Eating disorder recovery is hard work. As we also know, the holidays can be filled with joy as well as stress and struggle. The holiday season can be extra challenging and hard for those of us in eating disorder recovery. Thanksgiving and other holidays often revolve around food and eating events, which have the potential to be activating if you’re in recovery.
Our hope is to support you in navigating the holidays with a plan so you can focus more energy on the parts of this season that you enjoy! The below guide is intended to help you form a plan for before, during, and after potentially stressful holiday experiences. We hope that the following tips help you prepare for the upcoming weeks and brainstorm ways you can support yourself this season.
Remind yourself that your primary obligation is to take care of yourself.
Aside from your arranged commitments and obligations to show up for others, it is your responsibility to take care of your needs that best support you and your recovery.
Get a full night of sleep.
Allowing yourself to get adequate sleep before a busy and potentially stressful day is an act of self-care.
Eat meals prior to the main holiday course.
Not only will eating breakfast/lunch and snacks prior to the holiday meal prevent potential binge behaviors, but it will also provide you the needed energy to attune to and support yourself with whatever comes your way.
Determine your support system ahead of time.
Think about who you can reach out to for support, validation, or venting space before you need them, as it can feel overwhelming to determine this in the moment
Remember that you can utilize supportive people in your life even if they don’t know about your struggles (e.g., playing games with young relatives for distraction).
Brainstorm safe topics for discussion.
It may be helpful to think about topics that you actually enjoy discussing ahead of time so you have them in your back pocket to fill awkward silences or redirect the conversation.
Consider how you want to respond to difficult topics/questions ahead of time.
‘Tis the season for amplified diet talk and body shaming (*sigh*); however, you can prepare to protect yourself by thinking about how you’d like to respond (or not respond) beforehand.
If a direct response to a harmful comment does not feel accessible to you in the moment, remind yourself that you have permission to leave the room, change the topic, use humor to deflect, or straight-up ignore the question.
Brainstorm coping skills to have at the ready.
Reflect on what coping strategies typically work for you when you are feeling overwhelmed or activated (e.g. breathing exercises, mindfulness videos, a mindful walk, music, etc.).
If you are unable to think of skills that work for you, this would be a great time to bring that topic to upcoming therapy sessions!
Set an intention outside of food.
Determine one (just one) hope/goal/intention that you have for the day that doesn’t have to do with your relationship to food— one that you have control over and can easily accomplish.
E.g. reach out to 1 friend, connect with your favorite aunt, play a game with your cousins, go for a 10-minute walk around the block, etc.
Odds are that your family members and/or relatives are probably going to act the same as they typically do, so preparing for the expected is the best way to hold realistic expectations and prevent growing resentment/frustration.
Remind yourself that the holidays are short-lived.
Aside from all the holiday hype, treat this day unlike any other when it comes to your meal plan and movement recommendations.
Reach out to a support person.
Don’t hesitate to pull aside, call, or text your support people during moments of distress.
This is a great opportunity to practice asking for help and it turns out that your loved ones actually appreciate being able to help/support you!
Set boundaries around uncomfortable topics.
Practice your assertive communication skills in response to boundary violations with a couple of predetermined, brief responses:
“I’d rather not talk about my body/diet right now”
“I’m working towards intuitive eating which is best for me and my body”
“I feel uncomfortable with this topic. Can we talk about something else?”
Utilize your coping skills.
As soon as you notice signs that you may be stressed/ overwhelmed (e.g., racing heart, shortness of breath, spiraling thoughts), take a moment to pause and choose a coping skill to bring you back to the present moment
TIP: Begin with slowing down your breath and lengthen your exhale, as this will allow you to access the part of your brain that holds your list of other coping skills.
Practice self-compassion and gratitude.
If you remember to do anything this holiday season, please offer yourself some self-kindness and compassion for the inevitable struggle of navigating these dynamics during recovery.
Reflect on information learned about yourself, your relationships, and your recovery.
No matter how recovery looked for you during these holidays, you will walk away knowing more about yourself and where you are in recovery. This can be helpful information to bring to your following therapy sessions!
Choose recovery the next day.
Fight any urges to “compensate” for the day/week before and take the next right choice by continuing to follow your meal plan and exercise recommendations following a holiday event. Your body will be so grateful!