The holiday season is the time of year most associated with traditions, many of which revolve around food. For those struggling with an eating disorder this can be an especially stressful time, and seemingly simple gatherings such as pumpkin carving contests, turkey trot run or gingerbread house decorating can be triggering for many individuals and lead to excessive anxiety and potential eating disorder relapse. The average American gains at least 10 pounds around the holiday season because of all of the food, alcohol and festivities and come January 1, the diet fads begin to appear at an increasing rate in order to shed the holiday weight. The holidays are known for a time of celebration and indulgence but to many with mental health disorders and eating disorders, the holidays can be triggering.

From the Halloween candy and the all-you-can eat Thanksgiving dinners to the Christmas pies, cookies and cakes; it can be very difficult to figure out which events to avoid and how to keep your cool during holiday parties without overeating or without eating at all. Declining a plate full of delicious mashed potatoes and stuffing can isolate you at the dinner table however indulging in seconds and thirds can swing you right back into a binging episode. Feelings of isolation, anxiety and awkwardness are normal for those struggling in eating disorder recovery, especially around the holidays and therefore it is important to develop a plan of action to feel good about the holidays and most importantly, prevent any sort of relapse.

Tips and ticks to navigate the holiday season

  • Be mindful of the holidays and the fact that they are not for just eating. The holidays are about gratitude, love and celebration. Take time to reflect and spend time with those you cherish and enjoy gathering with loved ones who you do not get to visit often.
  • Have a “buddy”that you can check in with during difficult meals or help you if you begin to struggle or panic. Ask if you can lean on them when dealing with obsessive or addictive behaviors. Knowing that there is someone who can help through tough times can be extremely powerful.
  • Be honest with your family and friends about your worries and concerns. Having an open and honest dialogue can make others aware of the complexity of eating disorders especially around the holidays. Explain to them why you are uncomfortable going to a certain event instead of making an excuse not to attend. Providing insight and honesty into your situation can allow them to be more supportive through your recovery.
  • Reduce stress surrounding food-related activities.Make peace with the concept of holiday-related food gatherings and mentally prepare beforehand. Be prepared by consuming a small meal or snack before attending parties. 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!
  • Discuss your holiday anticipations with your therapist and treatment team so that they can help you with potential stressors and triggers and enact a plan for coping and overcoming any present obstacles. Preparing for stressful situations and working on strategies beforehand can help you not fall into self-destructive patterns.
  • Stick to your prescribed recovery program.Structure your day so that you can keep to the recovery disciplines and actions, especially when it comes to scheduled meal times.
  • Avoid “overstressing” and “overbooking” yourself.Cut down on unnecessary events and obligations to allow personal time to decompress and unwind. Spreading yourself too thin can create unneeded stress and potentially result in relapse behaviors. Take time for relaxation, renewal and self-contemplation. Remember that you do not have to attend every single season-related event.