While the holidays can be a challenging time of year to be in recovery from an eating disorder—or to support someone who is in recovery—it can also be a special, wondrous season ripe with opportunities to support and strengthen recovery.
In addition to recognizing and planning for the triggering aspects of the holiday season, consider reframing holiday challenges as opportunities. In this blog, we focus on recovery during Thanksgiving, but these tips can be used for other holidays as well.
Recovering involves connecting with others
Families play an integral role in eating disorder recovery. Thanksgiving tends to bring loved ones together from near and far, and offer opportunities to reconnect and explore the recovery journey together. Families may elect to spend their time together in one of many ways—they may schedule family therapy sessions, attend support groups or participate in educational programming designed specifically for families. Alternatively, they may discuss recovery progress and challenges in more casual settings, like over family meals or coffee. Either way, nurture your connections with family members and other close loved ones to support recovery.
Recovering requires you to put your skills in action
Family meals, cookie exchanges, cocktail parties—during this time of year, gatherings tend to revolve around food and alcohol. This reality can be framed as an opportunity to put eating disorder recovery skills into action. Eating disorder recovery is rooted in the development of these skills and practice of skills in daily life. Thanksgiving gatherings offer important exposure opportunities to apply skills related to embracing the social aspect of food and meals, anxiety management and, for individuals struggling with co-occurring substance abuse, abstinence from alcohol. While it may be appropriate to avoid some gatherings to protect recovery, it can also be beneficial to engage with others at these seasonal events, followed by a debrief of successes and challenges with outpatient treatment team members.
Recovering may mean taking time off work & school
Stepping away from our daily and weekly routines allows for reflection about the recovery progress in a real-world context. Life isn’t always predictable, and it can be important to evaluate the sustainability of recovery during unstructured time. Additionally, holiday breaks mean increased availability to address the outstanding medical, psychological and dietary aspects of recovery. In fact, it is not uncommon for patients to return to a higher level of care—like a partial hospitalization program or intensive outpatient program—during Thanksgiving to engage in a “recovery tune-up” to proactively protect against relapse.
Recovering can include traditions—old and new
In many ways, traditions tell the story of who we are and where we come from. Pastimes can make us feel safe and connected to ourselves and our loved ones, and honoring seasonal traditions can help create a sense of normalcy. However, not all traditions support eating disorder recovery. Life in recovery from an eating disorder is often described as a “new normal”—individuals often must acknowledge the need to do things differently to protect their recovery. In these cases, it can be empowering to create new holiday traditions that align with a recovery-focused lifestyle. For example, if a family tradition is to cook seasonal dishes together, perhaps consider preparing several new healthy recipes to serve alongside the calorie-rich foods. This modified tradition still honors the pastime of cooking together, but incorporates new foods to support a balanced diet.
If you find that you are struggling during Thanksgiving or the holiday season above and beyond what you feel capable of handling, please reach out to us for help. Call us at (877) 711-1878 to speak with a Master's-level clinician. The call is confidential and free of charge.