3 Tips to Navigating the Holidays When In Recovery From an Eating Disorder
Written by Laura Lahay, BA
One of my favorite holiday experiences as a child was getting to help my mom bake dozens of cookies for the many people she wished to bless them with (family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.). I loved helping her put all the ingredients in the mixer. I would let her do the mixing because the electric mixer scared me at times, but she would then let me come help roll the dough into any cookie size I wanted and place them on the baking sheet. I begin to think about these special memories and the many yummy foods that are associated with them during this holiday season. I know for others though, especially those who are recovering from eating disorders, the holidays can be scary, overwhelming, and down-right difficult to navigate.
For individuals who struggle with disordered eating behaviors, this time of year can be anything but “merry-and-bright.” We know that eating disorders are complex, in that they impact a client’s mental, emotional, physical, social, and even spiritual well-being. Clients who are in eating disorder recovery report that this time of year feels especially difficult for them, as they might be struggling with family dynamics, busy social calendars, financial strain, social expectations and pressures from others to look “their holiday best,” feeling triggered by the fact that food is the centerpiece of most holiday events, all while trying to regain a healthy relationship with their bodies and food.
I first of all just want to say, if you are one of these brave people during this holiday season, I see you and deeply admire your bravery. It takes immense courage to wade into the waters of recovery, let alone try to navigate it during the holiday season. Know that your choice is powerful, vulnerable, and beautiful.
I wanted to share three tips that might help give support to anyone who is choosing recovery during this holiday season or knows of someone who is struggling and could benefit from this information.
Tip #1: Make Memories By Engaging in Activities That Don’t Involve Food
Food is a beautiful gift of the holiday season, and yet it is not the only beautiful gift one can receive. I would encourage a person in recovery from an eating disorder to intentionally find ways to make memories this holiday season that have no connection to food. One might be surprised how many fun things one can do during this season that have no connection to food or beverages. One could make Christmas cards, go ice skating, decorate the house with lots of Christmas decorations, watch Christmas movies, build a bonfire and look up at the stars, wear fuzzy Christmas pjs, sing Christmas carols, and these are only a few of the options. Find ways this holiday season to make fun memories that don’t make food or beverages the star of the show.
Tip #2: Use Your Supports for Assistance When Needed
It is ok for anyone to need extra support during this season, and I would encourage a person in recovery from an eating disorder to especially lean on their support team during this time. If you, the person in recovery, are feeling anxious about a holiday function or family gathering, troubleshoot with your support team how best to navigate the event. Talk through ways to help you self-soothe, feel safe, be present, and ask for help when needed. I know of family members who have come up with a code word or signal ahead of the event that the person in recovery can say or signal when and if they are feeling distress or needing assistance. If you are working with a dietitian, discuss appropriate food choices and portions before the gathering so you know how to prepare for the meal. Be open and honest with your support team about where you are at throughout the event and give yourself permission to step away or leave early if the distress becomes overwhelming. Give yourself grace as you attempt to navigate these experiences and lean on your supports as much and as often as you need.
Tip #3: Remember That Food is Food and You Are You
It is common for food to be the centerpiece of most holiday gatherings, which can be hard for anyone not to get caught up in the fanfare around the holiday meal. For those who are in recovery from an eating disorder, it can be especially tricky not to equate their worth, value, and esteem based upon how much food they ate at the holiday meal. I would encourage a person in recovery to remember that one, two, even three holiday meals in which you believe you ate too much or too little do not change your value or worth as a human being. You are so much more than the food you eat and the body you encapsulate. Your worth is not determined in calories or pounds. Food can be enjoyed and experienced this holiday season and you can and will continue to be the same you. Food is food and you are you, no matter what.
For those who are choosing recovery this holiday season, know that you are seen, valued, and toasted to this day. No matter if your holiday season has many highs, many lows, or feels more like a roller coaster, you are brave and enough. Keep working hard and know that you are my heroes this holiday season.
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