speak to them before the holidays and discuss your concerns with them and any situations you think may be triggering. Ask them if you would be able to text or call them when you are struggling or start to feel overwhelmed.
The holidays often mean multiple gatherings with friends and family. This may be overwhelming as there is often lots of small talk involved, some of which may be centered around food or weight loss. It is not rude to excuse yourself from these conversations if they make you feel uncomfortable. Having responses prepared in advance can be helpful in navigating potentially triggering conversations. This may be as simple as saying, “I am learning how to have a more positive relationship with food and this kind of talk is not helpful to me right now”.1
If you do decide to participate in social gatherings, it may be wise to come up with a back-up plan in case you feel the situation is starting to be overwhelming. Prior to the event, come up with an alternate plan of somewhere else you can go or someone you can talk to during the event. This may be deciding on something else you can do while at the gathering, for example, going for a walk or going into a separate room by yourself, texting/calling someone you feel comfortable talking to (i.e. your trusted person we discussed above), or even finding somewhere else you can go. Having a back-up plan can ease some tension associated with attending social gatherings and will give you peace of mind as you know there is an alternative to the situation you find yourself in.
With all of the food and gatherings that the holiday season brings, it can be tempting to just want to stay home. However, this is leaves little room for growth or change to occur. Challenge yourself to make small choices that help you take small steps outside of your comfort zone. Maybe it’s eating a small piece of that food you usually don’t allow yourself to enjoy or attending a small gathering2. If something feels unattainable, it is likely too big of a challenge at the time. Start by challenging yourself to something that feels realistically attainable.
Here are a few practical tips to help you thrive this holiday season:
- Practice normal eating throughout the holidays: “saving up” for a meal is ineffective and is more likely to increase the desire to binge and/or restrict.
- Expect the potential discomfort of fullness: denser foods tend to be more readily available around the holidays. Try to distract yourself from dwelling on your fullness with other activities, such as playing a game with your family/friends after the meal3.
- Have positive responses prepared for negative thoughts: for example, if you ate more than you usually do, think, “that meal was delicious and I am now satisfied”, instead of falling victim to negative self-talk.
- Volunteer: take your mind off your current situation and invest in others. It’s amazing how helping others can help us get a new perspective and help us fill our cups.
Above all else, it is important to be compassionate towards yourself. The holiday season won’t last forever. While your struggles may seem intensified, they will not last. Acknowledge all of the progress you have made and be gracious towards yourself when you slip up. Recovery is a journey and that means there may be struggles along the way, but you are healing a little more with each step you take. This holiday season, lets enjoy the beauty of this special time while acknowledging this time of year is not easy for everyone. A little bit of extra kindness, especially towards ourselves, goes a long way!
- Susanna, G. (2018, November 21). Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving in Recovery. In NEDA. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/tips-surviving-thanksgiving-recovery
- McLaughlin, A. (2013). Lessons in Self-Care: 5 Ways to Survive and Thrive Through the Holidays When You Have an Eating Disorder. In NEDA.Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/lessons-self-care-5-ways-survive-and-thrive-through-holidays-when-you-have-eating-disorder
- Jacobsen, M. (2015). Coping with the Holidays. In NEDIC. Retrieved from http://nedic.ca/coping-holidays