The holidays add an additional layer of pressure on everyone, but for someone with an eating disorder they can cause an exponential increase in stress. A time meant for reflection and joy, spent with those you love, can be a battlefield of food which can lead to even further body image disturbance and urges to use symptoms. This time of year often brings about fears of uncomfortable discussions which can lead to intolerable anxiety, overwhelming urges to isolate, use symptoms, or, worse, beat yourself up for not enjoying the time spent with family and friends. For some with eating disorders the holidays pose an even more painful reminder of what they do not have. It might seem impossible to navigate all of these issues. Although each individual’s stressors are different, the following article highlights a few strategies to get through this time meant for celebration and connection.
Whether you feel isolated in a treatment center, are home alone without support, or have a list of holiday gatherings this year, try to think about what the holidays realistically mean to you. Are the holidays a meaningful time for you? Would you like to spend it with family and friends? If you are unable to spend it with those you care about, how can you make it meaningful from afar? How can you celebrate despite being uncomfortable this year? Are you (or someone else) putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to be further along in your recovery? Answering these questions can help you have a greater understanding of what you would like to achieve this season. By looking at your wishes and your reality you can to make decisions that align with your self-care goals, not just what you feel you should be doing.
If you’re alone this year, remember all feelings (including loneliness) are temporary. If you long to be with others remember you still have options, and perhaps you can make it a priority in the new year to work on building and strengthening new and healthy connections. That being said, there are plenty of people who need help and volunteering your time could be a great way to be of service to others and build new friendships. Contact local food banks, shelters, and retirement communities to see if they need any volunteers. You might offer one of your own skills – maybe play an instrument or instruct their clients on how to make a holiday craft. Also, try to think about how you can make this time of year special. Despite living alone for several years, I always put up holiday decorations and sent homemade cards to friends and family. This helped me feel a little less alone and was a little spin on self- care. If you feel removed from celebrating the holiday, how can you celebrate your recovery? Maybe you want to hang up artwork you made in treatment or letters from a friend. Perhaps you want to create your own recovery decorations. Whichever route you choose, remember that being alone this year could be an excellent time to reflect on you and what you need to strengthen and celebrate your progress in recovery.
If you’re with friends and family and you are stressed about all of the things you have on your to-do list, be honest with yourself about activities that aren’t in your best interest. Remember that although your family and friends undoubtedly would like to have you present, you aren’t the only reason they are getting together. The party will go on without you. Talk to your treatment team if you’re struggling to decide what events may be best for you to attend and which may not be. It’s 100% acceptable to decline an invitation, especially at this time of year. Everyone knows we are all busy and can’t do everything on our agenda. If you’re nervous about an upcoming event try to have a support buddy that can help hold you accountable. This could include making sure you stick to your meal plan or helping you devise an exit strategy if you feel overwhelmed. Having someone who is just a text or a nudge away is a great way to stay true to you and your recovery.
In terms of food, it’s best to have a strategy going into a party or family gathering. Try to talk to your dietician and therapist regarding any pitfalls you’re nervous about. It can be tempting to challenge yourself and try all the traditional foods of the season, but sticking to your meal plan can be very helpful in preventing urges. If you decide to challenge yourself, try to do so with support, whether that be a friend who’s “on call” via text, a dietician appointment, or simply taking some time to journal before and after your meals and snacks. Take time to reflect on what you need and what would be the most helpful for you. It’s easy to get caught up in all the different foods offered, but remember, you are working on your recovery. Sometimes you need to take a step back and be realistic about what is best for you today. You can always ask Aunt Sarah for the recipe to make her homemade specialty if you and your treatment team are concerned that it might not be the best thing for you at this time. Be true to where you are in the process of recovery.
Simply put, what can you do this year to have the best holiday possible? Do what feels right to your soul-self! Does your soul-self want to go to that holiday work party? Does your soul-self want to try that food you’ve been nervous about? Does your soul-self crave connection or creativity? Take some time to reflect on what feels right for you this year. Be true to yourself and ask for support. Remember, you don’t have to face a challenge alone! We all have something (no matter how small it may seem) to celebrate. So whether you’ll be alone or with a house full of family, take some time to check in with your soul and do the next right thing for you.
This article is written by Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia Primary Therapist Kate Funk.