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How To Handle The Holidays While Recovering From An Eating Disorder

For many, the holidays are a time of celebration, joy and laughter. While a hallmark of the winter season may be the first snowfall or a cozy fireplace, many associate the holidays with food. Traditional holiday meals and plenty of desserts can be a nightmare for a person recovering from an eating disorder. We spoke with Dr. Yazhini Srivathsal, Banner Health psychiatrist, to discuss how to handle the holidays when recovering from an eating disorder.

Talk to Your Family

As the weather cools and holidays approach, social gatherings and festivities loom larger. It is common for those suffering from eating disorders to experience increased stress, anxiety and levels of fear as the anticipation of the presence of abundant food nears. Not only this, but the holidays often bring long periods of family time, which can also be stressful for some.

“Eating disorders during the holidays can be very difficult, since the holidays have an abundance of food, overstimulation and lots of people.” said Dr. Srivathsal.

Whether you or a loved one are recovering, talk to your family before the holiday madness sets in to make a go-to strategy. In your plan, include a list of difficulties you may expect and tactics you can use if and/or when they appear. If you are following a specific meal plan, anticipate situations where it may be hard to stick to a specific diet, such as a family dinner or work function, and plan how or where you can get the exact food you need.

“Have people invested in you involved in your plan; they know you and your perspective. Make a plan to know what’s going to happen when you leave the house and plan it down to as much detail as you can. Have a list of people who you trust on speed dial who you can call in emergency. If you’re headed to a holiday dinner, talk to the host before about your triggers and let them know what’s happening.” said Dr. Srivathsal.

Create Distractions

Instead of focusing on the negative, focus on the positive during the holidays. Do you enjoy spending time with family? Plan a special trip to the snow, an evening at an ice-skating rink or decorating the tree. There are many food-free activities you can plan to distract yourself from negative feelings. 

Not only this, but the people that surround you can impact your day-to-day. Keep the phone numbers of your treatment team, close friends and family members nearby in case you need someone to talk to. Set boundaries for yourself, and let others know when it’s not okay to talk about what or how you’re eating, or even your appearance. In your action plan, create a planned response in case someone says something negative.

The holidays can be stressful for everyone, especially when recovering from an eating disorder. Before the season festivities get into full swing, speak to a Banner Health psychiatrist near you to formulate an action plan that works best for your lifestyle.

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