Navigating the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

  • Posted at Nov 9, 2021
  • Written by Jessica Jarrett
Navigating the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

For many, the holiday season is a magical time with happiness, love, family, and friends. For those suffering or recovering from an eating disorder, holidays can be a time of increased anxiety, stress, and feelings of being overwhelmed. With holiday gatherings often centering around food, the sense of structure and routine can be disrupted.

Whether you are suffering from an eating disorder or are in recovery, holiday festivities can be potentially triggering. So how do you navigate this hectic time and avoid situations that can make you feel uncomfortable?  With some planning and preparation, the holidays can be managed with a few stress-reducing tactics.

  • Make a holiday coping plan. Plan and work with your dietician to understand how to nourish your body in a way that will not make you feel uncomfortable. Take this time also to discuss how to manage your “fear foods,” those foods you may see as inherently bad. Also, ask the host/hostess if there is a quiet place you can go to should you need a moment. By taking this time to step away and breathe deeply can help to reduce any anxiety you may have. It is also helpful to avoid negative self-talk and have some coping statements for moments of doubt:
    • I am so brave for facing my “fear foods”.
    • Fear is normal in recovery, but I don’t have to let that fear control my actions.
    • No food is “good” or “bad,” and all foods can fit into a healthy plan.
    • I am strong and I know I can do this.
    • Being more flexible with food allows me to have a full life.
  • Practice self-care. Taking the time, you need to decompress during the holidays is one of the most important things you can do to feel grounded. You should be flexible with your self-care and allow yourself to do what you need to do when you need to do it. Be compassionate and forgiving with yourself and do things that make you feel good.
  • Set healthy boundaries. During the holidays you may be around friends and family who do not understand an eating disorder and may engage in conversations or weight-related talk. If at any time you feel uncomfortable, it is perfectly acceptable to set boundaries by redirecting the conversation. You may choose to respond by saying, “Can we talk about something more meaningful?” “I’m just really thankful that I am here spending time with you today.” Use this as an opportunity to be positive.
  • Have support. A support system is vital to navigating recovery. During the holidays, your support system can help you develop healthy coping strategies to alleviate some of your stress. Additionally, they can help you stay accountable to your holiday plan and help you with situations that make you feel uncomfortable or stressed.
  • Say “no”. It is only natural that we want to engage in all the holiday activities we enjoy. Shopping, family events, meeting up with friends makes it easy to over-extend yourself.  By trying to attend every function can lead to exhaustion, stress, and lack of self-care. Before the holiday bustle begins, make a list of events you must or want to attend. Take care of yourself and your mental health by reducing your stress and not overextending yourself. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy the thing you want to do.

The holiday season doesn’t have to be isolating. With planning and support, you can ensure your recovery stays on track and you enjoy the friends and family around you. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. You did not choose your eating disorder, but you can choose to enjoy your life. You are strong and brave for facing your fears.

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