It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
Or is it? For those working on eating disorder recovery, the holidays can be a very complicated time to navigate. Cultural norms around feasting, indulging, and stuffing yourself can be overwhelming. That, coupled with maneuvering problematic family dynamics, large social gatherings and holiday travel are enough to put those in recovery in a tailspin.
However, it is possible to re-claim the joy of the season and to engage in gatherings in a more authentic and meaningful manner when we are grounded in recovery. Staying connected to recovery in this time requires intentionality, awareness, and at times, boundaries.
Eating Disorder Recovery – Holidays
Before embarking on any holiday trip or sitting down for a family meal, come up with a plan to keep yourself safe and on track.
Your plan should include:
- What you’re going to do with your food for the holiday and the days surrounding.
- Who are you going to eat with?
- What kinds of foods are you going to try?
- Thinking of ways to challenge yourself during the holidays is important, as well as creating a Plan B if things become more difficult.
- You may want to consider checking in with the host to see what they’ll be serving so that you can get an idea of what to expect.
- It may also be helpful to chat with your treatment team about how to portion your meal so that you walk into the holidays with confidence.
And, if worse comes to worst, I recommend keeping a few go-to snacks in your bag or purse just in case you find yourself struggling.
Eating Disorder Recovery – Big Events
I recommend constructing a coping plan for any big event. If the conversation gets heated, if the food feels overwhelming or if emotions get big, what can you do to ground yourself? Some of my favorites are to step outside with a family member to practice some deep breathing. You can also take a gentle walk or shoot a text or call to a support person.
Keeping a note in your phone of coping skills you and your therapist have developed is a great way to make sure you can access your work, even in the midst of stress.
Stay On Track!
It’s very important to resist skipping other meals the day of a holiday. The cultural message around Thanksgiving and other holidays may be to avoid eating until the big meal. This can be a recipe for disaster. Not staying on track with your meals and snacks sets you up to be more likely to overeat or binge at the big meal. (And feel pretty crummy about it afterwards).
If your family is the type to skip the meals leading up to the big one, make sure you find someone who would be willing to eat the other meals with you. It helps to have a person who you can turn to and who will keep you on track with your intentions and goals. Make sure you’ve identified this person and let them know ways they can support you ahead of time.
It is important to put your recovery first. And if you are fresh out of treatment or if there is a complicated relational or food dynamic with family, this may be more challenging. You may want to have a smaller gathering with people who are safe and supportive. This can be a difficult boundary to draw. But if attending a party puts recovery at risk, it is best to take time off from big holiday gatherings.
Along with all of the joy and celebration of the season, holidays can also be highly emotional, stressful times. When our experiences of holidays are overshadowed by pain, loss, and fear, they can lose the essence of what these days actually mean. Taking a few minutes to journal before a holiday may be helpful to consider what you’re hoping to focus on during this holiday. Also, what you’d like to bring to it.
Many families have a plethora of traditions they carry on year-to-year. This could be an opportunity for you to create and introduce a new holiday ritual. It may be simple, like asking everyone a question that they answer around the dinner table. Or it may be elaborate, like celebrating in a different place. The beauty is that in recovery you get to create new relationships to everything in your life. Your body, your family and friends, and even family celebrations can change.
No Matter How the Holiday Goes…
No matter how the holiday goes, whether you show up and are able to meet your intentions or if things get difficult and you find yourself struggling, remember that each day, hour, meal and snack is a new opportunity to reconnect with recovery and your intentions in recovery.