Being in eating disorder recovery can add an extra layer of anxiety to all the busyness of the holidays. After all, what other time of year combines tons of food, irregular meals, parties with expectations to look your best, and opportunities for judgmental comments from the aunts you haven’t seen for 3 years? It can feel like a minefield. We’re here to give you a few tips for navigating this beautiful, and sometimes stressful, season while maintaining all the progress you’ve made in eating disorder recovery.
Remember What Recovery Means to You
This one is simple, but not necessarily easy. Remember why you’re in recovery. Maybe it was to get your relationships back. Maybe it was because of all the ways ED was making your mental health suffer. Maybe it’s because your health was in serious danger. Whatever the reason, bring it to mind now. Remember why you’re here, and why it has been worth it to come this far.
Now, let’s think about particular triggers and old ED messages that can come up. These are just a few examples.
If you’re in recovery from Anorexia, you may need to remind yourself that it’s okay to eat and that it’s okay to indulge sometimes.
If you’re in recovery from Bulimia, you may need to remind yourself that you don’t have to punish yourself for eating.
If you’re in recovery from Binge Eating Disorder, you may need to remind yourself that food can be both nourishing and enjoyable, but it does not have to be a coping skill.
If you’re in recovery from Orthorexia, you may need to remind yourself that there are no bad foods.
Think about these reminders as they relate to your unique recovery. Use this as a mantra during the holidays!
Use the 3 P’s: Predict, Prepare, Practice
Knowing that holiday events could be triggering for a variety of reasons, it’s important to give yourself time to process. I like to use 3 Ps for anxiety to prepare for stressful events!
Predict: predict what could come up at this particular event. Maybe it’s a family event, and you already know certain people are going to make unhelpful or judgmental comments to you. Maybe it’s a work party, and you have a few coworkers who tend to use peer pressure around what’s acceptable. Think about the likely triggers beforehand, so you can be ready to challenge them.
Prepare: make a plan to mitigate the triggers you’ve thought about. Maybe you just need an exit strategy if needed. Perhaps you can plan to be there for part of the event, but not the whole thing. Maybe you can bring a supportive date or friend, or you could ask your partner to run interference for you. You may want to give yourself mental preparation time before the event, as well as decompression time after the event. We’ll talk about some ideas for that later in this post! It’s possible that you just need a few boundary phrases in your back pocket to use as needed. If you do have someone coming with you, share the plan with them so they can help.
Practice: Now, it’s time to practice your plan. Have a few boundary phrases? Practice saying them out loud, preferably to someone supportive who is helping you. Here are a few ideas:
“I don’t think what’s on my plate is really that important.”
“There are so many things we could talk about other than my body.”
“I’m not comfortable with diet talk. What shows have you been watching lately?”
“I know you mean well, but I don’t need to hear comments on my appearance.”
If your plan involves an exit strategy, decide when that strategy needs to be implemented. Is it at a certain time? Or if something in particular happens? Make sure you know what will be most helpful ahead of time. When you’re in the midst of anxiety and stress or feeling triggered, it’s going to be harder for your brain to formulate a plan. If you already have one ready, it’s a lot easier to follow through!
Ideas for Decompression Time
If part of your plan involves decompression or processing time after the event, there are several ways you can bring yourself back to your center.
First, just notice how you’re feeling after the event. There is no wrong answer here. It’s okay if you’re overwhelmed, stressed, triggered, wanting to engage in unhealthy coping skills, depressed, anxious, or angry. Perhaps part of you is also feeling accomplished or successful that you made it through. Any and all of these responses are okay! Notice your thoughts and emotions without judging them.
Once you’re aware of how you’re feeling, consider what you might need in those moments. If you’re more stressed or anxious afterward, perhaps you could benefit from relaxation exercises or listening to a guided meditation. Maybe the event just really drained you, and you need to go to sleep! It could also be helpful to celebrate afterward. If you made it through a triggering event, celebrate that with supportive people. This is hard work, and you deserve to feel proud of yourself! Maybe you need to get your mind off triggers. You could call a friend, watch a funny movie, listen to your favorite podcast, or go on a walk, just for a few examples.
If you’re noticing that the event didn’t go as well as you hoped, and you’re feeling ashamed, embarrassed, or self-judging, come back to the very beginning: why are you in recovery? Why is this worth it? Eating disorder recovery isn’t linear. There are ups and downs, successes and mistakes. You aren’t perfect, because perfection is impossible. It’s okay if today wasn’t the best day. Remember how far you’ve come.
Identify Your Professional Supports
For those days when it’s extra hard, it’s important to know who your professional supporters are. This could include a therapist, a support group, a helpline, a dietitian, a coach, or any other number of helpful people. Because many people take time off during the holidays, it’s a good idea to ask your professional support for a back-up plan, should you need extra help while they’re out of the office.
If you’re looking for more resources, these are some great ones to check out:
The Eating Disorder Recovery Podcast - talks about topics such as health at every size, body and nutrition neutrality, and more
The Recovery Warriors App - helps you track meals, emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Their website also includes a podcast and resources for support
Recovery Record - an app to help with meal logs, meal plans, and coping skills
Dietitian Central - to help you find a Health at Every Size and/or eating disorder specialized dietitian near you
Intuitive Eating Counselor Directory - to find an intuitive eating certified counselor near you
Find a HAES Practitioner - includes doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, and therapists
Find an Eating Disorder Therapist - includes therapists and treatment centers
Rock Recovery - therapy groups and support groups
Eating Disorder Foundation - list of support groups and other resources
7 Cups of Tea - free 24/7 chat
NEDA helpline - phone, text, and chat helpline specific to eating disorder recovery
Remember: you are worth your recovery! I hope these tips help you have a more restful, fun, and fulfilling holiday season. If you are struggling with recovery from your ED during this stressful and busy season, the psychologists at North Berkeley Counseling are here to support you. We offer in-person therapy in Berkeley, California, as well as online throughout California, Florida, Virginia, and Hawaii. Book your first session today!