For those who are overcoming years of disordered eating, the holidays can be a real trial. Food is front and center at almost every celebration or tradition during these months. Those confronted with a barrage of calorie-rich foods and lots of extra tensions, many struggle against retreating into former patterns of restriction, purging and extreme anxiety. Some may have made it through past holidays with the help of laxative and diet pills. The urge to resort to those coping mechanisms once again can be great. Instead, many experts suggest preparing a new strategy for the time between the candy-craze of Halloween and the midnight suppers of New Year’s Eve. The new strategies for handling food challenges during the holiday season could include any or all of the following suggestions:
- Eat a quiet meal with your family before attending a party or event. This will help to diffuse any temptation to binge once you face the buffet table.
- Always have a support person close at hand – either in person or on your phone’s speed dial. Just having a trusted someone to whom you can confess your momentary struggles can help get you through a difficult situation. Don’t let them allow you to disappear into the bathroom. Give them permission to monitor your plate.
- Control how you think about celebrations. Be sure to focus on people and relationships rather than focusing on the food. Think of parties and meals as opportunities to connect with others rather than as food conflicts.
- Resist “good” and “bad” assignations for food. Think instead in terms of moderate portion sizes. Holiday food is special and is meant to be enjoyed. An appropriate amount of even high calorie food is not the end of recovery. It is healthy relating with food.
- Try to control the stress in your life by controlling your calendar. The months between October and January can easily run away with activity if we don’t assume the reins. Too many functions, too much self-induced pressure and too little down time can lead to anxiety and relapse. Controlling the calendar can be a way to keep control of your recovery.
- Stay in touch with your nutritionist and/or your counselor. Talking to the dietician about your food concerns is a healthy way to cope with holiday pressure. If family travel demands mean that you must miss meeting with your counselor, be sure to talk by phone, email or Skype. Accountability is a key toward success.
The holiday season can be stressful for everyone. For the person working to maintain recovery from an eating disorder the challenges can be unique, but they are not insuperable.