The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone, but it is especially challenging if you are working to manage the holidays with an eating disorder. When you have an eating disorder, holiday foods and holiday events with food can be huge triggers. There are a lot of difficult points that can arise: what you’re deciding to eat, what other people are eating, people talking about food, people talking about the diets they plan on going on after the holidays, or even family joking about eating disorder symptoms (“I’ve eaten so much, I’m going to have to throw up!”). It can be very difficult to manage the anxiety that comes with these triggers. Here are some tips to help:
6 Ways Manage the Holidays With an Eating Disorder
- Try to participate in any holiday events that don’t involve food: holiday shopping, putting up decorations, caroling, watching Christmas movies, or helping to wrap gifts with the family. Struggling with food doesn’t mean you have to isolate yourself from friends and family. A major issue for people with eating disorders is their tendency to withdraw from others, which can cause them to feel lonely and disconnected. That loneliness is even more difficult around the holidays; you deserve to be with the people you care about.
- Talk to your closest family and friends about what will help you with holiday meals. Let the people who have been most supportive know if you’d prefer to pick out your own food, or if you’d like to sit next to them at meals. Maybe you can clue them in that if any talk about diets, food, or weight comes up, you’d like their help with changing the subject. If no one in your family can help with this, ask a close friend to have their phone on hand if you need to text them during the meal. You will not be able to talk to everyone about your needs regarding your eating disorder recovery. Eating disorders are far more complex than most people realize, so you can’t expect everyone to understand. Fortunately, you don’t need everyone to understand; you just need a couple of solid people in your corner.
- Come up with your own list of subject changes. This might sound silly, but rehearsing what you could say to change a subject at a holiday meal can be very helpful. When a person with an eating disorder is triggered and anxiety is high, it’s hard to think straight. Making a plan helps. Let’s consider an example: Your aunt is sitting with you and other family at dinner time. She says, “I have been so bad—eating whatever I want! But, it’s the holidays so I get a pass. After the New Year I will be starting a new paleo diet. It looks really good!” Okay, let’s pause—this is already looking rough. Your aunt might start going into detail about the diet and her new exercise plan on top of it (Ugh!). You don’t have to let it get that far. Interject with something like, “Yeah, the holidays can be hard, but there are lots of things that I like about them. I’m thinking about trying to do some more volunteering—I looked up some cool opportunities in Buffalo. The newest SPCA in West Seneca is always looking for people to help.” You’ve automatically changed the subject to something more positive! Come up with two or three solid, positive subject changes that you can use, and you’ll be set.
- Say no to the holiday events if they are toxic, or if you don’t want to go. Let’s say it louder for the people in the back: You are allowed to say no. You don’t need to apologize for saying no. You don’t need to give a bunch of excuses for saying no. If you do choose to give excuses, you don’t need to judge yourself on the validity of them. What you want to do is valid. Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s okay to isolate yourself from every holiday event; I’ve already mentioned how that can be toxic in itself. But, if your grandmother invites you other to bake a million Christmas cookies, you can say no and suggest that you do something else together.
- Set boundaries for yourself to keep you on track. Make a plan for when you’ll arrive at a holiday event, how long you’ll stay, and what you’re meal plan will be. I’d encourage setting a goal that is appropriate for where a person is in his or her eating disorder recovery. For example, you could challenge yourself to eat a dessert that you’ve enjoyed in the past. You can make a goal to be assertive with family members who are “food-pushers.” You can set a boundary to excuse yourself from the room if your surroundings become too difficult to manage. You’re allowed to step out and call a friend, use the bathroom, take a short walk outside, or search YouTube for some cute animal videos!
- Practice regular self-care, and challenge yourself to switch it up! So many people neglect self-care during the holidays. If you have an eating disorder, try to do something for yourself every day, whether it is something big or small. Self-care can be as simple as taking time to be mindful as you smell your morning coffee or tea brewing. It can also be cleaning your room, lighting a candle, watching a favorite movie, or planning a trip with a loved one. I think a people fall into the trap of doing the same self-care routine over and over—it won’t be as effective if you always do the same things! Challenge yourself to get creative and try something new.
Eating disorder recovery can be a long journey with ups and downs. You deserve to have all the support that you can get. I strongly recommend individual therapy for anyone struggling with an eating disorder. When you’re ready to take the next step, you can contact Explore What’s Next to set up a complimentary initial consultation. Several of our therapists are specialized to treat eating disorders. We are well equipped to help.
Christine Frank, LMSW
Christine understands what it’s like when you’re trying your hardest and an invisible hand is holding you back. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or stupid, or unworthy of good things—it just means you could use some help. It helps to connect with someone who knows that your stories are worth listening to. Christine will hear your story. She’s a great listener.
Christine is easy-going, friendly, empathetic, non-judgmental. She’s funny and real in a down to earth way. She loves working with pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults to help them move through those difficult life transitions where a person can feel lost.
With Christine’s guidance and encouragement you can take the first step to a happier, healthier life.
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