The holidays are inordinately stressful for many reasons, and for those with eating disorders, this stress is only compounded by the pressure of tricky family dynamics and triggering behaviors from the past. At Shorelines, we have worked with those affected by eating disorders and their families for years.
Here are some of the ways we encourage our patients to stay safe and not fall back into old patterns throughout the holiday season:
1. Build your support system.
Identify a supportive friend or family member who will be attending events and parties with you. Let them know you are struggling with an eating disorder and you want their help. Let them know that you may need them to help you manage a difficult interaction with someone or a family member. For example, they can help you get out of an uncomfortable conversation.
2. Allow your support to help you eat.
They are going to be your guide. It does not have to be perfect here. Know that what they eat is also OK for you to eat. Your eating disorder causes you to doubt yourself and how to feed yourself, so rely on your support to be your dose of reality during these holiday meals.
3. There are no rules for eating.
You can eat what you want. Hard stop.
You can portion what you want. It can be really hard to know what food to eat and how much food to eat. Following someone else can help you get through the meal, but you also have the right to not eat what they eat. Use others at the meal to help pace you while you eat. Use conversation to help you remain mindful during holiday eating.
4. Have a plan.
Speak to your therapist and your dietician and have a plan for what to eat at mealtimes. Know how to handle your anxiety and still eat. Know what to do should a family member become critical, judgmental, and upsetting to you.
A plan will help you feel in charge, and although you cannot plan for everything, it will help you feel like you know how to respond when things get challenging.
Talk about the upcoming events and make a plan for how you will address anxiety and worry surrounding certain foods with your dietitian, counselor, or therapist.
5. Know that all foods are OK.
There are no rules for which foods to eat and which foods to avoid. All foods fit. Write this down if you need to. Positive affirmations like this one can help you get through mealtime more easily. Create a list and recite the ones you like best when things get difficult.
6. Remember that your eating disorder is a liar.
It is going to lie to you about your body, about the food, and about the others you are with. It is going to convince you of some really upsetting things. Know your eating disorder is lying to you to keep you sick.
Work with your treatment team to learn the difference between eating disorder thoughts and your own recovery thoughts, and have a plan to challenge those eating disorder thoughts.
7. Do not follow any diet, fitness, or weight loss sites, pages, or individuals during this time.
Go ahead and remove notifications and possibly unfollow these social media outlets. There is going to be a lot of diet talk and weight loss talk during the holidays and these sites will trigger you. If you can unfollow them you will be setting yourself up for success during your holiday parties, events, and meals.
8. Identify your triggers.
The holidays bring with them more interaction with family members and sometimes conflict. It is OK to relay your boundaries with family members about any topics you would rather not discuss.
The holidays can be extremely busy and chaotic. Ensure you intentionally include time for self-care and time to recharge.
9. Reframe your narrative.
You’re likely thinking of the holiday mealtimes as an obstacle or looming problem. Instead, reframe these times as an opportunity to practice the skills you have learned in therapy and from your dietician. You can have a successful holiday season and, most importantly, you deserve one!
Do you have advice on what has helped you during the holiday season? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!