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Surviving the Holidays and Reducing Food Stress

Surviving the holidays with an eating disorder or anxiety-provoking food thoughts may seem insurmountable but it can be achieved.

I spend a lot of client sessions pre-holidays discussing coping mechanisms for these occurrences and experiences. The holidays can be stressful when there is a hyperfocus on food.

Going through these scenarios ahead of time can help. 

These tips below will help reduce some of the unhealthy thoughts and maybe even help incorporate some of your fear foods during the holidays. 

Most of all, I hope you have a wonderful holiday with friends and family and know that you deserve joy and peace. 

Eat Regular Meals

Eating consistently can help keep your energy and blood sugar stable. By eating at regular intervals throughout the day, you will be better able to tune into your hunger and fullness cues

If you’re following a meal plan or guide from a treatment facility or dietitian, try to stick to it during the holidays.

Ceramic bowl with pomegranate baked oatmeal
Pomegranate Baked Oatmeal – perfect for Christmas morning!

Oftentimes, people try to skip meals or snacks to “make room for” or compensate for the holiday meals and snacks, and this does nothing but work against it.

It also perpetuates the idea that we need to compensate for our food choices (which we never do) and alter our food choices at other times. 

Bottom line: Continue to eat regular meals and snacks. Eat breakfast. Eat lunch. Don’t save up for the big meal or snack. 

Or, if you find yourself munching all day, that’s okay too. 

Be Realistic and Grounded

Be realistic about where you are in your disordered eating journey. Is it practical for you to eat everything and not have one ounce of food guilt? Probably not.

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you can speed up your journey to be where you want to be. Remember, it takes time and patience.

The holidays can be a great time to practice some of the concepts you’re working on in treatment or with your healthcare team, and reframe some of the negative thoughts about food

Hopefully, you’ve had a recent meeting with your therapist and/or treatment team and developed a plan as we head into this week. 

Set Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries may look like walking away when the conversation turns towards talking about diets, resolutions, bodies, sugar content of foods, etc. 

Or, saying something along the lines of, “I know you’re looking out for me, but I’m in a really good place with food right now and I would prefer not to talk about nutrition/health/bodies/working out/xyz.” 

We have to fight for ourselves and form those boundaries; no one else will do it for us. 

People holding wrists for support group

Is there a family member you can turn to, or even a friend you can call during these situations? Can you touch base with your therapist? These are the best times to utilize your support system. 

This website lists some numbers you can call free on the eating disorders hotline. 

Reach out to your healthy support system ahead of time. Whether it’s a group or core friends from treatment, or an online community or forum, checking in ahead of time can help with holiday stress.

Walk away if you need to. Change the topic. Don’t converse or participate in diet talk. 

Remind Yourself That The Holidays Are Temporary 

While you may feel out of control or extra anxious during the holidays, a quick reminder that the holidays don’t last year long may make you feel better. 

Nothing you eat on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day will make or break you, deteriorate your health, or even improve your health. One day is a snapshot and never tells a complete story. 

If you have a fear of trying a new food, what could make your environment more comfortable for doing so? Could it be just trying a small piece with a loved one?

Or, eating some in front of the Christmas tree or tv with some distractions present? Or maybe eating with everyone else?

Utilize Self Compassion 

Not as easy as it sounds, but so so important. Self compassion is linked to positive mental health outcomes and better self-esteem and overall health. 

What kind of voice do you find yourself speaking with? Is it harsh and critical?

For example, “you shouldn’t eat those cookies because they have so much sugar in them.”

Or, is it nurturing and supportive? “It’s okay if you ate more than one cookie. You really wanted it and it tasted good.”

Having a self compassion plan starts before the holidays by mentally preparing for those conversations. Journaling helps alot!

And then when the thoughts and behaviors start to come up, this is also a great time to utilize the self compassionate voice. 

How would you talk to a friend who was struggling in the way you are? Or a child?

sister and brother walking with arms around each other

You probably wouldn’t be harsh and judgmental, would you?

You would probably be kind, empathetic and supportive. Try to practice talking to yourself in the same way, too. 

Remind yourself that you are on a journey that takes time. And you are doing the hard things. 

Would love to hear if you have any other tips that have helped during the holidays or a stressful season of life. 

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