The holidays are a time of celebration and joy for many, but for a person who’s in eating disorder recovery, the season can be challenging. In the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, as people get together with their families, stressful situations arise; even though we’re with the ones we love, our closest relationship can put a strain on any of us. For people struggling with an eating disorder, and for people in recovery from one, the prominence meals take during this period only adds to the stress of the season.
With a difficult relationship between an individual and food and eating, situations where attention is lavished on big meals and when people are talking about their diets might become untenable. It’s a time that’s rife with potential triggers for relapse. However, disordered eating is not guaranteed over the winter holiday; several pointers and guidelines can prove useful for managing your eating disorder recovery over the holidays.
Therapists and other mental health professionals often recommend having a plan beforehand when you know you will be dealing with a stressful situation. Here are some tips that will help you develop a strategy for dealing with the stress (and the joy) of the holidays:
Six Pointers For Navigating the Holiday Season with an Eating Disorder
- Set healthy boundaries for yourself–If you’re recovered or in recovery from an eating disorder, this probably won’t be your first stressful holiday season. You can manage difficult situations, topics, and people by determining beforehand what your potential trigger might be, and planning boundaries around them. For example, if some talks about their diet every, year, you might prepare a change of topic, or let them know beforehand, that although they don’t mean it to be, their discussion could be harmful to you. In a more extreme case, if someone is always a trigger for you, you may want to avoid them as much as possible, or even skip the event altogether. Although you don’t want to force toxic positivity on yourself, you can mitigate negativity over the holidays.
- Don’t skip your sessions–It’s winter break – you are taking time off work, so why shouldn’t you take off other obligations? It’s an easy pitfall to succumb to. However, many recovery journeys are predicated on establishing and keeping to a set schedule. This means sticking to your meal plan, taking time for yourself, and especially keeping up with your therapy sessions. After residential eating disorder treatment is completed, many individuals enter a “Step-down” program consisting of day treatment sessions. In these sessions, the treatment model is continued, and recovery is maintained. By making excuses to mi these sessions, you might halt your progress, or worse, leave yourself open to a relapse.
- Plan for some time to regroup–Truth be told, this is solid advice for anyone, not only people struggling with an eating disorder. Plowing through endless activities, dinners, get-togethers, and so on puts a strain on everyone over the holidays. For someone with an eating disorder, the stress can cause a return to disordered eating as a way to cope. This holiday season, get ahead of these stressors by planning some time to be alone and regroup. You may choose to take a walk or a drive by yourself or set some time aside for meditation. Or you can do something creative; practicing an instrument, painting, or writing a poem are great ways to decompress as well as explore avenues of self-expression. One note about alone time; be aware that you might be triggered to engage in disordered behaviors during this time. If you worry that you might binge, purge, compulsively exercise, or use another disordered behavior, talk to your support people and let them know how you’re feeling.
- Identify our support people– Speaking of support people, the holidays are a perfect time to lean on the people helping you recover. Chances are, if you’ve only recently completed an eating disorder treatment program, your closest family members will have undergone some family therapy with you. Even if treatment was a long time ago, it’s likely you have a person or people that have shared your journey and provided support. Talk with them – ask them to intervene if they see a conversation getting out of hand, or ask them to check in with you periodically. Knowing that someone has got your back in a crisis can make the stress of the holidays much easier to manage. Also, be a support person for them, too. You can be a support for those that are helping you as well – it’s a rewarding way to show that you care.
- Don’t put all the focus on your eating disorder–During eating disorder recovery, it’s all too easy to put all your focus on keeping it going. It’s important to do so, of course. However, you can put too much pressure on yourself by placing all your attention on food, your body, and your recovery. Make sure to set a goal that has nothing to do with food. Maybe you want to really shine in your choral performance at church, or get back to see a favorite spot from your hometown once again. Even something as small as showing a relative you haven’t seen for a while how much you love them is more than a worthy goal. The holidays are a time of gratitude and togetherness – show your freedom from disordered eating by doing something that has nothing to do with it.
- Don’t forget self-compassion – It’s an unfortunate fact that eating disorder recovery can put a lot of pressure on a person. Many people, even after they have repaired their relationship with food, feel that they should be able to face triggering situations like it’s nothing – and then feel guilty or ashamed about feeling anxious. Remember that anxiety is normal, and you should never be ashamed of your feelings. If you’re feeling bad that you can’t deal with these difficult situations without feeling some trepidation, remember to show yourself compassion. You can forgive yourself – and you can remind yourself of your incredible courage to even be in that situation. Reminding yourself how far you’ve come, and what you have already accomplished will go a long way toward making triggering situations more tolerable.
Tis the Season to Be Recovered
Recovery is a process. It will never be as simple as moving from point A to point B, checking off recovery boxes one by one. Every person in recovery will face challenges and triggers. The key to maintaining your recovered self is to manage them effectively. Regaining your healthy self is a huge accomplishment – be proud of how far you’ve come. When faced with a triggering and stressful scenario, try to remember these tips – we hope they can help you keep it going.
Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you feel yourself teetering. No one can overcome a challenge like an eating disorder alone – but Remember that you’re not alone. You’ve got your support system – friends, family, and your care team. This holiday season, take time for yourself if you need it, and enjoy the gifts of life without an eating disorder.