It can be tough to recover from binge eating and family events don’t make things any easier. Here are 6 tips for getting through holiday gatherings.

Recovering from binge eating disorder (BED) is a journey. As we develop a new relationship with food, we face challenges along the way. One of the biggest challenges we face is dealing with family gatherings. It’s essential to continue recovering from binge eating, and family events can be a significant stressor.

Here are a few thoughts on how to cope with family gatherings when you’re recovering from BED.

1. Be Patient With Yourself

As we recover from BED, a lot of feelings come up. Family gatherings are especially likely to prompt an onslaught of emotions. Our relationship with our families is often complicated, and while we love our families, it can be hard to interact with them. Whatever you’re feeling about your family event–it might be a mixture of fear, excitement, joy, shame, and more–is entirely valid. Take the time to acknowledge those feelings and talk about them with someone you trust. You might want to reach out to your treatment team, a therapist, or a supportive family member or friend. Your feelings are valid, and it’s okay for them to be whatever they are.

Recovery from binge eating and family events can be stressful.

Photo by Kevia Tan on Unsplash

2. Plan Ahead

Take some time to think about the gathering ahead. When it comes to binge eating and family events, what is most likely to be stressful or triggering? What has been stress-inducing in the past? Specific family members might have a history of making unwelcome comments about your body size. Similarly, certain family members or loved ones might tend to comment on what you choose to eat, or make a snarky comment about seconds.

Think about what’s happened in the past, and then consider how you want to respond ahead of time. You might want to be direct and say, “Please don’t comment on my appearance or food.” If you want to explain more, you can, but you’re not obligated to. Think of an escape plan, such as excusing yourself to the restroom for a few moments for a breather or pretending you have a phone call that you need to take outside. To help you if and when the moment comes, put a note on your phone to remind you of what you want to say or do. And remember, you don’t have to handle everything perfectly. Just do the best you can.

3. Bring a Cheerleader

You might have a family member who really gets you. Or it might be a good friend who’s willing to be your cheerleader. Many people don’t have a family to spend holidays with, and bringing someone who falls in this category along to your holiday gathering could be a nice way to include a friend who would otherwise be alone.

Choose someone you feel comfortable with to be your support system. Let them know how you want them to help. You might want someone to be a quiet presence, or you might want someone who can actively intervene on your behalf. It’s up to you and your cheerleader to decide what support you need and how to provide that support.

If you can’t bring an in-person cheerleader, ask a friend or two to be available for texts or calls, and reach out to them. If you belong to online support groups, post a message asking for help and support. People will be there for you. Sometimes it’s difficult and can feel vulnerable to ask for this support, but we need to sometimes. It’s okay to need help.

Have a plan for recovering from binge eating and family events.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

4. Find the Positives

Even the most frustrating relatives may have their moments of grace. They may have played an important role in your life as a child or supported your other family members. They may have a wicked sense of humor or make your family’s hallowed tapioca pudding recipe every holiday. Try to focus on their positive qualities. While that doesn’t excuse bad behavior, it can help you cope with misguided behavior that comes from a good, albeit uninformed, place. And remember, we were all indoctrinated into diet culture at some point in our lives. Take opportunities to plant seeds and give your family members permission to investigate their own relationship with food.

5. Focus on Connecting

Holidays that center around food can feel dangerous or disconcerting. Ultimately, though, it’s only food. Stick to your regular eating routine as much as possible, and focus on connecting with your loved ones. Consider introducing (or asking a family member to introduce) other activities, such as playing games, making decorations, or going for a walk, so that you can enjoy time with your family without worrying about food.

6. Have an Exit Plan

It’s possible that you might get overwhelmed during a family gathering, and that’s okay. Work with your support person or other family members to develop an exit plan. Maybe you can drive on your own or have a family member who will take you home when you want to leave, no questions asked. Going to a family gathering is a significant accomplishment, even if you only stay for a short time. Do what you can, and leave when you need to. It’s okay to take care of yourself.

Dealing with recovery from binge eating and family events isn’t easy. Be patient, and do what you can when you can. Take care of yourself first, and the rest will follow.

Melinda Sineriz is a freelance writer and fat acceptance advocate. Read more of her thoughts on Twitter or visit her website to learn more.