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Surviving (and Thriving) Throughout the Holiday Season

Enjoy Celebrating This Year


Updated July 25, 2012

Surviving (and Thriving) Throughout the Holiday Season

Holiday meals, parties, and gatherings are typically anxiety-provoking and stressful occasions for anyone with an eating disorder (and many people without an eating disorder, as well). Unfortunately, food is often the main focus of holiday events and it is sometimes considered expected or traditional to overeat at such meals. Family relationships can also be laden with stressful memories and expectations. With some careful planning, you can enjoy the event and create lasting, positive memories.

Focus on positive relationships. Plan to spend the holiday with people who are meaningful to you and supportive of your recovery. If this means spending the holiday with friends rather than your family, then do so. While you are with them, focus on conversations and interacting with them. Remind yourself to be in the moment rather than 'in your head' worrying about the food.

Engage in traditions. Traditions that surround holidays can help people feel grounded and create positive memories. Choose traditions that you enjoy and engage in them. If there are traditions that you find to be triggering or simply don't like, allow yourself to forego them. Consider starting new traditions with your friends and/or family members. These new traditions might be symbolic of your recovery.

Plan your meals. Talk with your therapist and/or dietician ahead of time about what your game plan will be regarding meals. If you know what will be served ahead of time, you can mentally prepare yourself for what will be served and plan how much you'd like to eat. Allow yourself to choose foods that you enjoy eating and associate with positive experiences, but plan ahead so that you don't overeat and end up feeling uncomfortable. If the food is served party-style rather than as a sit-down meal, make yourself a plate rather than eating at the table.

Consider nixing the alcohol. Although alcohol can seem to be an appealing option in order to help yourself relax, it can also prevent you from being able to accurately sense hunger and fullness. If you have problems with overindulging in alcohol, it can also put you at risk for embarrassment or other difficult interactions. Without alcohol you can focus on being present and fully in control of your decisions and actions.

Ask for support. Talk with your family and friends about what would be most supportive of them during the event or holiday meal. Would it be helpful to have particular foods available and/or absent from the meal? Could a trusted person plate your food for you or provide distracting conversation during the meal? Consider creating a code word with a trusted person, so that if the situation becomes too stressful or overwhelming you can have someone leave or go on a walk with you.

Check in with yourself. Notice when you are hungry and what you are hungry for. Notice when you are full and allow yourself to stop eating. Also take note of when you become stressed or anxious and what might be causing those emotions. Honor these feelings and respond to them. Holidays are stressful for most people so be gentle with yourself and don't beat yourself up.

Allow yourself to say no. If holiday meals are always stressful interactions in your family, it may be smart to opt out of the event altogether. You might also consider how much time you are willing to spend with certain people if they are not supportive of you or your recovery. Talk with your therapist about how to address this issue and what is reasonable to expect of yourself and others.

Have realistic expectations. Life is not a storybook or a Normal Rockwell painting. Having reasonable expectations of yourself and the people are around you can prevent you from feeling disappointed. This holiday is unlikely to be perfect so it is unhelpful to expect it to be.

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