People often mention that it can be difficult to eat healthily, stay in shape, heck - to stay sane during the holidays. It wasn't until I was in recovery from my eating disorder that I understood what they mean. These are some tips I've developed to maintain my sanity during the holiday season, and you might find them useful as well.

While I am writing this specifically for the holiday season, it can be applied any time of the year. Also, I'm specifically addressing eating disorders, but even if you don't deal with food problems, you can adjust them to fit your situation.

  • Take Care of Yourself

Your top priority needs to be yourself. It is not your family, significant other, or the neighbor's dog - it is you. If you're not taking care of yourself, how can you really take care of someone else? Don't be afraid to do something, or not do something, if it will help you have a peaceful holiday.

  • Determine your support system and if one doesn't exist, find or create it.

Before going home for the holidays, figure out who you can reach out to. Is it your family? Your high school friends? Previous co-workers? Your religious community? Support group meetings? If your support system consists of specific people, you might consider letting them know ahead of time that you'll contact them if things get rough. That way, they can keep an eye out for your call. If you prefer meetings, research where eating disorder support group meetings are being held. If you can't find any physical ones, there are always phone and online meetings. Even if there are no eating-specific support group meetings, there might be general-issue support group meetings. If things get tough, you'll already want to have a plan of action.

  • Ask for help.

Yes, that help thing again. Asking for help can be difficult, but it can be the difference between an enjoyable holiday and a miserable one.

While the following event didn't happen during the holiday season, it illustrates the benefit of asking and receiving help. I returned home for the summer after my freshman year in college. My eating had been quite sane for awhile but when I moved back into my parents' house, temptations abounded. Food items in the cupboards and drawers and refrigerator were calling my name, and I wanted to answer. I had a hunch, though, that if I did answer the call, I'd end up on an eating disordered roller coaster. So, I cleared out all of the binge food items, stuffed them in grocery bags, and threw them in the outside trash. I was a little worried about my parents' reaction, but when I told them, they were very understanding.

For the next couple years, when I came home for an extended period of time, I'd bag up their triggering food, stick it in their room, and ask them to hide or get rid of it. After a couple visits, they voluntarily hid the trigger food before my arrival. We did this for a few years until I told them I was okay with having it around. It was a little cumbersome and I did feel uncomfortable about it, but it helped my recovery and my parents graciously supported me.

Help often isn't a neat package. It might be awkward, uncomfortable, or even scary. You owe it to yourself, though, to ask others for the help you need during the holidays. Usually, people are so relieved that they can help your recovery that they'll gladly do it.

  • Plan an alternative.

Make sure you have an alternative. Feeling backed in a corner can exacerbate eating issues. I no longer ask my parents to get rid of certain foods, but I when I go to visit them, I'll bring a grocery bag filled with food for myself. I don't think any particular food is bad, but since my mom bakes a lot of deserts during the holidays, if left to my own devices, I'd devour most of them. So, I bring food that satisfies my craving and doesn't leave me feeling deprived. That way, if I want a piece of my mom's goodies, I'm more likely to have one instead of ten.

What are some of your big holiday food struggles? What are realistic substitutions for those items? It's important that the substitutes are realistic. For instance, if my mom bakes a pecan pie, I probably won't feel very satisfied eating an apple. However, a handful of dates dipped in almond butter might just do the trick.

Likewise, alternatives are important for more than just food. If you're feeling really stressed at your family or friends', where is another place you can go to get back on an even keel? Can you take the dog for a quick walk or take a drive somewhere? If things get really rough, can you stay at someone else's place or go back to your home? Find your alternatives and don't be afraid to utilize them.

  • Take Some "You" Time.

It's so easy to get caught up in the holiday festivities and constant interaction with others. However, we all need downtime to process and recharge. I like to debrief by writing in my journal, reading, thinking, or spending time with my dog. Then I'm able to dive back in to the festivities. What works for you?

To sum up:

  • Give yourself permission to fully take care of yourself.
  • Have a plan ahead of time.
  • Remember to enjoy yourself as much as possible!

New Chapter

A young woman charts her recovery from eating disorders.
Adia Coler

Adia Colar is a publicist for New Harbinger Publications and a freelance writer.

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