How to Manage an Eating Disorder During the Holidays

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RELATED: 5 Ways to Manage Eating Disorder Triggers Outside the Treatment Center

How to Get Through — and Even Enjoy — the Holidays If You Have an Eating Disorder

The good news: You don’t have to white-knuckle your way through until the new year. These seven strategies can help you soak up the holiday cheer if you’re coping with or in recovery from an eating disorder.

1. Plan Ahead and Schedule Check-Ins

During the holidays, it’s more important than ever to stay connected with your care team, says Anderson. And given the challenges of the season, it’s a good time to seek or even intensify treatment, she adds.

“Remember, the eating disorder does not take a holiday,” says Anderson.

Work with a mental health professional to identify healthy coping strategies in advance. This can be extremely helpful for stressful situations that pop up throughout the holiday season, says Bishop-Simo.

And if you haven’t done so already, Bishop-Simo suggests working closely with a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorder recovery. “A qualified dietitian can assist in navigating the holiday menu and help someone struggling with an eating disorder come up with a game plan on what foods to eat, avoiding fear (aka ‘triggering’) foods,” she says.

Bishop-Simo adds that the holidays could even be a time to challenge yourself by exposing yourself to foods that give you anxiety. But discuss this with your therapist or dietitian first, she says.

RELATED: Talkspace vs. BetterHelp: Which Online Therapy Is Better?

2. Plan Ahead to Continue on the Road to Recovery

Anderson recommends having a plan in place for holiday meals or festivities, including how to deal with any tough emotions that may arise. “This may include reducing the number of scheduled events (selecting those that matter to you personally), identifying a support person to help with meals (providing support and helping you stick to your plan to the best of your ability), and making time for daily self-care and coping skills practice,” she says.

If you’ve established a regular meal plan with your care team, Anderson recommends keeping as close as possible to it during any holiday events.

3. Communicate Your Boundaries and Set an Exit Time

Setting healthy boundaries with others is key to avoiding triggers and minimizing distress if they do arise during conversations and meals. For example, you might ask your family or friends to avoid having any diet-related conversations with or around you, say experts. You can also set a specific time to leave the dinner or party before it becomes too tiring.

4. Stay Centered on the Meaning of the Holidays

When planning festivities, one of the best ways to achieve that “happy feeling nothing in the world can buy” is by taking the focus off the holiday meal. Anderson suggests thinking about what activities make you feel safe and the season special. This could mean planning to play games, watch family-favorite movies, build a snowman, or go for a stroll to admire holiday decorations and lights.

5. Nix Negative Self-Talk and Be Compassionate Instead

Remember that you are dealing with a tough situation. Struggling doesn’t mean you are failing. Be proud of yourself. Getting stuck in negative thoughts will only make you feel worse. “The negative thoughts about yourself, food, and body will make dealing with the holidays that much more challenging, leading to increased negative emotions and behaviors,” Anderson says.

According to Mental Health America, these steps can help quiet the voice inside you that is focused on the negative:

  • Tune into the things you tell yourself. Sometimes, negative self-talk is subconscious, meaning you’re not always aware you’re doing it.
  • Avoid perfectionism. Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight.
  • Forgive yourself if you mess up. If you experience a setback, whether in recovery or another aspect of your life, acknowledge that you’re doing your best, forgive yourself, and move on.

A mental health professional can also help you learn strategies to reduce negative self-talk.

RELATED: 7 Tips for Showing Yourself Some Self-Compassion

6. Avoid 2 Common Setback Triggers: Drugs and Alcohol

Although it may bring you temporary relief, substance use does more harm than good for people in recovery from an eating disorder, says Anderson.

“Using drugs and alcohol can lead to increased symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as changes in appetite and eating,” she says. “Ultimately, using substances will contribute to the perpetuation of the eating disorder and can lead to other serious health concerns as well.”

If you’d still like to enjoy a festive beverage, sans the alcohol, sip a holiday mocktail — you can even bring one to a gathering to share with friends and family.

RELATED: 10 Mocktail Recipes So Good You Won’t Believe They’re Booze-Free

7. Remember to Practice Gratitude — for Yourself!

To keep the holidays calm and bright — and to help you celebrate your accomplishments — Bishop-Simo recommends decompressing with healthy activities that also reduce stress.

Self-care looks different for everyone; here are some activities you might enjoy:

  • Reading
  • Meditating
  • Snuggling with pets
  • Listing the things you are grateful for
  • Lighting a scented candle
  • Listening to calming music or a podcast your enjoy
  • Playing fun online games
  • Doing a puzzle with a family member or friend
  • Taking a bath or shower

RELATED: 7 Ways to Get Started With Meditation

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