The holiday season is often seen as a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness. However, seeing family and being in situations revolving around food can be difficult for many. It can bring up unresolved issues with family and friends as well as the anxiety and stress of having to navigate food related holidays.
Whether you’re actively struggling with an eating disorder or in recovery, food related holidays can be incredibly stressful. First, many people find that their schedules for those days become shifted; meaning that if your schedule has helped you cope suddenly you may not be able to rely on it in the same way. Additionally, many individuals find that they are in the habit of relying on “safe foods,” and holiday food often do not fit into that category. Further, people are asking about your recovery, if they know, or just asking how you are, and this assumes that there is no stress within your family. And on top of all of that, you’re supposed to be happy all the time, because, well, it’s the holiday after all! So, what do you do?!
Five Tips to Manage Mental Health and Eating Disorders During the Holidays:
1. Prioritize Self-Care: Make sure that you have what you need to prioritize self-care. Make a plan with peers or other family members to take breaks, create space for support groups if you are attending them, keep your journal or other coping skills easily accessible. You do not have to give up all the things that sustain you because you may be traveling or your schedule may be changing.
2. Plan Ahead: Prepare for holiday gatherings by setting realistic expectations and having a plan in place. Discuss plans ahead of time with a trusted family member or friend. It’s ok to be spontaneous with food if that’s where you are, it’s also completely ok to plan out meals and snacks if that’s what you need to do; it’s about your recovery and success. Make sure you have foods with which you are comfortable (and maybe something to challenge yourself if you are in the right space). Know where you are going to go if you need to take a break, or call someone for support. How long will you be visiting relatives/friends if you are going somewhere? It’s also ok to have an escape plan; i.e. drive yourself if possible, so you have an option to leave if things become overwhelming.
3. Seek Support: Discuss the holidays now in therapy if you are going. Reach out for support early so that you are prepared. You don’t have to do this one your own!
4. Intuitive Eating: If you are in a space to practice intuitive eating (which not everyone will be; and it’s OK if you are not) Pay attention to hunger cues, allow yourself to enjoy food and ditch the diet mentality. You are allowed to eat when you are not hungry because you enjoy something, you are also allowed to stop and save things for later, or stop all together, if you are no longer hungry. You do not have to gorge on food, you can take leftovers and ask for a recipe to make something later if you enjoyed it.
5. Establish Boundaries: Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and say no when necessary. You are not obligated to attend every event or fulfill every holiday tradition. Prioritize your well-being and do what feels right for you.
The holidays, while a fun time, can be difficult. We hope these tips help make it more manageable!