The holidays are the happiest time of the year for most people – full of family time and lots of delicious food. However, these things that make the holidays so great can also be triggers for those of us in eating disorder recovery. The holidays are largely centered around food, and a lot of this food is high is sugar and fat content. This combined with increased family time, often with extended family members who might not be aware of the struggle with an eating disorder, can prove to be very stressful. It is very important for eating disorder survivors and their loved ones to keep a few things in mind so that everyone can truly have a happy and healthy holiday season!
If you are in eating disorder recovery…
During this difficult time of year, do your best to remember that YOU ARE STRONG. You have made a lot of progress in overcoming your eating disorder and no one can take that away from you. If a setback occurs, be kind to yourself – it is not the end of the world and certainly does not mean that you have failed. These tips might make it a little easier to get through the holidays with a happy mind and body.
Focus on your favorite parts of the holidays
Although food is certainly a big part of the holiday season, remember that the holidays are about a lot more than food. Food is NOT the sole focus of any gathering with friends or family. Focus on the parts of the holiday season that are the most fun to you. Watch your favorite movie or help decorate the house! If being around food preparation makes you anxious, then remove yourself from the situation and go enjoy another festive activity that isn’t stressful. It will help take your mind of things and remind you of holiday things that make you happy.
If someone says something offensive, let them know!
If a friend or family member makes a comment about what you are eating or your weight and it makes you uncomfortable, let them know. Be respectful of course, but it is important to speak candidly about how you feel. This will help you to take control of influences that could be triggering, and it also helps your loved ones to know how to better speak to you in a way that will help your recovery. Remember to be forgiving though, since many friends and family members do not understand how certain things are actually hurtful and inappropriate even if said with supportive intentions.
Engage with your family and friends
Stay involved in the moment and be in the middle of everything that is going on. This will help you to be mindful of what is currently happening, and to help keep your mind from wandering to negative self-talk. During a tough time, isolation can be extremely detrimental. However, if you need a moment to yourself to center yourself be sure to take it so that you can stay strong.
Create a game plan before a big meal
A big family feast during the holidays is sometimes inevitable. In order to get through this without feeling forced to eat or losing control of how much you are eating, set a game plan before you sit down at the table. Give yourself a reasonable goal of how much you will eat, and shoot to fulfill that. This will give you a sense of control and help to assuage feelings of guilt that could come from eating too much or not enough. When you plan this out ahead of time, emotions are not as involved as they are when you are sitting at the table with a plate of food in front of you.
Lean on others for support
One of the greatest parts of the holidays is the focus on friends and family. The people who you generally spend the holidays with are the ones who care about you the most. Take advantage of having this incredible support system around you.
It is nearly impossible to go through the recovery process on your own, so do your best to open up to those who are closest to you. Everything is a little bit easier if you don’t have to brave it alone.
If your loved one is in eating disorder recovery…
Really, these tips are a good way to behave during the holidays in general since you never know what struggles your family and friends might be facing. You may think that a loved one is completely fine when in reality they are battling an eating disorder or having body image issues. Better to be safe than sorry so that you don’t accidentally say something that could hurt someone you care about.
Avoid talking about weight
If your loved one has lost weight due to an eating disorder, or gained some as a result of being in recovery, avoid saying things about their weight, even if it is intended to be supportive. By complimenting weight loss, you could be inadvertently reinforcing a disordered behavior. On the flip side, if your loved one has gained weight due to being in recovery, complimenting this body change will still draw attention to your loved one’s body, which might bring up insecurities about these changes. The important thing is that you are spending time together, not what anyone looks like!
Avoid excessively talking about food
During mealtimes, avoid praising your loved ones for eating or making comments about how much or little they have eaten. By pressuring your loved one into eating more, it could embarrass them in front of the rest of the family and make them feel ashamed of their struggle. Even if you are trying to be supportive, avoid praise for eating an entire meal or making comments about eating a lot. Comments like this can be a trigger for them to purge or restrict their caloric intake moving forward.
Do not address the eating disorder publicly
Open conversation with your loved one about their recovery is a good thing, but it is all about finding the right time and place. Do not bring it up in front of all of the second cousins and your great uncle. It is very likely that these extended family members might not know about the person’s eating disorder, so bringing it up so publically can make for a very uncomfortable situation. Even if everyone knows, discussing it in a public setting can feel like an interrogation and make your loved one feel uncomfortable and defensive.
Encourage your loved one to engage in family activities
By encouraging your loved one to join in on playing a board game or watching a holiday movie on TV, you are helping them to redirect their attention to something that is enjoyable and constructive. If their focus is on being together and enjoying the moment, it is more difficult for their mind to wander to think about their eating disorder. This also strengthens your bond and is a good way to connect and enjoy each other’s company.
Make sure that your loved one knows that you are there for them if they need to talk. Convey that you understand it can be a difficult time and you are supportive of them. It is nice for them to know that they have an ally and someone who is looking out for them. By expressing your support if they need it, your loved one is more likely to reach out on their terms if they are struggling. Let them come to you and let them know that they are loved!