The holidays for most are a time of joy with family and friends who celebrate with food, and lots of it. The holidays can cause a lot of anxiety for someone struggling with an eating disorder.
Here are 4 ways to make it through this holiday season when in recovery from an eating disorder:
1. Prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more.
Eating disorder behaviors seem to increase when stress and anxiety are introduced, not to mention feeling like a 7-year-old again when stepping back into your parents’ house. Talk with your treatment team about the holidays and how to mentally prepare for the potential stress. Have phrases you can use to protect your mental state if unwanted comments arise. Don’t be afraid to ask what food will be prepared, and/or ask to be involved in the cooking. If you are planning to go out to eat, visit the restaurants website or call ahead to plan your meal. Discuss a plan with your dietitian.
2. Get into the holiday spirit
When you have an eating disorder, its all you think about. Try to decorate your place, listen to holiday music, spend time doing and creating traditions that mean something to you. Oftentimes, as adults, we forget how to celebrate or we become so busy that it seems pointless. Getting into the holiday spirit can reduce stress and anxiety and bring you joy. Plus, it gives you something to focus on that will pull focus away from your eating disorder.
3. Be honest with yourself and know where you are in your recovery
Try not to take on too much, and also, challenge yourself a bit. I always say: “If you are feeling strong then challenge yourself; if you aren’t then stick to the plan”. The point is to not go backwards. Taking on too much can cause adverse effects in your recovery. Know where you are and what you can handle. It’s okay to say no and it’s okay to say yes; know where you are. Remember that recovery doesn’t stop during the holidays, so continue to implement recovery-based activities throughout the holiday season (journaling, logging meals, taking medications, etc.).
4. Have a support plan in place and an exit strategy
If you are able to have a support person available during times of stress, use them. This could be someone from your treatment team or a family member or friend who is supportive. Talk to this person before the holidays and come up with a plan for support. Also, know your limits. If things become to overwhelming or stressful, plan to have an exit strategy. This could be as bold as having your own hotel room to go back to if you need to get away or stepping outside for a moment to reflect and calm down. A journal or taking deep breaths can be just what you need to calm yourself down before re-entering. Know that it’s okay to take a break and you don’t owe anyone any explanations if you aren’t ready to open up about it.
Remember that you are in recovery, you do not owe anyone any explanations and your eating disorder does not need to be the center of the holiday or the topic of any conversations. With that said, find some time to enjoy the season and create new traditions that are special to you!