The holiday season can be an intense time for those in recovery from an eating disorder. It is a time filled with lots of food, most of which is calorie-laden. For many of us, there is a lot of social value attached to special holiday feasts. The holidays can be stressful for everyone, but for the 10 million Americans who struggle with an eating disorder it can be a downright nightmare. According to Dr. Cynthia Bulik of the UNC Eating Disorders Program, three out of four American women have disordered eating behavior and ten percent have an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder (Nauert PhD, R). I am part of that ten percent and have been in recovery from anorexia nervosa for five years. I suggest planning ahead of time for the holidays, so that you can navigate your way through the food-filled festivities. Here are some tips that I find useful:
- Avoid the scale and try not to count calories.
- Make a list of four or five people you can call for support if you feel too out of your comfort zone. It is important to be able to contact your support team so that they can reassure you of your progress.
- Don’t skip meals during the day to make up for a big holiday meal! Starving throughout the day sets one up to binge on potential holiday trigger foods. If you have a meal plan, stick to it throughout the day.
- Do discuss your concerns about the holidays with your therapist, dietitian, and other members of your treatment team. They can help you prepare mentally and emotionally for the potential triggers that come from family interaction and other social interactions during the holidays.
- Have a plan of exit if you are going to a gathering. Knowing that you can get a break if you need one will greatly decrease your potential social anxiety.
- If you are going to a social gathering, do bring a dish that you feel comfortable eating. This way you know that there will be at least one thing you feel safe eating.
- Evaluate the food options before getting a plate. Be mindful of what foods you are going to put on your plate and what portion sizes. Once you have a mental plan, you can feel more prepared to load up your plate.
- Make a list of things you can do to help distract yourself from the feelings of panic after a big meal. E.g. go for a walk, journal, read, etc.
- Remember that you are not eating for anyone but yourself. Don’t let people pressure you into eating more than you can handle.
- Get your shopping and holiday errands done in advance so that you don’t have the added stress of last minute holiday shopping.
- Be forgiving of yourself for any food slips or indulgences. The holidays are about coming together with loved ones, not about being perfect.
Even after five years of recovery, I still sometimes get anxious about the holiday season. Just remember that it gets easier, so enjoy yourself. Happy holidays!!!
Nauert PhD, R. (2009). Manage Eating Disorders During the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2012, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2009/12/09/manage-eating-disorders-during-the-holidays/10078.html