While the holiday season can be filled with joy and excitement for some, for others, it provokes extreme anxiety. For those struggling with eating disorders, the thought of large gatherings and a table full of food is enough to trigger major stress.
If you’ve found yourself wondering how to handle an eating disorder during the holidays, you’re not alone. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately 9 percent of people will struggle with an eating disorder in their lifetime.
Despite the prevalence of eating disorders, it can be tricky to find resources and ideas to cope with the anxiety and expectations around the holiday season. Here, we’ll give you concrete tips you can implement to make this year as smooth as possible.
1. Open up to a loved one
One of the best ways to manage the anxiety and stress of the holidays is to open up to a friend or family member about your eating disorder. Whether you’re telling them about your struggles for the first time, or sharing your apprehension about the upcoming celebrations, having support nearby can be a game changer.
This tip is especially useful if you’re sharing with someone who will be present during the festivities. For example, if you’re having a large family Christmas dinner, having an aunt sit and chat with you in another room can alleviate the pressure of eating in front of others and won’t draw extra attention to you.
Informing a loved one also gives you a buffer against food-related questions. Sharing your desire to avoid these inquiries with a family member can smooth things over when your grandparent asks why you didn’t try the ham. Your sibling can interject with a quick comment instead.
2. Find non-food related traditions to start
If your family and friends are big on the customary traditions, it might be time to start one of your own. Rather than baking cookies or making gingerbread houses, try a gift-exchange, an ornament making station or a Christmas scavenger hunt.
There are potentially endless ways to incorporate non-food related traditions. You deserve to enjoy your annual celebrations, and should feel empowered to put your own spin on them. Just remember that some food traditions may have sentimental value to others, and opting out of them is OK, too.
3. Plan for triggers
Avoiding food around the holidays is easier said than done. Regardless of how much you prepare, there’s bound to be surprises. Anticipating triggers that could crop up and making plans to cope with potential stressors could save the holiday.
Take the time to sit down and write out a few possible triggers. Is it likely that someone will comment on your appearance since seeing you last year? Will there be pressure to sit at the table while the rest of the family eats?
Additionally, write out a variety of actions you could do to cope with those triggers. It’ll be important to have coping mechanisms that are adaptable, in case you’re not at a familiar location or don’t have access to things you typically use to calm down.
4. Practice coping skills
Writing down ways to stay calm won’t help unless you’re comfortable using them. Practice each of the exercises you choose before attending holiday events. Every day, use breathing exercises or mindfulness meditations so it’s second nature when the rubber hits the road.
5. Meal plan
Some courses may be out of your control, but you can always add in nutritious foods at times that are less stressful for you. If you have advanced knowledge of foods that provoke anxiety, you’ll be able to substitute a different snack or meal that works for you.
Talk with family and friends before to discuss what food will be present at gatherings, and plan accordingly. You can still enjoy the holidays and eat foods that are meaningful and comfortable to you when you do some prep work. This advanced thinking puts you in control— not the food.
6. Order your thoughts
The hype of the holidays can get to us. There’s pressure for Christmas to be perfect, an expectation of indulgence and the ups and downs of our own self-reflection about the past year. Coupled with the stress and joy of family gatherings, there’s bound to be a flood of emotions.
Creating a sense of stability for yourself is critical to bearing through the holidays with an eating disorder. Order your thoughts by rejecting a scarcity mindset (don’t worry, you can have peppermint bark any time of the year) and allowing yourself reasonable enjoyment of novelty foods without binging. Don’t be blindsided by your own emotions around food.
7. Get treatment
The best Christmas gift you could give yourself is professional treatment to heal from your eating disorder. With the right help, not only will you be able to manage triggers, but you’ll find long-term recovery is within reach.
Heal the root of your eating disorder this holiday and start treatment now. Call Seeds of Hope today.