The holidays can be joyous — but this time of year can also be stressful for many. If you are trying to maintain recovery from an eating disorder, the holidays may even feel downright impossible. As with many things in recovery, planning ahead is key to navigating the holidays successfully.
It is possible to stay on track with your health and recovery during the holidays. Here are some of my favorite strategies and tips to help you do that:
Maintain recovery at parties:
Maintain recovery at work:
- Don’t skip meals early in the day so that you can stockpile calories for the party. This strategy almost always backfires. Most likely, you will get so hungry that you end up eating more than planned. Or, you may have urges to keep the restriction going.
- Eat regular meals during the day and have a small snack before the event so that you don’t arrive ravenous.
- Scan the buffet and offerings when you arrive. Check out all of the options before you start filling your plate. Prioritize what you want to try as opposed to going through the line and taking some of everything.
- Get some fresh air. If you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed, take a step outside to breathe and calm yourself before re-entering the party. If you have a trusted friend available, bring him or her with you to chat.
Maintain recovery at family gatherings:
- Don’t eat just to be nice. Your coworker may have been kind enough to bring in a pie, cake, cookie, or goodie that is calling your name, but you don’t have to eat it just because it’s there. If you WANT to eat it, that’s one thing, but you don’t HAVE to eat it. If you are getting pressured to try something and really don’t feel comfortable with it, you can always be polite but firm and say “no thanks.”
- Enlist the support of a coworker who knows you are in recovery. Make sure they know how to support you when needed.
- Remove yourself from the situation if necessary. Out of sight, out of mind, right? If you know that the staff lounge is full of treats and you are struggling with urges to binge it is OK to just not go in there.
- Set boundaries and know when to say no. Have a plan ahead of time. Know how you will set boundaries in situations where you may encounter pushy family members.
- Bring a balanced dish of your own to share. This will help to ensure that there are foods you are comfortable with.
- Have a game plan. As with regular meal planning, having a plan is important with holiday eating. The plan can be general if you’re not sure what foods will be available or you could even call ahead to see what foods will be there.
- If you’ll be traveling for the holidays, bring plenty of your own snacks to stave off hunger, avoid potential binges, and to ensure you have something to eat if you end up not being comfortable with what is being offered.
Maintain recovery during the holidays:
- Don’t feel that you have to attend every engagement you are invited to. Prioritize the parties you really want to attend, and let the others pass by with a polite “Sorry, I already have plans.” It’s okay if your “plans” include staying home and going to bed early. Don’t overbook yourself. This is important during the year but it can be especially important during the busy holiday season.
- If you do overeat or derail from your meal plan, don’t stress. Shaming yourself will only make you feel worse and may lead to eating disorder behaviors. Remember, one meal will not make or break you or your recovery. Do your best to get back on track and don’t beat yourself up over it.
- Change your focus. Sure, it seems like the holidays are all about food, but really they should be about giving thanks and celebrating life with the people you care about. Shift your focus from the food and drinks to the family and friends. Start a non-food related tradition. Sometimes just changing your attitude is helpful to keep you staying on track.
- Remember your values; write them down and use them as a reminder of the things that are most meaningful to you. This list can come in handy if life starts to feel stressful or gets too busy.
Although it may feel overwhelming, with careful planning, the support of trusted family and friends, and a little bit of self-compassion the holidays can be a manageable
, and maybe even a magical time of the year.
Recovery is difficult, but it’s not impossible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, whether you reach out to a friend, family member, or treatment professional.
Jennifer Sommer-Dirks, MS, RD, CSSD is Nutrition Manager at Eating Recovery Center.