Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
It’s the day after Halloween and you’ve managed to avoid the bags of leftover candy for now. Then you turn on the radio, and before you can manage to change the channel you hear it:
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go!”
In less than 24 hours, the world jumped from candy corn to candy canes, completely skipping over Thanksgiving. Welcome to the season of eating. For most people, the weeks between October 31 and January 1 are for celebrating and letting go of limits. For you, a person recovering from an eating disorder, it can feel like walking through a minefield.
But the holidays don’t have to derail your recovery. Whether you’re in the first stages of treatment for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, or you’ve lived a life of recovery for years, this season can still be one of joy. By setting yourself up for success ahead of time, you can learn to love the holidays, and yourself, more than you ever have before. The following five tips can help.
Eat Regularly and Reasonably
Eating disorders are mental health issues marked by extreme eating habits and out-of-bounds concerns about weight, shape or overall body image.1 During treatment, you learn the importance of eating regularly, reasonably and on purpose. The holidays can mean trays of tempting snacks in the breakroom at work, extra cookies at home and parties with co-workers, friends and family. With food constantly available, it’s easy to fall into mindless eating or not eating at all to avoid excess calories.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C, for Psychology Today recommends working with your therapist to find healthy ways to cope with trigger situations. She also suggests surrounding yourself with people who can help as well as creating a list of coping statements to remind you of how far you’ve come.2
During the holidays, friends, relatives, business referral sources and people you haven’t seen in years come out of the woodwork. If you’re not careful, every evening of every weekend is taken up with a party or activity. None of the events are bad, but having too many can cause stress levels to rise. And increased stress means increased risk of eating disorder relapse. It’s OK and healthy to limit your activities to just the really important or necessary things. Plan ahead for quiet evenings at home, or with a few family members or close friends, to keep you balanced and refreshed. If someone tries to make you feel guilty for not accepting their invitation, they’re probably not someone you need to spend time with anyway.
Susan Albers, an eating issues specialist and clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, recommends slowing down and being flexible. The holidays are about enjoyment, so extend yourself some grace and compassion as you make choices about what to eat and how to spend your time during the holiday season.3
Having a coping strategy in place for holiday parties can help you avoid anxiety when faced with large amounts of food. Take your significant other or a friend to any parties you can and plan what to say when declining certain foods. Avoid party rooms or buffet tables that could derail your food management plan. Stay away from people or conversations that increase your stress level, and make sure you’ve eaten at regular intervals throughout the day before attending any celebration.
Journaling can help keep your thoughts focused and positive during the holiday season. Use your journal to set goals for family gatherings, make lists of people you want to call and visualize how you want your holiday parties to go.
Picture yourself going through each part of your day in a calm and happy way, even while you’re cleaning, cooking or getting ready for guests. Think about each person you’ll serve and how giving back to others makes you feel. Write down these feelings and come back to your journal each time you feel your stress level rising. This kind of vision casting helps you set the tone for what’s ahead rather than becoming overwhelmed by it.4
One of the most important ways to stay on track with your recovery during the holidays is to attend therapy sessions and support group meetings. Support group meetings provide a safe place to talk about how this time of year make you feel and how you’re doing. Sessions with your counselor or therapist help reinforce your goals and review your coping strategies.
Counseling sessions also give you the opportunity to process the things you’ve experienced in healthy and constructive ways. Even if it means cancelling other plans, make attending support group meetings and scheduled therapy sessions your top priority.5
Help for Eating Disorders
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or know someone who is, you’re not alone. Center for Change can help. We’re available 24 hours a day. Give us a call at 888-224-8250 to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.
1. “Signs of an Eating Disorder.” WebMD, November 18, 2017.
2. Rollin, Jennifer. “Tips for Surviving the Holidays in Eating Disorder Recovery.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, December 17, 2016.
3. Miller, Anna Medaris. “How to Cope With an Eating Disorder Over the Holidays.” U.S. News/Health, December 15, 2015.
4. “Journaling to Treat Eating Disorders.” EverydayHealth.com, 18 Nov. 2017.
5. LCSW-C, Jennifer Rollin MSW. “3 Tips For Getting Through The Holidays In Eating Disorder Recovery.” The Huffington Post, January 10, 2017.
Written by Patti Richards