For an individual with an eating disorder the holidays can prove especially difficult, and seemingly simple commitments such as attending a holiday gathering and reuniting with family can become sources of tremendous anxiety and immense emotional strain. Excessive amounts of food, triggering foods, a plethora of alcohol and the obsession with consumption can all be overwhelming for an individual struggling with an eating disorder. Many individuals feel they need to isolate themselves during the holidays so they can avoid the triggers and obsessions associated with their eating disorder.
Opting out of the holidays
Research suggests that such isolation occurs from a deeply rooted fear of being negatively evaluated by peers. Therefore, in the attempt to avoid potential situations involving such evaluation, many individuals choose to isolate themselves from others, entirely. Choosing to be alone for a holiday can potentially create tension within the family. One of the most important aspects of eating disorder recovery is being honest with yourself and your loved ones. Telling your family how you feel about the holidays and explaining how the gatherings and food are triggers can potentially allow your loved ones to understand what you are going through. Choosing to spend the holidays alone is not an unhealthy choice however it is important to understand the underlying reason of why you are choosing to spend the holidays alone. Are you choosing this as a defense mechanism? Or are you choosing this because you feel that you may be placed in an unsafe environment at the Thanksgiving table?
Choose your company wisely
If you decide to partake in Thanksgiving, it is important that you comfortable and supported by others around you. It is important to be cognizant of who you are spending the holidays to ensure that you are surrounded in a healthy environment. You may choose to spend Thanksgiving dinner at your treatment center or with friends from therapy instead of going home to your family. The most important aspect is that you are choosing what is best for you. The best way to get through the holidays with an eating disorder is to truly look for those people who provide you with the support you need, those who bring joy to your face, whether family, friends, or even fellow peers in recovery, so that with them you are able to find the comfort and freedom outside of your eating disorder struggle.
Food allergies and Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving can be very triggering for individuals with food allergies or intolerances. Individuals with food allergies may lead a very structured life when it comes time to eating. They may have many restrictions and strict routines, which can be triggering for an individual who is in recovery for an eating disorder. Food allergies and intolerances can be even more triggering around the holidays as most holiday food is filled with dairy, gluten and nuts (all allergy triggers). It is important to be honest and upfront about your allergy with the individuals preparing your food beforehand so it doesn’t make for an uncomfortable situation at the dinner table. Eating beforehand is also a good rule of thumb if you know you may not be able to eat the meal that is being prepared.
Allow yourself to enjoy a holiday food that you have fond memories of, and if you consume a little more than planned, it’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day. For now, remember to refocus yourself on the reason for the season!