Tips for Surviving the Holidays in Eating Disorder Recovery

How to stay on track this holiday season.

Posted Dec 17, 2016

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The holidays can be a time of increased stress for many. For those in recovery from an eating disorder, the holidays can be a time of increased anxiety, as there is a large emphasis on food, diet-talk is prevalent, and one’s sense of structure and routine is often challenged.

It’s important to note that you are not alone in feeling an increased sense of anxiety surrounding the holidays. Additionally, in challenging yourself and working to maintain your recovery, you are doing something that takes incredible strength and courage.

The following are three tips for getting through the holidays and staying on track in your eating disorder recovery.

1. Create a holiday coping plan.

It might be tempting to cancel appointments leading up to the holidays, but it’s important to try to meet with your therapist, dietitian, mentor, recovery coach, and any other members of your treatment team prior to the holidays. During times of increased stress, it’s important to ensure that you have enough support from others.

It can be helpful to come up with a plan (with the support of your treatment team) surrounding how you will cope with the holiday. For instance, you could work with your dietitian to decide what foods you plan to have at any holiday parties and any “fear foods” that you could include as well. Additionally, you could ask your therapist to help you to come up with some healthy ways that you might cope with triggering situations.

Even if you do not have a treatment team, you can still come up with a plan for how you can best cope with the holiday. I’d suggest that this plan include a list of potential triggers (i.e. people, situations, etc.), healthy coping strategies, a list of support people that you could reach out to, and some helpful coping statements that you could tell yourself in the moment.

The following are some ideas for helpful coping statements:

  • I am so brave for facing these foods that I fear.
  • Being scared in recovery is normal, but I don’t have to let that fear control my actions.
  • No food is “good” or “bad,” and all foods can fit into a healthy diet.
  • I am strong and I know I can do this.
  • Being more flexible with food allows me to have a full life.

Coming up with this kind of plan can help to decrease some of your anxiety leading up to holiday gatherings and enable you to feel more prepared to handle triggering situations.

2. Set healthy boundaries.

Prepare in advance how you can set healthy boundaries with friends or family members if diet or weight-related talk comes up at the table. It can be helpful to think of a few statements or strategies that you could say when this kind of discussion inevitably comes up.

The following are some ideas for how you can respond if someone brings up diet-talk around the holidays:

  • No food is “good” or “bad"; all foods fit into a healthy diet.
  • The only reason to feel guilty for eating that brownie, is if you stole it from the store.
  • I’m declaring this table a diet-talk free zone.
  • I hear that you’re really into your new diet, but can we talk about something more meaningful?
  • So how is your new job?
  • I’m just really thankful to have food to eat and to be able to spend time with family today.

Frankly, diet and weight-related talk is harmful and uninteresting. It is perfectly within your right to excuse yourself for a moment or to change the subject if someone decides to bring up these topics.

After all, diet and weight-talk have no place at a holiday table (or anywhere for that matter).

3. Practice self-compassion.

Beating yourself up for feeling anxious around the holidays will only serve to make you feel even worse. In stepping out of your comfort zone and facing your fears, you are doing something that is amazingly brave. True strength is not denying yourself food or avoiding certain foods-rather it is challenging yourself, despite what the eating disorder voice may be telling you.

It is critical that you try to practice self-compassion and be gentle with yourself. For instance, try talking to yourself the way that you would a loved one or small child who was struggling. You can also practice self-care in the days leading up to holiday parties by doing nice and relaxing things for yourself, such as taking a bubble bath with a candle, meditating, reading and drinking tea, getting a manicure or massage, doing an at-home spa night, or playing with a pet.

You Are So Strong

You didn’t choose to have an eating disorder, but you can make the choice to continue working on your recovery. Recovery from an eating disorder is tough. You are so strong and brave for continuing to challenge yourself.

True courage is not the absence of fear, rather it is feeling afraid and taking action (in alignment with your values) anyway.

If you keep working on your recovery and reaching out for help and support when you are struggling, you will eventually find freedom. It may take some time, but I believe that you will find a meaningful and purpose-driven life. One where you can finally say, “I am recovered."

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C provides therapy in Rockville, Maryland, for adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders, body image issues, anxiety, and survivors of trauma. Jennifer also offers eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype. Connect with Jennifer through her website at www.jenniferrollin.com