Eating Disorders and the Holidays

As I’m sure you are aware the holidays are in full swing. Many people assume that everyone loves the holidays. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…right? For some it is, for others it may be the most difficult time of the year. For people with eating disorders, the holidays can seem like a downright scary movie. People with eating disorders are often scared of food, terrified of groups of people, and frightened of heightened emotions. The holidays are filled with all three of these! If you are struggling with an eating disorder, then this is likely the most dreaded time of the year.

When I was recovering from my eating disorder I felt lost during the holidays. I was scared of all the food and felt like I had to pretend to be “okay” all the time. Inside I felt so much anxiety and depression. I wish I would have had someone tell me “it’s okay, this is a hard time for a lot of people”. The following are some tips that will help you get through this difficult time of the year.

Recognize that this is a short time period

While the holidays are going on it feels like it lasts forever. But it is actually only a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That is only 8% of the year! Try to remember that when you feel like this time is dragging and it is never going to end. It will end, and you will get through it.

Set your boundaries

You do not have to attend every holiday party and gathering you are invited to. You are allowed to say “thanks, but no thanks”. This is a great time to practice setting your boundaries. And if not attending means saving your well-being, then it’s worth it. I always ask my clients: does the discomfort and guilt of saying no outweigh how bad you feel saying yes and going to the party? If the answer is no, then you should not go!

Thoughtfully eat your fear foods 

It is hard with so many different foods around and everyone and their mother (and aunt, uncle, grandma, cousin, brother) trying to convince you to try their homemade peanut brittle. There is absolutely nothing wrong with stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new and different foods, but if you don’t feel ready to, then don’t. Sometimes when we push ourselves with fear foods, we feel much more anxiety,  and coupled with the anxiety of being surrounded by family, can lead to a complete relapse.

Stick to regular meal times

Do not save up and skip meals in anticipation of a big holiday dinner or party. Restricting will only make you overly hungry which can cause you to binge later. Keep a regular and moderate meal pattern.

Have an exit plan

If you know you will be attending a holiday gathering with friends or family that will be difficult and triggering for you, have an exit strategy. Plan some ways to excuse yourself if things get too tough. Always put your own health above anything else.

Plan something relaxing amidst the chaos

A yoga class, massage, or a walk with a good friend can be a great way to feel back to your “normal” self after being in uncomfortable situations. It is very important to set some time aside to take care of yourself.

Use your treatment team

Talk to your treatment team to help identify what situations may be more difficult, and come up with strategies for dealing with them.

Remember what the holidays are about

The holidays are supposed to be a time for family and friends to reconnect, and to take some time off work and school. Try to focus on this aspect and remember that the holidays do not have to be all about food. Yes, food is a part of it, but it is just one aspect. There can be a lot of good that comes out of slowing down and reconnecting with the people we really care about.

If you are struggling with navigating the holidays with an eating disorder, know that you are not alone. I wish you a joyful and meaningful holiday season from the office of Melissa Preston Counseling!