The holidays are here again, which means there will be lots of gatherings and holiday meals with family and friends. Holiday get-togethers can be fun and a bit gluttonous, but they can also be especially stressful for those who have eating disorders.
“Struggling with an eating disorder during the holidays can be very difficult, since the holidays have an abundance of food, overstimulation and lots of people,” said Yazhini Srivathsal, MD, a psychiatrist at Banner Health. “Many people, especially those with an eating disorder, may end up feeling worse about themselves.”
If you’re currently living with or have a history of an eating disorder, know that you aren’t alone. Nearly 30 million Americans will struggle in their lifetime with an eating disorder, like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating.
With proper planning and support, however, you can healthfully and joyfully navigate the holiday season. We share six tips on how you can remain positive and strong—and make the most—of your holidays.
1. Lean on your support system
Surround yourself with friends and family who are invested in you and who you can call, text or message on a moment’s notice if you’re in need of a support person or encouragement. Don’t hesitate to also lean on those in a support group as well.
“There are so many wonderful online support groups nowadays, so even if you’re unable to reach a family member or friend, you can connect quickly with other people who may be going through the same thing as you and can offer up their support,” Dr. Srivathsal said. “It’s important to surround yourself and spend time with people who love you and want to see you succeed.”
2. Plan ahead … but expect speed bumps
It may help to prepare for any holiday events you are attending by creating a coping plan. You can work with a treatment team - your behavioral health therapist, dietitian or health care provider - to identify what stressful situations, difficulties or triggers you may expect and troubleshoot some strategies for dealing with them. If you’re following a meal plan, they can also help you plan how and where you will get the food you need to stick to your plan over the holidays.
However, don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go quite as planned. “Things don’t always go the way we want sometimes—even with a solid plan in place,” Dr. Srivathsal said. “Don’t beat yourself up. Remind yourself there will be learnings from this. Ask yourself how you can do it differently next time.”
3. Reframe harmful diet or weight-related talk
There is so much shame surrounding eating—especially about over-eating around the holidays. Prepare for how you’ll respond if negative diet and weight talk are brought up at the dinner table. It’s okay to change the subject or excuse yourself if you feel that you need to, to set healthy boundaries.
It can also be helpful to reframe these comments as if it’s something that doesn’t matter to you. “Just as if someone really liked a movie you didn’t like, that’s their opinion and it doesn’t affect you personally,” Dr. Srivathsal said. “Think of them as just passing comments that do not carry any meaning for you.”
4. Avoid fasting or starving yourself.
Don’t try to restrict your diet in preparation for the big holiday meal. “You won’t think clearly or make the best choices as a result,” Dr. Srivathsal said.
Come prepared with snacks or munch on something healthy if the meal times vary from when you typically eat. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and try to avoid overindulging in alcohol, which can lower your inhibitions and make you more prone to overeating.
5. Practice self-compassion
We are always our worst critics. Negative self-talk or beating yourself up for eating too much or too little will only make you feel worse. True strength is not denying yourself the joy of a good holiday meal, rather it’s challenging yourself to turn down that negative voice inside your head.
Be gentle and kind to yourself. “When you’re sitting there beating yourself up, ask yourself how you’d respond to a friend or loved one who was hurting,” Dr. Srivathsal said. “Talk to yourself like you would to them—come from a place of love and compassion. Be encouraging.”
6. Offer to help
If you’re comfortable, offer to help in the kitchen to keep your hands and mind busy on a task. Or you can offer to bring a meal, something you’d prefer to eat and that is on your meal plan. “It’s a little way of helping out but also offers you a bit of comfort,” Dr. Srivathsal said.
Don’t let the holidays get you down
The holidays can be stressful for everyone. Remember to be kind to yourself and give yourself grace. And, if you need additional support, don’t hesitate to reach out to your support system, your behavioral health specialist or health care provider for help.