4 Tips for Experiencing the Holidays with an Eating Disorder
When we think of the holidays, we tend to think of the moments when commercials show family’s getting together, the moments of gratitude by giving/receiving gifts and being in somebody’s company, and the abundance of smiles. After all, the holidays instill a sense of hope and renewal as the new year peeks its head around the corner. But for those who struggle with an eating disorder, the holidays can be experienced entirely different. Those who struggle with an eating disorder tend to see an increase in stress, anxiety, and fear surrounding the idea of getting together with loved ones. These types of emotions can be seen in partly due to the expectation that no holiday is complete without the abundant presence of food. How do we cope with the too-often hecticness of the holidays while navigating ways to deal with the stress and anxiety associated with having an eating disorder? Here are some quick and helpful reminders and tips as the holidays approach:
Make a Plan: It can be tempting to want to avoid any holiday get-togethers entirely when you can foresee the stress and anxiety it may invoke upon your eating disorder. It is okay to plan and do things at your own pace. When arriving at someone’s house, ask the host if there is a quieter place for you to walk off into to take a few minutes to collect and ground yourself. It is okay to have a plan to leave early if the gathering becomes too overwhelming and triggering. The holidays tend to carry an expectation that we need to be in many places at once and structure our schedules to accommodate everybody. It is okay to have a plan to even just say ‘No’ to attending someone’s event. This can help give back some feelings of control by not feeling like you need to adhere to attending all the social gatherings. When we are feeling overwhelmed and triggered, it can be easy for negative self-talk to make its presence. Here are some examples of ways to incorporate statements that defuse from the negative self-talk:
All food is good – there are no ‘good’ foods or ‘bad’ foods
It is okay to honor my hunger
This can be scary, and I know it will not last forever
I am more than what my ED tells me I am worth
I am strong and worthy
Communicate Boundaries: Since the holidays tends to involve the gathering of family members, you may encounter members who are not understanding of eating disorders and may say things that invoke a triggered response. As said in the earlier tip, it is okay to remove yourself from the area where the stress has become too much. However, it is okay to diverge the conversations if the topics or verbiage become insensitive and overwhelming. If a family member comments on how much weight they are going to gain from this meal, it is okay to say, “Can we talk about something that we are grateful for?”. If a family member says that they ‘shouldn’t’ go for another serving because it seems ‘wrong’, it is okay to say, “I am thankful to be spending the holiday with you”. If a family member begins to ask you personal questions regarding your eating disorder or a comment overall pertaining to you, it is okay to say, “I would like to not talk about that. Can we talk about something else?” This can help prompt more conversations surrounding gratitude and connection and help promote more positive self-talk too. As Brené Brown states, “Clear is kind”.
Support System: When getting ready for the holidays, you can reach out to your therapist and/or dietitian to help develop coping strategies that can help cushion any anticipated stressors and anxieties. If you know you have a specific person or group of individuals who are understanding of your eating disorder background, you can communicate any concerns you may have with the holidays and they can help keep you in check when the ED urges come in full swing, or to help you cope in the best way possible in the given moment.
Self-Care: Experiencing and attending to events during the holidays may be one of the courageous things to navigate while struggling with an eating disorder, but it can be exhausting once the day of attending social events is over. Plan to do something for yourself once the hecticness is over – engage in healthy activities such as listening to music, spending time with your support system, watching your favorite movie, or even taking a nap or going to bed early! Begin to engage in your self-care pre- and post-holiday seasons.
Often, our eating disorder tends to enjoy assuming the driver’s seat and take control of what direction we go with our thoughts, moods, and choices in life. The holiday seasons can be overwhelming and makes it easy for us to chose to opt out of any festivities. You are more than your body and appearance and you are capable of far more than what your eating disorder gives you credit for in life. You did not choose to have an eating disorder, but you can choose how you want to enjoy your holiday seasons and overall life.
If you need additional support, you can reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) hotline and speak to a volunteer via chat, call, or text. You can find more information at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
Blog post is written by Green Door Therapy therapist Tanya Schmitz, MS.