By: Maria Neiers, M.A., LPCC
The holiday season can be a time of family, friends, food, and emotions. However, this time of the year can also be especially hard for folks with eating disorders, regardless of where they are in their journey to recovery. The voice of your eating disorder might creep up on you during each gathering, conversations and comments about food and bodies, or even the quiet, solitary moments throughout the day. This article is for all folks, whether they are years into recovery or just starting their journey – you are not alone during this time and you are seen.
The holidays can be accompanied by several things that heighten ED thoughts or behaviors – stress, family/friends, unwanted comments or conversations, large meals, existing triggers, and inevitably food. It is common for shame, frustration, utter exhaustion, overwhelm, and fear to swirl around in one’s mind. Days can seem hard to get through without the desire to skip a meal, binge leftovers late at night, or find a way to “make up” for calories eaten. It’s okay, and there is no shame in having harder moments and harder days.
If we could all be like Buddy the Elf eating spaghetti with maple syrup, chocolate, and poptarts at 8 am with zero ED thoughts in our brain, would life be easier? Maybe. Or to have nights where we eat our grandmother’s top-secret mashed potatoes recipe with no fear? That would probably be really nice. But there is no expectation for perfection around the holidays. Rather, be empowered to find self-compassion that communicates to yourself that this shall pass, and we are far more than our ED’s thoughts, behaviors, and voices.
How does one navigate eating disorders during the holidays? First, it’s recognizing this looks different for each person. The following tips and tricks may speak to you or not, and that is the reality of navigating this disorder. Try what speaks to you, take a leap if you feel so inclined, and/or simply be mindful about your thoughts and feelings while reading. You deserve to feel proud of yourself for opening this article!
- Notice and acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and responses throughout the day.
This can be one of the most powerful practices during the holidays. This includes acknowledging thoughts and reminding yourself: “This is part of my reality right now.” You do not have to believe the truth of this thought, but I encourage you to accept and notice its presence. This also includes recognizing what emotion(s) come up. This is powerful because you are not disregarding or gaslighting yourself into thinking this struggle does not exist. It is okay to say, this is hard and something I’m actively experiencing.
- Have a support person or group.
While some may have a go-to person to talk to when an ED thought/behavior occurs, for others, this may be difficult as no one may know that you’re struggling. Even if this is true, think of a person you can say something as simple as: “Today I’m having a really hard time and I don’t feel like saying why.” That’s great! Support comes in many forms, even our fur-babies. It can be helpful to go into the holidays knowing who or what might be a source of comfort for you.
If you don’t have someone you feel comfortable confiding in about your eating disorder, you can contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) helpline: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
- Promote self-compassion.
Self-compassion is having the grace and patience to meet yourself halfway with neutrality and love. Instead of being critical of yourself, treat yourself with kindness. If you heard a friend talking to themselves as you are doing now, would you say something? Give it a shot – have compassion for yourself as much as you have for others who are struggling.
- Practice challenging that voice.
When your ED voice feels large, it is important to understand that it is not yourself speaking, but a culmination of messages you have received. If there is a moment where your voice is telling you not to eat or making you feel guilty about your body, it is important to separate yourself from those thoughts. Challenging your ED includes recognizing the thought and telling yourself that this voice is not your own. Remind yourself that it is okay for you to eat that extra piece of bread or that you do not need to go for that run after the meal. *My caveat with this is to state that it is okay if you are not able to do this right now. It can be something to work toward on this journey.*
- Find purpose beyond food.
It is tempting to get caught up in all things food! Create purpose or goals outside of food that allows you to shift your focus whether it’s spending extra time with a relative, finding joy in game nights, or finally taking up the hobby you’ve been eyeing all year.
- Take care of yourself!
This is the most important thing you can do. Take breaks if you can (excuse yourself to another room, take a moment outside, etc.), do something for yourself when you feel overwhelmed, and lean into your supports. This can also look like sticking to a plan you already have, such as following a meal plan, keeping therapy appointments, or planning ahead for situations that are in your control.
My goal is to make resources accessible, and this includes offering other articles regarding this topic. These are wonderful pieces if you are wanting more:
- Ofrecido en otros idiomas, incluido el español
TLDR: Eating disorders are hard, especially during holidays. These tips can act as guides to help navigate these times. They include acknowledging when ED behaviors/thoughts arise, finding support, being kind to ourselves, challenging ED thoughts when possible, and taking care of ourselves throughout this time.
Be gentle with yourself.
Dr. Steffanie Stecker a licensed psychologist and the owner and clinical director of Mountain Vista Psychology, PLLC.
In addition, she is a board certified neurotherapist (BCN E5669) and board certified in QEEG (QEEG-D). Less than 100 people world wide are board certified in QEEG, which indicates competency in reading QEEGs and choosing neurofeedback protocols. Dr. Stecker is passionate about brain based effective therapy and creating a safe relationship for her clients to create change. She loves what she gets to do each day!