And Then There Were the Holidays… (December 2022)
For many of us, the holidays bring up a mix of emotions. You might have feelings of excitement at the same time you struggle with resentment, anxiety or concerns about navigating holiday meals and other food-focused gatherings.
Holiday foods can be delicious, as people pull out their favorite family recipes or make festive new dishes for the first time. For many people, the holidays are a food fest, while for others the holidays are a time of loneliness—especially when they don’t have family, have negative memories of family gatherings, or have isolated themselves from friends and family they do have.
People who struggle with eating disorders often experience anxiety, fear and shame when the holidays approach. Because there is such an emphasis on food, being “merry” and going to parties—even more so now as we put the pandemic and its isolation behind us—the holidays can escalate the usual food concerns experienced with an eating disorder.
This time of the year is difficult for those who are in the trenches of their eating disorder, as well as for those who are working on their recovery. Year after year, I’m asked: “How can I get through the holidays?” and “How can I make sure my loved ones don’t trigger me during this difficult time of the year?”
- Set boundaries. Perhaps it’s committing to a Hanukkah brunch and telling yourself that you can leave after one hour, instead of cancelling last minute. It might be sitting with a supportive family member or bringing a friend with you. If you set boundaries, and get pushback, consider this: people who don’t like boundaries are usually those who lack them in their own lives.
- Show yourself compassion. I know what I am asking is not easy. It’s hard. Very hard. However, showing up—while telling yourself, “I will find the positives at the holiday event”—is the first step in learning to speak back to your eating disorder voice. It may also be helpful to take a deep breath and tell yourself that this difficult moment will pass.
- When working with family members, I suggest that they don’t ask their loved one with an eating disorder if they want to eat, or ask, “Do you want more?” These questions only add to the social pressure of looks and eye rolls that family members and or friends may give to someone who is eating or not eating a certain food.
- Commit to positive self-talk and remind yourself of the true meaning of the holidays—and that the food and celebrating are only parts of it.
- Praise yourself for your victories, no matter how small. It’s not about making drastic changes—it’s about attempting something new so you can begin re-developing your “soul self” (the person we were born as). When someone develops an eating disorder, the eating disorder voice takes over and hijacks the “soul self.”
Finally, remember that there is nothing wrong with asking your team for additional support over the holidays. This may mean phone calls, texts, additional sessions and role-playing various holidays events. Asking for support is a sign of strength. You got this!