How to Protect Your Eating Disorder Recovery During the Winter Holidays

Thanksgiving is just a few days away here in America and several other holidays are coming up in the next month. If we’re being honest, this time of year can be hard for people in recovery from anything, but especially in recovery from an eating disorder or chronic dieting. Holidays tend to revolve around food and the people around us are constantly making comments about food, their bodies, and the latest diets they’re trying out. The holiday season doesn’t have to suck and you can protect your recovery, however far along you are, and reduce your stress levels with a few tips listed below.

Before the Holiday

  • Set Boundaries: Setting boundaries is absolutely critical to protecting your recovery! It can also be really hard to do. It’s much easier to do with people who are closer to you versus strangers or acquaintances. When it feels safe to do so, invite people into a conversation about how diet talk affects you as someone in recovery. They’re probably so entrenched in diet culture that they don’t even notice how talking about their diet, how “good” or “bad” they were, or assigning moral values to food can be harmful. Protect your peace and don’t feel the need to educate everyone around you, but be firm that you would like the people closest to you to not engage in these conversations because it makes you uncomfortable and could lead to a relapse.
  • Come up With a Game Plan: Having a therapist and dietitian to work with before your holiday meal is so helpful because you can come up with a plan for how to handle any challenges that may arise. We can problem solve with you according to your specific triggers or perceived obstacles to continuing with recovery. Don’t have a treatment team? Make a list of anything you think will be challenging for you during the holiday and then create another list of how you will deal with those challenges.

Day of the Holiday

  • Nourish Your Body: Even if you have a big meal planned in the middle of the day, you still need to eat breakfast. Eating consistently throughout the day will help regulate your hunger/fullness and ensure you are able to eat enough to satisfy your body at the holiday meal. You will be less likely to binge at the meal which can trigger your eating disorder thoughts. At the holiday meal, it’s perfectly fine to deviate from your usual meal plan or meal pattern, but try to stick with choosing protein, carbohydrate, fat, and a vegetable with your main meal. Normal eating is some days eating more than our body needs, so it’s quite alright to eat more than usual at a holiday. It’s also okay if it doesn’t feel completely comfortable yet.
  • Wear Something Comfy: You should be comfortable in whatever you choose to wear to the holiday event. It’s probably not going to feel so good eating in a stressful environment if your clothes are too tight fitting.
  • Stay in the Moment: Holidays are a time for celebration and gratitude for the things we have. It can certainly be difficulty to stay in that moment when you have anxiety about food, but bringing your awareness back to what you’re grateful for can help alleviate some of the anxiety.
  • Be Mindful of Alcohol Consumption: Everyone reacts to alcohol differently and if you know it’s not helpful for you or you cannot drink it in moderation, skip the drinks during this stressful time.
  • Have a Support Person: Whether you’re with family, friends, or co-workers, try to have at least one person who can be there to support you and knows about your recovery. This person can help ensure the conversation around diets at the dinner table dies down or can help calm you down if they notice you’re looking anxious. They can also help plate your food for you if that feels too overwhelming. A support person can even be someone you contact via text or phone call if they can’t physically be there with you.
  • Self care: After the meal, you don’t have to linger at the table in front of the food if that feels like too much. Feel free to help with the dishes, play with the kids, take the dog for a walk, sit in a quiet space, or check in with your support person.

Day After the Holiday

  • Nourish your Body: No matter how much you ate at the holiday meal, you still need to eat the next day. Eating regular meals with balanced macronutrients will help ensure you stay on track with your recovery.
  • Check in: After the holiday, come back to that list of challenges you made with your team or by yourself and notice how it went overall. Were you able to manage the holiday? What was difficult? Would you do anything differently next time? It’s perfectly okay if you “messed up” or had a slight lapse during the holidays. What is important is that you don’t beat yourself up for it and let it turn into a relapse. Use any lapses in recovery as a learning experience for how you can do things differently next time. It may even mean avoiding certain holiday events that are too difficult or triggering and that’s okay too.
  • Self care: Self care should pretty much be on every list at every time. Be sure to take care of yourself after the holiday is over because you survived (until the next ones)!!

This holiday season also check out:

How to Manage A Holiday Gathering With Food Allergies/Intolerances
– Intuitive Eating Holiday Tips
How to Reduce Grocery Shopping Anxiety
Self Care Tips
– How to Set Boundaries as a Non-Dieter in Diet Culture
Preventing a Binge
Moving on After a Binge
Moving on After a Lapse in Recovery
– What is Success if Not Weight Loss
– How to Eat in Moderation (in a Non-Diety Way)

Seeking additional support with your eating disorder or disordered eating recovery? In search of an experienced eating disorder registered dietitian nutritionist in the Huntington, New York area or virtually in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut? Send Christina an email to learn more about 1:1 nutrition therapy sessions!

Published by Christina Frangione, MS, RD, CDN, RYT

Christina Frangione, MS, RD, CDN, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist serving the Long Island, New York City, and New York State areas helping clients with eating disorders and disordered eating recover their relationship with food and their body. She utilizes a Health at Every Size® approach and supports Intuitive Eating and knows that while she is the food and nutrition expert, you are the expert of your body and life.

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