The holidays are a wonderful—and wonderfully stressful—time of year for all of us, but the stress is amplified for anyone struggling with an eating disorder. Numerous celebrations with particularly indulgent food and potentially socially stressful situations with friends and family is a lot to manage!
On the surface an eating disorder manifests itself with unhealthy eating behaviors. But underneath, those behaviors carry with them important meanings about relationships and implications regarding emotional health. While I cannot possibly address all of these complicated issues in one blog post, I have created a list of tips to address the different facets clients need support with during the holiday season.
If you are going to a holiday party in the evening, ignore the traditional dieting advice to reduce your intake during the day. Eat as normally as possible so that you are ready for a meal but not starving when you arrive to the party. "Primal hunger" triggers most people to overeat; to avoid the feeling of being overly hungry and out of control, make sure your hunger needs are met during the day.
- If you are particularly nervous about what food is being served, see if you can talk to the hostess prior to the event and ask about the menu. This will give you some time to come up with a game plan or work with your treatment team to develop a food strategy for the evening.
- Remember that a part of normal eating is eating things that simply taste good, even if they have no nutritional value! Ask any dietitian and they will tell you that eating foods for fun and flavor can be a part of any balanced diet.
- Part of recovering from an eating disorder is learning to set boundaries. By nature, most people who struggle with an eating disorder give away too much of themselves. This year, you can give yourself the gift of saying "no." No, you do not have to attend every party. And no, you do not have to stay the whole evening. Consider leaving a party early, then going home for a bubble bath to unwind. Before the holiday season is in full swing, think about one way you can lessen the stress of your calendar by saying no.
- If you have family members or friends who know about your eating disorder, enlist their help. They can take over certain tasks or assignments that you don't feel up to doing. For instance, have a friend call the hostess about the menu if you don't feel comfortable. Ask your husband to buy a pre-prepared treat if you feel too overwhelmed to prepare food for the party. You don't have to do it all yourself!
- Give the gift of self-care this season rather than neglecting yourself. Get creative! This can include buying your favorite scented candle, making time to watch your favorite holiday movie, or even hiring a cleaning crew to come in for a deep cleaning session if you don't have regular help with your home. There are endless possibilities for any budget. If you believe that self-care is indulgent and unnecessary, I will strongly disagree with you! Recovery is, in essence, learning the art of self-care.
- Sleep is your ally and best friend. Sleep will help you ward off illness and keep your emotions more balanced. It also keeps your body functioning at its best. It is a precious asset, so hold on to it with all your might, even when the calendar gets packed!
I hope this blog post will help you embrace the true purposes of this holiday season: connecting with loved ones and celebrating with gratitude. You deserve it.