Not Feeling Full of Thanks or Very Merry this Holiday Season?

Not Feeling Full of Thanks or Very Merry this Holiday Season?

I don’t know this for a fact, but I can guess the person who wrote the song “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” didn’t struggle with an eating disorder or get overwhelmed by all the food that holiday get-togethers typically offer. In my experience working as an eating disorder dietitian, I have not met one single client who didn’t get stressed about food around the holidays. So if you are not overcome with an attitude of gratitude or feeling jolly, know that you’re not alone. After all, our culture uses food as a form of connection (which is definitely NOT a bad thing) and the holidays are the ultimate time for connecting with our loved ones.

Holiday gatherings are stressful enough for someone struggling with an eating disorder, but throw in a global pandemic and things might just be ever so slightly more anxiety provoking. There’s a good chance that your holiday plans look differently this year due to COVID-19. Nonetheless, it never hurts to have a holiday food game plan whether you will just be celebrating with other members of your household, doing something virtually, or having a socially distanced get-together. Here are some steps you can take to feel more confident or prepared for eating at holiday “gatherings” this season.

1.Plan Ahead

Don’t plan on spontaneity when it comes to holiday eating, unless this is a specific goal you have with your dietitian. It’s all too easy to see a countertop covered in different foods and get distressed. Often feeling overwhelmed can trigger unhealthy eating disorder behaviors (i.e. restricting, binging, compensating, etc.). Rely on your meal plan structure throughout the day. You can stay on track by applying the general rule of thumb: +/- 30 minutes for snacks and +/- 60 minutes for meals to maintain some flexibility as needed. And no, you cannot skip meals/snacks in effort to “save up calories” for a big meal, this is ALWAYS a bad idea. Eat all meals and snacks in your meal plan in the correct portions, even if you need to stick with “safer” food choices just for this day. Be willing to challenge yourself (if even just slightly) when it comes to your main meal. Talk to your dietitian to see if incorporating at least one fear food for the main meal or dessert would be right for you.

  1. Utilize Your Support System

Depending on your family situation, holidays can just be outright tough even without mentioning the food piece. Make sure you have someone in your corner, whether that be a supportive relative or friend. Inform your support person of your eating game plan to help keep you accountable and help you navigate emotions or tough feelings that may come up. If you and your dietitian planned for some food exposures, engagement with others can be super helpful tool to get through them. If you’re too distracted to practice mindful eating and can’t seem to complete the exposure with family members or friends around, grab your support person (or text/call/Facetime/zoom them if they aren’t with you) and go somewhere quiet so you can successfully complete your planned food challenge.

  1. Be Realistic

Different aspects of the holidays get to all of us. Go into your holiday plans as optimistically as possible, while also being honest with yourself. Know that you might feel overwhelmed by the food, and that’s ok. Remind yourself almost everyone struggling with an eating disorder is feeling the same way, but you don’t have to feel like this forever. By putting in the hard work and following your treatment team’s recommendations, recovery is possible. Try not to let negative thoughts rob you of being able to enjoy the holidays with your loved ones, even if they do look a little different this year. And who knows, if you put in the work maybe by the next holiday season you will be in a totally different place (hopefully not in quarantine) and be more at peace with food and ready to tackle holiday gatherings without food anxiety.

These are just a few tips you can use to try to navigate holiday “get-togethers” this year.  Remember, every single person is working at their own pace toward recovery. Your team knows what is best for you as an individual and is working with YOU to set goals specific to YOUR recovery. Always follow team recommendations. Each persons’ journey is so different and trusting your team is always the way to go!