How To Navigate The Holidays When You're Recovering From Disordered Eating

Though the holidays are traditionally thought of as a happy time of year, they pose challenges for many people. From having to see family that you don't get along with to being reminded of negative childhood memories, the holidays can bring up issues for anyone.

Those recovering from disordered eating habits may find the holidays especially difficult to navigate, as so many holiday celebrations revolve around food. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, attending events like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner can leave those with disordered eating habits "petrified" for this reason, with many affected folks preferring to isolate themselves than socialize.

It's understandable to feel fear at the prospect of attending events during the holidays if you're healing your relationship with food. But you don't have to deny yourself the chance to be part of the festivities if you would like to join in. Along with using the mental health resources available to you, there are a few strategies you can employ during the holidays to look after yourself and stay on track with your recovery.

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Plan ahead of time

For those with disordered eating habits, anxiety surrounding the holidays often starts popping up weeks, or even months, before the holidays actually arrive. While frustrating, the good news is you can use this as a reminder to plan ahead so you're as prepared as possible.

Start by reaching out to some friends or family members you trust and share your worries with them. The eating disorder treatment establishment Center for Discovery explains that it can help to have a few people you can lean on during the holidays if you find yourself tempted to fall back into old habits. It can be particularly helpful to open up to someone who will be at many of the social events you'll be attending, so they can support you if you feel overwhelmed. 

If you're working with a therapist or dietician, it's a good idea to schedule appointments during the holidays so they can help you to get through difficult days. If you're leaving your home for the holidays, you could schedule a telehealth appointment, or a face-to-face appointment before you leave. "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," Columbus-based dietician Laura Bishop-Simo, R.D., tells Everyday Health.

You can also plan responses to triggering comments that you're expecting, including those about your diet or your appearance. If you think the need may arise, practice setting boundaries with your loved ones and remind them that you don't want to talk about certain topics (via Healthline).

Make your health a priority during the holidays

No matter how much you prepare for the holidays, they can still be overwhelming. Remind yourself that your health and wellbeing is your priority, and you don't owe anyone anything. Remembering this can help you to stand your ground if someone tries to pressure you into eating something you're not comfortable with.

You shouldn't fast or starve yourself to make up for food you might eat during a celebration, WellMinded Counseling advises. Depriving yourself of nutrition will make it harder for you to make informed decisions about your food choices, which is likely to lead you to stray from your recovery action steps. Instead, focus on making and eating food that you are comfortable with. If you're attending a holiday party, make up a platter of food that you would like to eat to bring with you (via Walden Behavioral Care). This should help to ease your anxiety about possibly having no choice but to eat food you don't want.

Eating Disorder Hope points out that the holidays are about more than just food. If you concentrate on seeing the people you love and activities you enjoy doing (such as watching holiday specials on TV or putting up Christmas lights), you can shift some of the focus away from food-related stress. Though the holidays can feel like a huge struggle for those with disordered eating habits, you can absolutely still attend social events and even enjoy yourself. Hopefully, these tips make the process a little less overwhelming.