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Navigating the Holiday Season with an Eating Disorder: Tips and Strategies

navigating the holidays with an eating disorder

We’ve blogged about how stressful the holidays can be before. The holiday season, with its sparkle and cheer, can also bring a unique set of challenges for those navigating eating disorders. As a time traditionally centered around food and festivities, it’s essential to approach this period with care, compassion, and a solid plan.

The stress of endlessly available indulgences can be compounded by social dynamics. Encounters with certain types or quantities of food, fears of weight gain, and anxiety over how to handle comments about appearance or eating habits are common concerns. 

But the holiday season is not without hope: with a little help, those coping with or in recovery from an eating disorder can enjoy the season as much as anyone else. Here’s how to prepare.

1. Plan Ahead and Schedule Check-Ins

While the holidays may be a vacation for most, those navigating an eating disorder may need to work a little harder for peace of mind. It’s like checking the weather before a big trip – preparing for potential storms helps you pack the right gear. 

Work with a mental health professional to identify healthy coping strategies for stressful situations that might arise. Stay connected with your therapist or care team, and consider intensifying treatment during this time. And if you’re working with a dietitian, they can assist in navigating the holiday menu, helping you decide what foods feel safe and approachable.

2. Strategize for Holiday Meals and Events

Have a game plan in place for holiday meals. This might involve selecting fewer events to attend or identifying a support person to help with meals. Plan your breakfast, lunch and dinner—don’t fall into the trap of skipping a meal out of anticipation or guilt. Keeping as close as possible to your regular meal plan can provide a sense of normalcy in a sea of holiday chaos, and it can keep your blood sugar steady. It’s like having a familiar map in an unfamiliar city.

3. Prepare Responses and Know When to Take a Break

Holidays often bring about conversations that can veer into sensitive territories, especially around food and personal appearance. It’s wise to prepare responses in advance for comments that might be critical, judgmental, or simply uncomfortable. These responses don’t have to be confrontational but rather assertive and clear, setting boundaries in a respectful manner. For instance, if someone comments on your eating habits or appearance, you might respond with something like, “I appreciate your concern, but I’m currently focusing on what makes me feel healthy and happy.” (To learn more about boundaries, check out this blog)

Equally important is recognizing when a situation becomes too overwhelming. It’s perfectly okay to excuse yourself and take a break. This can be as simple as stepping outside for a breath of fresh air or finding a quiet room to regroup. Think of these moments as pressing a ‘pause’ button, giving yourself the time to recalibrate and breathe. This practice is not about running away from the situation but rather about taking care of your mental health in the moment.

setting boundaries at holidays

4. Focus on the Meaning of the Holidays

The heart of the holiday season isn’t the food; it’s the warmth and connection. Shift the focus to activities that bring joy and comfort. Whether it’s playing games, watching movies, or admiring holiday lights, the moments we share truly define the season’s spirit.

Consider starting new traditions that emphasize togetherness and joy without a focus on food. You could try crafting, volunteering, or building a snow sculpture. These new traditions can become the highlights of your holiday, creating safe and enjoyable experiences that you can look forward to each year.

5. Practice Self-Compassion and Nix Negative Self-Talk

Be kind to yourself. Struggling does not equate to failing. Avoid getting trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts about food and your body. Remember, recovery is a journey, not a sprint. Each step, no matter how small, is a victory. Imagine speaking to yourself as you would to a dear friend.

Recovery is a journey marked by both progress and setbacks. If you find yourself slipping, forgive yourself and recognize the effort it takes to stand back up. Avoiding perfectionism and setting realistic expectations are key. Imagine your journey as a road with various terrains – some smooth, some rocky – and remember that each step, no matter how small, moves you forward.

 

As we navigate this holiday season, let’s remember that the journey with an eating disorder is unique for each individual. While the path may have its twists and turns, each step taken is a testament to strength and resilience. To read more about navigating the holidays, check out our blog When You Need A Holiday From The Holidays. Let’s embrace this holiday season with a spirit of self-care and understanding, lighting our way with kindness and compassion.

 

Meet Robb Kornoelje, owner of The Truism Center and creative force behind the “30-Day Relationship Challenge.” With a wealth of experience in building trust and understanding in therapy, Robb has developed this transformative email course to guide individuals towards healthier relationships. In just 30 days, you’ll explore techniques for identifying disruptive behaviors, enhancing emotional intelligence, and cultivating self-awareness. Embark on this journey with Robb and experience a meaningful shift in how you connect with others—one day at a time.

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