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4 Ways to Navigate the Holidays When You Have an Eating Disorder Read advice from Eating Recovery Center clinical experts: Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ovidio Bermudez, Clinical Director of the Adult Partial Hospitalization Program and Clinical Director of the Behavioral Hospital for Children and Adolescents Dr. Elizabeth Easton on how to navigate the holidays when you have an eating disorder from the Weightless blog on The holidays can be a difficult time for people recovering from eating disorders. There’s the abundance of food and the potential for family conflict. There’s the addition of tons of tasks to your list. It can be overwhelming, no doubt. That’s why I’m pleased to share some insight from experts at the Eating Recovery Center on how to overcome these kinds of obstacles and stay healthy. 1. Have a plan. Dr. Ovidio Bermudez, MD, chief medical officer and medical director of child and adolescent services at Eating Recovery Center, stressed the importance of communicating with your treatment team. Create a plan for the holidays that emphasizes recovery, and prepare for the what-ifs that might come up, he said. For instance, consider how you’ll navigate the stressors that used to trigger a relapse for you. Consider the many healthy options you’ll use to cope with stress and potential challenges. 2. Be gentle with yourself. Recovery takes practice. According to Bonnie Brennan, MA, LPC, clinical director of Eating Recovery Center’s Partial Hospitalization Program:

If you do find yourself overeating or resorting to disordered eating behaviors, be gentle with yourself. The holidays are the hardest time of the year for individuals with eating disorders and you are not expected to be perfect. It is important to remember that a healthy relationship with food takes practice. You wouldn’t expect a piano student to play a concerto perfectly in front of an audience would you? Use any slips this holiday season as opportunities to reinvest in your recovery rather that beat yourself up and add to the pain.

3. Focus on what you value. Cultivate gratitude about what’s important to you this holiday season. According to Elizabeth Easton, PsyD, clinical director of child and adolescent services at Eating Recovery Center’s Behavioral Hospital for Children and Adolescents:

Try focusing on the holidays in a broader context with an emphasis on what you value. This can help individuals in recovery from an eating disorder shift from getting lost in the details that may trigger feelings of anxiety, sadness or fear. When we focus on the “bigger picture” during the holidays, the chance to spend time with friends and family, finding [a] present for a loved one or the opportunity to slow down and recognize what you are grateful for, the holidays no longer focus on eating disordered behaviors, but rather our values.

“Remember that you are celebrating and honoring traditions, both within your family and, when applicable, of your religious and cultural upbringing,” said Karen Trevithick, PsyD, CEDS, clinical director of outpatient services at Eating Recovery Center. 4. Focus on relationships. Eating disorders tend to narrow your world, and separate you from the people in your life. During the holidays, instead of isolating yourself, try to connect with others. This can be as simple as starting a conversation. “When you are spending time with friends and loved ones, try to engage in conversations,” Trevithick said. “It is OK to be curious about others and their own experiences this past year.” These are additional tips from Eating Recovery Center’s press release:

  • Turn the focus from food. Make togetherness, rather than food, the central theme of your holiday season and seek opportunities to plan and attend events that do not center around a meal.
  • Avoid “overbooking” your schedule. Prioritize your health and wellbeing over attending every holiday party, and be realistic about what you can manage.
  • Surround yourself with people who have healthy relationships with their bodies and food. If possible, bring a trusted family member or friend with you to holiday gatherings for support.

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