The holiday season is just around the corner. It’s a time full of celebration, joy, happiness... and family dinners. However, for people who struggle with an eating disorder, the holidays can be a difficult time that brings stress, pressure, anxiety and depression.
When I struggled with eating disorders, holidays were always the most difficult time for me. I got nervous whenever a big holiday approached. I was scared of what would happen. I was scared of losing control. I was scared of all the food and what it would do to me.
In my family, holidays meant big family dinners. But not just one family dinner - we had a couple of family dinners with different parts of the family. I felt uncomfortable eating in front of people. Even though none of my relatives knew about my eating disorder, I felt like as if they were watching and maybe even judging me.
Sometimes my relatives would tell me what to eat and say “You have to try a piece of this and try that one too!” And if I said “no, thanks”, they would ask again and maybe make comments like “one piece doesn’t hurt” or “you are young, you don’t have to worry about your weight.” Oftentimes, it was hard for me to stay strong and stick with my “no, thank you.”
Sometimes I even pretended I was sick so I would not have to join the dinner table or go to someone’s house for dinner. I felt bad for doing this but I knew I would feel even worse if my eating habits got out of control.
And sometimes I made it through the holiday dinners fine enough without any major slips or setbacks – and was SO proud of myself for that accomplishment!
Now I am recovered (yes, full recovery IS possible!), and I enjoy the holiday season and look forward to it – yes, that’s right, it is possible to learn to look forward to this time of the year again and just to have fun. I no longer get stressed out during the holidays and do not experience anxiety about the meals.
And in case you are experiencing increased anxiety around this time of the year, I want you to know that your life does not have to continue like that. You can learn to love yourself and your life again. You can learn to be friends with food again and actually enjoy it.
Please don’t give up on yourself and keep on fighting. Recovery is ALWAYS worth it! And one day, you will be able to think of holidays as a time to gather with loved ones, you can make your own special memories, and you may even be able to start looking forward to them.
Please know that you are NOT alone. If you need extra support during the coming weeks, reach out to your support team. Or participate in an online pro-recovery communities – where you can connect with others who are going through the same challenges as you are.
Being in touch with others who were also in recovery or already recovered was a huge part of my own healing journey. They really understood me and knew what I was going through. And I got so much out of their sharing that helped me move forward in my own recovery.
Underneath you'll find some tips I collected over the years to help you make the most out of the holiday season. And in case you have a tip that is not mentioned in the list, feel free to post a comment.
All the best and take very good care of yourself!
Tips to Help You Make the Most
out of the Holday Season!
- Plan time for yourself. It is very important to take special care of yourself during the holidays.
- Make a list of things you can do to help you relax and distract yourself from eating disorder thoughts and behaviours (i.e. take a relaxing hot bath with aroma oils and candles, go for a nice walk in the park, call or visit a friend, read your favourite book, watch a comedy, write your diary, paint your feelings, etc.)
- Avoid focusing too much on food; it only fuels your eating disorder. Focus on aspects of life unrelated to food and weight. Take a break from the repetitive messages about body image on television or in magazines. Do something you would not normally do - go for a hike, volunteer for charity work, or visit with friends. The holidays are a time for reflection and celebration, so make sure you take time to do both with the people you care about.
- Try to eat in some kind of regular pattern. Avoid "preparing for the last supper." Do your best not to skip meals and starve in attempt to make up for what you recently ate or are about to eat.
- Make sure that there is food available that you feel comfortable eating. If you are invited, offer to bring a dish so that you are sure there will be food available for you.
- Do your best not to count calories and try to avoid the scale.
- Wear clothes that fit & that you feel comfortable in. And do your best not to look in every mirror you see.
- If you feel yourself starting to panic because you are feeling too full or if you allowed yourself to eat foods that you consider to be forbidden, remind yourself it is okay to eat what you did, and it is only normal to eat more during the holidays. Most people do and it really is okay.
- If you have a period where you end up using eating disorder behaviors to cope, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just put it behind you and move forward. You are NOT a failure. You are NOT back at square one.
- If you have to be at an event with certain people who make you uncomfortable, plan ways to excuse yourself from their immediate presence to avoid spending time with them. Prepare responses to make to people who may say something to you that would make you uncomfortable.
- If you feel you need to, set some boundaries for yourself by telling people ahead of time that you do not want anyone to comment on your appearance or your eating.
- Choose to stay away from certain events when you know there are people there who upset you and are uncomfortable being around. People might want you to go but you have to take care of yourself.
- Do what is right for you during the holidays. Do not allow anyone to pressure you into eating more than you can handle. You are not eating for them, you are eating for yourself. If being with certain family members or going home for the holidays is too stressful, you may have to seriously think about not going. Do not be afraid to disappoint people by not showing up and if you can, be honest about why you will not be attending.
- Holidays are a very stressful time for people with eating disorders and it really is important that you do whatever you need to do in order to make them easier on yourself.
- Get enough sleep! Shortage of sleep can create an unhealthy imbalance in your body, which will interfere with your ability to handle the holiday stress positively.
- Remember that the "ideal" and “picture perfect harmony” holiday is not real for many people. Some people can't afford it. Many single people aren't close to their families or don't have a family. Many families don't look like and act like the "picture book" family. You still might feel the pressure to have an "ideal" family. Don't blame yourself for problems in your family. People are the same at holidays and every other time of the year.
I also encourage you to create a personal recovery journal and a coping catalogue…
Personal Recovery Book/Gratitude Journal: Write down inspirational statements, your goals and dreams, what you want to do when you are free from your eating disorder, things you are grateful for, your achievements, things you are proud of, things or moments that make you happy and activities you enjoy doing – everything and anything that can support you while you work at freeing yourself from your eating disorder. And have a look at this book as often as possible, and especially when you are feeling down.
Coping Catalogue: Come up with a list of things to do when you feel trapped by your eating disorder and are ready to binge or purge. As well, include a few inspirational statements on the same piece of paper or little book. Then carry this list wherever you go and refer to it often – to remind yourself that you are beautiful and to give yourself a distraction to overcome the temptation to give in.