When you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, the holiday season, though it may bring significant joy and excitement, may also present challenges and potential obstacles. The season also brings cooler and darker months, which brings its own hurdles for individuals with mood disorders and/or eating disorders. In addition, we see an increase in the emphasis on food, social (and social media) pressure, and diet talk and culture. Not to mention that there is a lot of pressure for the holiday season to be the best time of the year! Unfortunately, this can be daunting for individuals struggling with mental health issues.
“The best thing you can do if you know that you will find yourself faced with these types of pressures is to be prepared,” says Dawn Delgado, National Director of Clinical Development for Center for Discovery, a provider of residential and outpatient treatment for eating disorders, with locations across the U.S. “Reasonable and realistic steps for coping will allow you to remain strong and maintain the progress you’ve made.”
Below are five tips for getting through the holiday season — from Thanksgiving to New Year’s — while staying on track in your recovery!
If you know that being around certain foods will be difficult for you or that there may be other triggering situations, work with members of your support team to determine how you will address each stressor. For instance, if you know that being surrounded by Thanksgiving dinner or several nights of Hanukkah dinners will be hard for you, work with your dietitian in advance to understand how to nourish your body appropriately.
Part of recovery is knowing that no foods are inherently good or bad, so discuss how to manage any “fear foods” that you will be encountering and plan how to navigate the situation. Perhaps have someone on standby for you to call or arrange to meet with your therapist just before attending the event.
Having at least one person you can turn to will make a big difference in how you handle your triggers. Consider making a list of friends, family, or professionals that you can reach out to if you find yourself considering using maladaptive coping skills or eating disordered behaviors. There are also helplines and support services available online for those suffering from eating disorders. This may feel like a safer option if it does not feel like anyone understands the challenges you are facing. Sharing helps you process your experience and allows you to hear other perspectives.
Part of preparing in advance for holiday parties and dining is to set healthy boundaries with friends and family. For example, if a popular topic of discussion at your holiday get-togethers is diet or weight-related, know what you will say and how you will redirect the conversation. You may ask your therapist or other support people to role play this with you, so you have the confidence to advocate for yourself. One helpful trick is to ask those who continue these conversations about their own lives and derail their diet/weight talk. You may also provide them with some education on the dangers of dieting, if you feel passionately!
Shift Your Focus
This is the holiday season, after all! Reflect on what the holidays mean to you. Spend time reminiscing with and enjoying your loved ones. Work with your support team to devise activities that you can pour your time and attention into, like journaling. One very effective practice is to start and end your day with gratitude. You may use this time of year to begin a gratitude journal and write five things you are most grateful for from each day. Most of all, reach out to the people around you who love you and want to see you succeed.
One of the most important things you can do during the holiday season is to practice self-care. What will make you feel the most grounded and the least triggered? Self-care looks different for everyone. It should mean being flexible and allowing yourself to do what you need to do when you need to do it. The practice of self-care also means being compassionate and forgiving with yourself. Give yourself grace, eliminate negative self-talk, focus on reconnecting with others, or rediscovering activities you enjoyed before the eating disorder.
The holiday season doesn’t have to be a minefield. With a little planning and collaboration with your support team, you can make sure your recovery stays on track. Be gentle with yourself while you are negotiating your way through what may be an emotional or challenging time. You are incredibly strong for continuing to do this work and brave for facing your fears!
Learn more and find options for treatment at centerfordiscovery.com.