Special occasions or holidays often involve family rituals and traditions with food. However, holidays pose unique challenges for people with disordered eating or eating disorders that often disrupt the joyful part of their celebration. For an individual who is preoccupied with food, eating and weight, nearly 100% of the time every other day of the year, these events can feel especially overwhelming when food (especially “forbidden” food) is an integral part of the gathering.
At the same time, with the hectic schedules many people have today, these holiday meals may be one of the few times that a family comes together to eat and enjoy each other’s company.
Learning to manage these social situations involving food may be a critical part to an individual’s path to recovery and finding peace with food, eating and weight.
Following are some tips to help you or a loved one prepare…
Planning for the Meal
Planning ahead may be the key to helping you challenge the anxiety or potential struggles with holiday meals, so you can relax and enjoy good times with friends and family.
Consider how and when the meal will be served. Will the food be served family style or at a buffet? How will that affect your ability to follow through with your meal plan? To prevent overeating or restriction, you may want to ask what is on the menu and decide ahead of time what food fits in your meal plan.
Will the meal be served at your usual eating time, or will you need to adjust your food plan? For example, if the meal will be served later than you typically eat lunch, eating a balanced breakfast and snack prior to the meal event can help decrease overeating. It’s okay to ask for something you need; and, it’s important to not allow yourself to get too hungry. Eating less all day to “save up” for the party is not helpful. Skipping meals/snacks usually affects productivity, causes poor concentration, more difficulty with problem solving, and increased fatigue. It can also lead to overeating at the next meal or snack.
What will you need for support to be successful at the event? If there are topics or conversations that are especially triggering, it may be helpful to rehearse ahead of time how you will manage these situations. What could you say in response, or would it be more helpful to quietly leave the room and join another conversation?
For some folks or situations, it may be important to have a plan before going home about what you will do for support after the gathering. Bringing home leftovers may not be helpful. Also, know who and where your support people are, and/or have a plan for distractions or non-food ways to comfort or soothe yourself, if necessary.
At the party or gathering
- Try to sit or stand away from the food table and near supportive people.
- Bring along a dish or food that you enjoy and complements your meal plan.
- Try to eat mindfully and give yourself permission to savor the tasty holiday foods!
- Continue to follow your meal plan for the entire day, and stay well-hydrated by drinking water.
- Eat at an appropriate pace.
- Bring along an item such as an affirmation card, a picture, or a journal for some comfort throughout the day.
- Talk with loved ones about things unrelated to food, weight or the eating disorder.
- Enjoy your relationships and try to reflect on feelings of gratitude for blessings received – remember it’s not just about the food.
AND…Remember to Breathe! Taking slow, deep breaths may help produce a state of calmness and relaxation.
- Talk to family and friends about what is helpful and what isn’t, i.e. no diet, “fat”, or weight talk.
- Consider choosing a loved one to be your “reality check” with food, to either remind you of food portions or check in with about your meal plan.
- Choose someone to reach out to or call if you are struggling with negative thoughts, eating disorder behaviors, or difficult emotions. Talking to a supportive person ahead of time and letting them know about your concerns and needs may help assure you they are open and willing to receiving your call, when needed.
- Stay active with any therapy appointments or groups you may be attending.
- Discuss your anxiety or anticipations of the holidays with a professional, such as a therapist or dietitian, so they can help you predict, prepare for, and get through any uncomfortable family interactions without self-destructive coping attempts.
- Talk with loved ones about important issues: decisions, victories, challenges, fears, concerns, dreams, special moments, spirituality, and relationships. Allow meaningful themes to be present and allow yourself to have fun (rather than rigidly focusing on food or body thoughts).
Enjoy (and Give Back) with These Non-Food Activities:
- Relax and watch your favorite holiday movie with a close friend or family member.
- Seek out a few holiday craft fairs.
- Go out and look at lights and holiday decorations.
- Attend holiday concerts and plays.
- Baby-sit for someone so they can shop.
- Participate in local charity events to celebrate giving back to the community.
- Find out what’s going on around town. Look in the local newspaper to get fun holiday ideas.
- Purchase or make a gift for someone who is less fortunate than you.
- Enjoy the winter season. Go ice skating, have snowball fights, or make a snow sculpture in your yard.
- Challenge yourself to find activities that don’t focus on food, but instead are about relaxing and enjoying the season.
General Ideas to Keep in Mind:
- Get enough sleep and rest.
- Don’t forget about other coping mechanisms (yoga, deep breathing, relaxation imagery, journal, etc.).
- Choose to move in mindful ways. This might be a good time for a peaceful leisure walk under the stars with a loved one instead of a busy or intense exercise class.
- Flexibility in your thoughts is what you’re striving for. Learn to be less critical in guidelines for yourself and in expectations for others.
- Overbooking and over-stressing yourself will only lead to unhelpful coping strategies. Cut down on unnecessary events and obligations and leave time for relaxation, contemplation, reflection, and enjoying the small but important things in life.
- The holidays come and go every year. You can and will survive!