Getting Through the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

Getting through the holidays with an eating disorder can be rough. Millions of people suffer from an eating condition, including 28.8 million in the United States and at least 9% worldwide. Athletes, veterans, LGBTQ+, and many other races, genders, and ages are affected. It’s sad, but among children, 42% of first through third graders reported they want to be thinner.

Coping with an eating disorder, especially during food-focused events occurring during the holidays, can be incredibly challenging due to all the constant festivities. For example,  you could have an unofficial office party, hump day happy hour with friends, and a family reunion on the weekend in one week. No wonder someone with an eating disorder may feel stressed and overwhelmed during the holidays. Some may not realize they have an eating disorder and wonder why their thoughts and actions regarding food and their body worsen when they should celebrate and have fun.

Understanding your symptoms is crucial to recovery.

What is an Eating Disorder?

A relationship with food can be healthy or unhealthy. Some people eat only to survive, and some think of food as medicine. Some people eat for comfort and satisfaction, while others want to feel in control. During the holidays, so many things feel out of your control. This is one reason some people in recovery from an eating disorder relapse.

Eating disorders are mental health disorders that occur when someone has unhealthy thoughts about food, eating behaviors, and their body. The most common types of eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating
  • Pica
  • Rumination
  • Avoidant/ restrictive food intake

Other eating disorders are night eating syndrome, purging disorder, and other unspecified.

6 Ways to Get Through the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

No matter what eating disorder you have, you can prevent a relapse. Below are tips you can use this holiday season.

1. Create a Plan

The holidays can mean traveling, visiting family you barely know, being out of your comfort zone, and feeling out of control. Avoid feeling this way by planning healthy ways to feel more in control.

An eating disorder recovery plan for the holidays reduces stress. Try to think of all the times you may feel anxiety or encounter eating disorder triggers, then choose an activity to distract you or fill that time. For example, after the meal, when everyone is sitting around feeling stuffed, your thoughts may drift towards old, unhealthy habits. Prevent this from happening by scheduling an activity to begin right after the meal.

2. Ask for Support

Asking for support is a sign of strength. It shows you value recovery. Choose a family member or friend willing to provide the help you need. Examples of support may include someone:

  • Acting as a buffer between you and another person
  • Who will change the subject when triggering topics arise
  • To call when you need to take a time out
  • To pick you up if you need to get away

3. Just Say No

During the holidays, it can be easy to feel like you must accept all invitations, buy gifts for everyone who got you a gift, volunteer more in the community, and still manage to keep up with everyday responsibilities. Saying “yes” too much will make you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, making you vulnerable to relapse.

Instead, before saying “yes” or “no,” think about what you want to do. There is no rule that you must provide an answer immediately. Only do the things you enjoy and do not feel guilty. When making your decision, consider how saying “yes” will make you feel. To help you decline requests, create a script of what you will say. While you don’t owe anyone an explanation, it can make turning down an invitation easier.

There is nothing wrong with being honest. Tell them you are making your mental health a priority this holiday season.

4. Stick With Your Routine

Routines reduce stress and are good for your health, recovery, and psychological health. It improves sleep quality, reduces impulsivity, and promotes positive habits. You feel more in control, productive, and organized. Your time is better managed, leaving no room for surprises.

Don’t change your routine during the holidays, even in a different environment. If you usually work during the day, find something to work on while you are away. Take an online class or learn a new hobby. If you have appointments, keep them, but attend them online instead of in person. Virtual support groups, therapy sessions, and medical evaluations can be done anywhere.

If you are on an eating plan as part of your recovery, stick with the plan. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time and continue sleep hygiene. Your circadian rhythm, or internal clock, will not be altered, helping you maintain inner balance.

5. Increase Therapeutic Activities

Some people take a break from all activities during the holidays. When trying to avoid an eating disorder relapse, do the opposite and increase the number of therapy sessions you attend. Rather than put off self-care because you are too busy planning for the holidays, increase self-care activities.

Fill your schedule with extra time for meditation, massage, yoga, acupuncture, or bubble baths. Many activities can be accessed from wherever you are, like massage therapy, eating disorder support groups, religious or spiritual events, and classes to learn a new hobby.

To fight something like an eating disorder relapse, there will be times when you need more weapons. Therapy and healthy activities are excellent weapons.

6. Make a List

Make a personal list you can refer to when you find yourself feeling triggered. Your list should include activities that can serve as a distraction. For example:

  • Clean up your social media by deleting negative influences and joining healthy groups
  • Set a time to call a friend virtually
  • Create homework assignments for yourself to learn more about yourself or your recovery
  • Write thank you notes or greeting cards to friends and family
  • Get tickets to a local theater or event
  • Volunteer in the community

Be the Priority

Getting through the holidays with an eating disorder is much easier when you take steps like the ones above. Make yourself a priority, meet your own needs, and you can maintain recovery.

For more information about treatment for eating disorders, contact the Mental Health Center.