‘Tis the Season: 5 Tips for Managing the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

As the holiday season quickly approaches, with Halloween already behind us, this can be a stressful time for eating disorders/disordered eating recovery. Cue the big focus on food, potential body comments, food judgements, and discussions of future New Year’s resolutions such as dieting and exercise for weight loss. So how does someone stay recovery focused during this time? Is it possible to progress forward with all the potential triggers for engaging in behaviors? Absolutely!! However, it may take more patience, coping ahead, and meal planning to reduce wiggle room for the behaviors to reappear.  

In this blog, I’ve compiled 5 key tips for supporting recovery during the holidays. 

Plan ahead

First, it’s important to create a plan for holiday meals. It’s helpful to understand who will be there and what each individual’s potential comments on food and bodies may be. Come up with your redirection techniques for triggering comments, such as including safe, limited-stress conversations to replace heavy body and food topics. For example, try “Wow, what wonderful weather we are having!”, or “Hey, did you see the [non diet topic] trend on TikTok?”. It’s also okay to excuse yourself from a situation that’s getting the intrusive thoughts fired up. Plan ahead your safe spaces and coping skills. Get an understanding for what will be served at each family meal gathering, and pre-determine what will meet your meal plan. On your plate, include some safe foods, and maybe one challenge food compared to only challenge foods. If you have one large meal and ou d'oeuvres the rest of the day, set yourself up for success by setting side specific times to intentionally eat to limit acting on behaviors or urges with this one larger meal. 

Use your treatment team for support

If you have a team in place for improving your relationship with food, USE THEM! High-stress food related situations are what your team is there for. Start a few weeks in advance to discuss worries about the event. Each treatment team member can help piece the plan ahead together. Your dietitian can help meet your meal plan from foods being served and timing of eating. Your therapist can provide you with coping tools you’ve already been successful with, or provide you with new options to manage potential triggers. Your psychiatrist can provide the necessary medication adjustments for these high anxiety situations. Family and friends can be roped into this plan for accountability support before, during, and after.

Start small, and meet yourself where you are at

Any progress to improve your relationship with food, no matter how small, is GOOD progress. Remember, the process is not a sprint, and each person’s recovery is unique in the time it takes to achieve all the goals. When planning your meals, allow yourself to have some safer foods that will meet your nutritional needs, while also maybe involving one or a few challenge foods. Work with your treatment team to determine where you’re at and the best plan to set yourself up for success with meeting your nutritional needs with limited behaviors (ideally none, but again, meet yourself where you’re at).

Cue in your support system at home

Consider who is aware of your current relationship with food and the recovery work you are doing. This can be one person, or the whole group at your holiday gathering. Determine who you can use to talk to and let them know when you need a distraction, someone to take space with, or meal plan support. Allow this person to help hold you accountable in meeting your meal plan with a clear meal check off. Text reminders can be helpful for someone within a large group that needs a gentler, more one-on-one approach, such as “Does your plate meet your meal plan exchanges?”, or “Have you eaten your snack planned for 3PM yet?”. If you’re worried about engaging in behaviors after a meal or snack, come up with a code word with this person so they can help distract you for a period of time after the trigger. Sitting outside, watching TV, board games, card games, or facetiming family and friends are some helpful coping skills. These specific tools, as an added bonus, alleviate the pressure of using exercise to cope and potentially fueling the compensatory exercise thoughts of having to burn off food eaten or earn holiday treats. 

Avoid the all or nothing thinking

Staying stuck in all or nothing, black and white thinking can easily trigger a spiral effect of disordered eating behaviors. Remember that no food is morally bad or good, but rather practice neutrality with food to reduce negative feelings and emotions when eating specific foods. Accidentally slept past your typical breakfast time? Instead of continuing to skip eating, which can trigger various thoughts and behaviors, start with eating something nutritionally dense, like a granola bar, or drink a supplement, such as Ensure or Boost Plus. This helps meet at least some of your nutrition, to get back on track, and eventually resume your eating schedule with the next meal or snack. Acted on a behavior urge? Use your pre-determined support system or coping skills in this situation to reset and get back on track with your next meal /snack, whether it’s later that day or the next morning. 

Need more support this holiday season? Are you ready for a different kind of New Year’s resolution? Reach out to us at Enhance Nutrition today and we will guide you in the right direction to improving your relationship with food for all times of the year.