The holidays can be challenging for people living with an eating disorder. Feeling stressed during this time can occur from attending social events requiring dressy clothing that may make you feel uncomfortable, interacting with family or friends you may not have seen in a while, or navigating situations that revolve around food. You may feel overwhelmed, but you can still stay on your path toward recovery and a balanced relationship with your body and food. Here are a few recovery tips that could make this upcoming holiday season easier to experience.
Create new holiday activities that don’t include food. Living with an eating disorder doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the holidays, and you might need to find some new ways to experience that enjoyment. Drive around and look at Christmas lights, make homemade gifts, go ice skating, watch movies, see a concert or a play, or have a game night.
Decorate a gingerbread house. It’s important not to separate yourself from food altogether. Think about how you could feel more comfortable interacting with food. Making and decorating a gingerbread house can allow for creativity while practicing being around food without focusing on eating it. Finding activities that still involve food while being able to have fun can be helpful while in recovery. Another creative idea could be making a popcorn string garland (google it). I’ve made popcorn and cranberries before and used them as decorations!
Bring food(s) to a gathering that you feel comfortable eating. While it’s important to expose yourself to foods that may not feel safe, holiday gatherings may not be the best place to work on this. Instead of worrying about what will be available, bring something to share so you know that you will be comfortable eating. This could allow you to focus more on enjoying yourself and the company around you.
Prepare answers to questions that will most likely be asked. It’s common to feel stressed about how to react to specific questions about life in general or your eating disorder, such as how you look, your eating habits, treatment progress, etc. Rehearsing how you want to respond could help you to feel more capable and in control during these gatherings. Remember, it’s okay to set boundaries with loved ones surrounding these topics, such as “I appreciate you asking. I would rather not talk about that today.” “I know you mean well. I don’t feel comfortable talking about that.” You could then ask them a question or bring up something happening in your life you feel comfortable talking about.
Make a list of helpful distractions to help work through disordered thoughts. If you’re feeling an urge to use a behavior or feeling uncomfortable, take a few minutes alone and step into a productive distraction. Read an article on your phone about something utterly unrelated to what you’re experiencing. Listen to music, play a game, or go outside. After clearing your head for a bit, head back to the gathering.
Select your support person at the gathering. Being in a social setting can feel more manageable if you know at least one person who can support you if you are overwhelmed by negative thoughts or feelings. That person could be an emotional support who can suggest a positive coping skill, listen to your feelings, or simply a person you like talking to for distraction.
Practice self-compassion. With the help of therapy, learning how to be kinder and more patient with yourself is possible. The eating disorder often makes you believe you are less than or ‘should’ be better. It’s common for the eating disorder to make you think in all-or-nothing terms, which makes it challenging to give yourself grace. All you can do is try to make the best or next best decision for yourself at any given moment and learn to accept and be okay with that.
Your ideal weight is the size at which you have plenty of energy, can think clearly, and experience joy. It has nothing to do with the number on the scale. During this upcoming holiday season, practice viewing your body as a vehicle for living life instead of something to be criticized and controlled. Treating your body with respect for everything it allows you to do is possible. After all, you can’t trade in this vehicle for another one. Your body is the only one you’ll ever have.
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Deva Murphy, MSW, LCSW
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