Global pandemic be darned, the holiday season has arrived! With the festive spirit and cheer of the holidays often come stress and anxiety, especially for those in eating disorder recovery.
We hope that this season brings you connection with friends and family (even if you won’t physically be in the same place!) or time for reflection on growth or goal setting for the coming months or years. May these few recovery ideas help you successfully navigate this year’s holidays in recovery.
Your health should always come first! Around the holidays, it can be tempting to cancel appointments. Instead of canceling, consider working to reschedule. Your treatment team can be a place of support, encouragement, and guidance to plan your meals and other social events. Stock up on time with supportive people, including time with your treatment team!
This is especially important if you will be eating away from your typical places or with people unaware of your condition or your mealtime needs. Plan who will be with you, how you will adhere to your meal plan, and who can support you in achieving that goal. Visualize yourself being successful in completing your plan. Ask for help before you need help, just in case.
There are lots of disordered thoughts and attitudes about holiday eating. In reality, you don’t have to eat differently than you do on non-holidays. Make a plan to eat regularly and follow your meal plan. You can choose this for you. Tell the people around you what your needs are and what you need in order to stay on your recovery path.
You could offer to bring a part of the meal that you feel comfortable with and is on your meal plan. This may help reduce stress about the meal. You can also ask about the menu, assuring that you feel confident that you can meet your needs with the food that is expected to be provided.
Support people can help provide distraction, offer support when you are distressed, or direct conversation away from triggering topics. Asking someone in advance and telling them how to help you can be very helpful.
You have worked hard in recovery and learned new coping skills. Taking time to think about which tools will be most helpful to you at various holiday events, before the events, can be helpful. Write down the tools, and put them in your pocket or bag. Taking these tools with you will make it easier to use them. If you need help creating your list, ask your therapist or treatment team. They can help you!
Beating yourself up will only make you feel worse. This might be the first holiday you’ve had in a while without engaging in eating disorder behaviors or the first time you’ve shared your diagnosis and/or recovery journey. In these situations, you are facing your fears or operating out of your comfort zone, so it might not be perfect. Recognize how brave you are each time you take these steps, as perfect or imperfect as it may look. Write down some positive compassionate self-statements that you can recite to yourself (or have your support person say to you). Remember that you’re stronger than you believe.
Practice breathing before and during events this holiday season. Deep breaths can help you to re-center, reduce anxiety, and produce a sense of relaxation. Breathe deeply and breathe slowly. It seems so simple, but a long, deep breath can help you to choose something different, think more clearly, or just give you a few seconds of space in a difficult moment.
For more advice on navigating the holidays with an eating disorder, check out this list of “holiday dos and don’ts” as well as this podcast episode. If you, your patient, or a loved one could use additional help during the holidays and beyond, please reach out to The Emily Program at 1-888-364-5977.
Krista is the National Director of Brain-Based Therapies and a Clinical Education Specialist. Clinically she draws from a variety of methods, including TBT-S, EMDR, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), FBT, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and often incorporates the use of the creative process in conjunction with the more traditional therapeutic process. She earned her Masters of Science from Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Psychology and her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in family and pediatrics from Azusa Pacific University. She trained at Harbor UCLA Medical Center and Loma Linda Children’s Hospital in neuropsych. Away from work, Krista loves being a mom to her three boys, playing outside, going on adventures with her family, skiing, hiking, biking, and camping.
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