The holidays are often seen as the happiest time of year. However, facing the holidays while in eating disorder recovery can bring you anxiety instead of joy. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve all emphasize food and family gatherings.
Know that it is possible to manage eating disorder thoughts and behaviors, even with all the potential triggers that come with holiday parties and gatherings. Here are some tips for maintaining your recovery.
1. Anticipate Potential Challenges
When you experience a trigger or problem, it can be difficult to know what to say or do in the moment. Reviewing potential situations beforehand can help. Talk to your support system and therapist about challenges that may come and how to handle them effectively. Some potential situations might include:
- Feeling anxious about the amount of food available at a party or family gathering
- Being triggered by a certain type of food that you previously restricted
- Comments from relatives about your appearance or weight
- Guests commenting on their own weight or the amount of food they’re eating
- Pressure from family to eat the food they’ve prepared
2. Prepare a Response to Triggers
Although you cannot control triggers, you can prepare a response in advance. This will help prevent relapse into eating disorder thoughts or behaviors when a stressful situation arises. Practice how you will respond so it comes more easily during the moment.
For example, when your aunt comments on how thin you look, you can say, “I know you mean that as a compliment, but I’d rather not talk about my weight or appearance. I avoid focusing on these as part of my recovery process.” If you find yourself overwhelmed by a buffet of food, practice mindful eating. If you find yourself panicking over what you’ve eaten, practice the coping skills you’ve learned in therapy.
Also pick trusted people you can reach out to for support if needed. Talking to someone about the triggers can help you work through them.
3. Have a List of Calming Techniques
If you find yourself overwhelmed or panicking, go to your list of calming techniques. These may include:
- Going for a walk alone or with a loved one
- Listening to relaxing music
- Repeating positive affirmations
- Doing breathing exercises or yoga
- Creating artwork
Positive distractions that keep you engaged with your family and friends can also be beneficial. You can take photos or videos of the event, participate in a party game, or play with the little kids. You can even start a meaningful tradition not centered around food, such as organizing a toy drive or service activity. These types of distractions not only get you through emotions but also strengthen your social connections, a vital component to recovery. They also remind you of the true focus of the season.
4. Set and Keep Boundaries
Boundaries can be hard to implement, but they protect you from unsafe people and places. Set boundaries concerning which celebrations you will attend, how long you will stay, whom you will converse with, and what topics you will talk about or listen to. Have a reply ready in case of inappropriate comments about your appearance or eating habits. Also prepare an excuse when you need to leave a party or get out of an uncomfortable conversation.
5. Enjoy the Moment
No matter what you are doing, be present. Really listen during conversations. Be aware of how comforting a warm hug from a favorite relative feels. Eat mindfully to make it more enjoyable. Staying connected to each moment takes practice but can help your mind calm down.
6. Keep Moving Forward
Despite your best efforts, you may slip into old thoughts and behaviors. Focus on the tiny wins you had and review the situation so you can know how to do better next time. Then move on. Stay hopeful and optimistic despite obstacles.
Management of eating disorders during the holidays may not go perfectly, and that is okay. Remember that recovery is an ongoing process. Even if you relapse into old thoughts or behaviors, you can still get back on track with the help of your therapists and support system.
If you need additional assistance with recovery, consider Seeds of Hope. We have a variety of eating disorder treatment programs, including a therapeutic residential center and various outpatient programs. Give us a call today or fill out a contact form on our website.