Coping with Eating Disorders During the Holidays

Girl in snow at Christmas

The holidays invoke a sense of excitement and a hopeful feeling of the good times to come for most people.  After all, most holiday traditions include family, gifts, games, parties, and overall fun.  But for those suffering from an eating disorder, the holidays could mean facing stress, anxiety, and challenges with food.

What can I do to alleviate some of my stress during the holidays?

Whether you are currently suffering from an eating disorder, or you are in recovery, social events and stress can be triggering.  So how do we navigate the often-hectic holidays while avoiding situations where we may fail?  We have developed a shortlist of tactics you can try to reduce stress and avoid situations that may be triggers for discorded eating.

  • Have A Plan. You might be tempted to avoid holiday events due to the anxiety it can cause but planning can help you navigate the event. Plan ahead and do things that make you feel comfortable.  Also, ask the host of the event if there is a quiet place you can slip off to should you need a moment to regroup. Taking 10 minutes to yourself and breathing deeply can alleviate some of the stress at the moment. Make a plan ahead of time to leave the event if you feel triggered or too stressed. As you prepare for your holiday events, don’t rely on negative talk, instead use helpful coping statements such as:
    • Being scared in recovery is normal, and I don’t have to let that fear control my actions.
    • No food is “good” or “bad,” and all foods fit.
    • I am strong and I know I can do this.
    • Being more flexible with food allows me to have a full life.
    • Today, I choose recovery.
  • Have a Support System. Before your holiday event season kicks off, talk to your therapist and your dietitian about your hesitations. They can help you with healthy coping strategies to alleviate some of your stress. Additionally, have a friend or family member who is familiar with your current struggles and can support you through your holiday events. Having a partner during this time can help you stay accountable to your plan, or even help you exit situations that become stressful.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No.” There is a natural tendency to try to be everywhere during the holidays. Shopping, family parties, company parties, meeting up with friends, it is easy to over-extend yourself.  Trying to attend every function can quickly lead to anxiety and stress, and the feeling that there isn’t enough time for yourself.  Before the holidays come, plan ahead by making a list of events you must attend or truly want to attend. You can preserve your mental health by keeping your schedule as stress-free as possible by not overextending yourself.
  • Set Boundaries. The holidays mean you may see people who may not understand your eating disorder and may engage in weight-related talk. If the conversation becomes uncomfortable, you can change it to something less threatening. You may respond with, “Can we talk about something more meaningful?” “I’m just really thankful that I am here spending time with you today.” Or “Tell me about your new job.” Use this as an opportunity to be positive and talk about positive things.
  • Practice self-care. Nothing will help ease your holiday stress more than practicing self-care. Stepping out of your comfort zone and attending holiday events is brave, but you need time to decompress and self-evaluate. Be gentle and do nice things for yourself leading up to the holiday festivities. Take a bubble bath, put on your holiday music and wrap presents, meditate and practice your deep breathing exercises. Regardless of the activity, do something that makes you feel good.

Regardless of what plans you make for the holidays, make sure that you give yourself the freedom to have fun, and enjoy your friends and family. All too often, we allow our eating disorder to control us, and our mood, leaving us feeling defeated and overwhelmed.  All food is fuel for your body and what you eat does not define who you are.

It is natural to want to isolate yourself from the festivities, but don’t let your eating disorder stop you from enjoying your holidays. Isolation can lead to negative behavior patterns, making it vital to have a support system in place. If you are concerned about an upcoming holiday event, share those feelings with your family or friends. Coping with an eating disorder is much easier if you have people helping to stack the odds in your favor.

You didn’t choose your eating disorder, but you can choose to enjoy your life and your holiday season. You are brave and you are strong.

If you or a loved one needs help with an eating disorder, Magnolia Creek is here for you. We offer evidence-based treatment for eating disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. Call our admissions team today at 205-409-4220 or complete our contact form.


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