7 Ways to Stay on Top of Your Eating Disorder Recovery During The Holidays
Despite the strange landscape of 2020 and what will undoubtedly feel like a “different” holiday season, November still begins the time of year where many begin to think about family meals, cookies, pie, and the occasional dessert table that shows up in the conference room at the office. Eating disorders are often thought to affect primarily young women, models, and some athletes. However, many are surprised to find out how common disordered eating is among all ages, races, ethnicities, orientations, and genders. At least thirty million Americans will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. That accounts for approximately ten percent of the population of the United States. A significant number of those will never seek or receive treatment for disordered eating. For someone who has been through treatment and is recovering from an eating disorder such as bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder, the holiday season brings forth several challenges and obstacles. With preparation, motivation, and a strong support structure, you can enjoy the holidays while still staying on top of your recovery journey.
Create A Plan
An essential key to maintaining recovery (any form of recovery) throughout the holiday season is planning. A plan will help you to maintain structure and even accountability throughout the season. It is essential to know in advance when and where family gatherings will take place. Another important element to consider for planning purposes is what foods will be on the menu and what time of day the family meal will be served.
Each event will undoubtedly offer snacks and treats that are tempting, making sticking to a plan difficult. A plan can help to limit undue anxiety because you can plan ahead for the event and utilize recovery-based behaviors to help maintain safety in these situations.
If you already have a meal plan in place, try to stick to it during the holidays. Do not skip breakfast or skimp on lunch because you are planning for a large dinner. Departures from your meal plan only make triggers more challenging to navigate. Also, try to anticipate situations that will make following your existing plan more complicated such as time in transit to family homes and not having access to the foods you traditionally eat. If you are concerned about food options available at the family meal, consider offering to bring a dish along to share that also fits into your existing meal plan.
Know Triggers and How to Manage Them
One of the most essential factors for maintaining recovery during the holidays is understanding your triggers. Triggers are those things that are most likely to lead you to relapse. If you find specific conversation topics, environments, or people challenging, make sure you are well aware of what and who they are. Take the time to plan in advance and be ready to address or avoid them as needed. Remember and practice the coping skills you learned during your treatment and therapy at Meadowglade in Moore Park, California. These techniques will be highly beneficial should triggering situations arise.
Part of your recovery is knowing that no food is inherently good or bad. It is essential to learn how to manage “fear food triggers” that you know you will encounter during a holiday meal or a holiday event. The best way to handle these experiences is to plan for how you will navigate your exposure. Consider having an appointment with your therapist at Meadowglade or have a friend or support group member on call to talk to just before an event if you need to.
Have A Support Team
During the holiday season, it is essential to have a strong support team in place. This can help ensure you remain safe with meals throughout what can inevitably be a challenging few months. If you are in recovery, you need at least one (more is definitely OK!) person to help you throughout the day. This person, or people, can offer support during mealtime or act as a supervisor to monitor eating behaviors that may lead to disordered eating symptoms such as bingeing, restricting, or retreating to the restroom as soon as the meal ends.
A designated support person can assist in other ways, as well. They can help you stick to your eating plan, help determine healthy (accurate) portion sizes, and encourage you to follow recovery-based skills and behaviors. Your support person can also help navigate uncomfortable conversations or comments about dieting, eating, appearance, or other possibly triggering topics. If you do not have access to a strong support person or team, reach out to your therapist or perhaps a support group member. Finally, there are several hotlines and online support groups available for those struggling with eating disorders. If you do not feel as though you have a healthy support system or need someone to talk to who understands what you are going through, these groups or hotlines may be a safer option than going without. Sharing your experiences and concerns can help you process events in a healthy way while hearing perspectives and advice from others.
If you begin to feel anxiety or panic because you feel too full or allowed yourself to eat foods you usually consider forbidden, don’t criticize yourself. Put the moment behind you and move forward. At your next meal or tomorrow, get back on track. Remind yourself that it is OK to eat what you did. Also, remember that food will not make you fat, and it is normal to eat more during the holiday season. Most people do, and it is OK for you to do so as well. While you are eating, check in with your hunger and fullness cues and be intentional about your eating. In the end, it is essential to be kind to yourself during the holiday season.
Set Boundaries for Yourself
There are inevitably certain topics of conversation or situations that will be difficult for you to manage. For example, when people discuss dieting, weight loss, weight gain, or “feeling fat, “it is likely to be unpleasant or even triggering for you. Do not hesitate to tell family members directly (or ask your support person for help) the conversation topics you most need to avoid. It is OK to tell your family members that this holiday season may be difficult for you, and therefore you need their encouragement and support to help maintain your recovery and mental health. Also, be assertive and firm with those who try to encourage you to eat more or less. Only you know and understand your meal plan and food boundaries and can best do what you need to maintain your recovery.
Practice Stress Management and Self-Care
Regardless of any underlying mental health condition, stress can have a significant impact on daily life. If you struggle with disordered eating, environmental and social factors such as holiday gatherings may heighten stress levels and lead to destructive mental and behavioral patterns. When you experience increased stress, stressful reactions are often replaced by poor eating habits or impulsive actions.
One of the most important ways to manage stress during the holidays is to practice self-care. Find an activity or practice that helps you feel grounded and removes emotions related to triggers. This can be something you learned during treatment or a technique you developed during recovery. Self-care looks different for everyone and should occur when you need it most. Self-care also means allowing yourself grace and reducing negative self-talk, which can happen during times of stress. The type of self-care that works best for you could be anything from yoga or meditation to journaling or a hot bath. Regardless of your method, choose what is most effective and practice as often as possible to help reduce stress.
Remember to Practice Gratitude
The holidays can be many things, but most importantly, they are a time to reflect on those things you are most thankful for. Expressing gratitude for these things while giving and receiving the love of family and friends can help you celebrate your accomplishments and encourage you to continue recovery and your pursuit of health and wellness in the upcoming year. If you are recovering from an eating disorder, the holidays can indeed be stressful, and each day can produce different challenges that raise anxiety levels. It may also be beneficial to use the holiday season as a time to begin a gratitude journal. Take a moment each day to write down a few things you are thankful for each day. Starting each day with gratitude can help you reflect on how far you have come on your recovery journey. Most importantly, reach out to those around you who support your goals and mental health. With careful planning, individual motivation, and a strong support team behind you, you can enjoy all of the joy the holidays have to offer.
The holiday season does not have to be wrought with challenges if you are in recovery from an eating disorder. With a little pre-planning and working with your support team (or support person), you can enjoy family gatherings and holiday events while still ensuring your recovery stays on track. It is crucial to be gentle with yourself while negotiating your way through what can definitely be a challenging time of year. Recovery from disorder eating does not need to limit the holiday experience. If you need extra help this season, contact us at Meadowglade in Moore Park, California. Our caring and compassionate treatment team are here to help you achieve or maintain recovery. Whether this is your first time seeking treatment, if you have experienced a relapse or if you simply need extra support, our team is here for you. Contact us at Meadowglade today.