The holiday season can be a complicated and difficult time for those in eating disorder recovery. Stress and anxiety can increase with the presence of food and the large amount of time often spent with family members, both immediate and extended. It can also be hard for people to know the best way to support their loved ones in recovery. In order to make this holiday season a little bit more tolerable, we have created a list of dos and don’ts for those in recovery, as well as for the people who support them.
Dos and Don’ts for Those in Recovery
- Stick to your treatment plan. Just like any normal day, remember that sticking to your treatment plan is the best thing you can do.
- Reach out for support in advance. If you feel it’s what’s best for you, schedule additional appointments with your treatment team or your therapist.
- Anticipate times of stress. If you know that certain holiday gatherings will be triggering, give yourself permission not to go. By getting together with your therapist and recovery team and assessing all your events, you will be able to best figure out which might be too challenging. From there, you and your team can pick and choose which events you’ll attend or not attend.
- Practice responses to common, problematic comments. You may anticipate your family or friends saying something that will upset you. One great option for preparing for difficult comments is coming up with some responses. Choose whatever responses seem right and natural to you. Being prepared will help you feel more comfortable and confident when responding to someone.
- Plan distractions. If you know there are specific activities or situations planned that tend to make you anxious, find a way to distract yourself. This could include talking to support people, crafts, fidgets, writing, or reading.
- Take breaks when needed. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need to. Having a support person with you is a great idea because you and that person could take a walk or chat in another room if need be. Whether you take a break with someone else or by yourself, no one will judge you for it–and if they do, remember that doing what’s best for your recovery is what matters above all else.
- Have an exit plan. Even with all of these precautions and plans, you may still need to leave, and that’s perfectly okay! In cases like this, having a plan of how to best leave an uncomfortable situation is immensely helpful. If you decide that you need to leave because that’s what’s best for your recovery, do it.
- Say yes to everything. Some of us, especially people-pleasers, feel pressure to attend everything we’re invited to. You do have to attend every holiday event, play every holiday game, or help with meal preparation. Take on what you can and nothing more. It is pertinent to put your health and happiness first this holiday season.
- Give in to negative thoughts. Negative and self-critical thoughts are common symptoms of an eating disorder. Challenge those negative thoughts and be prepared to use the coping skills you’ve learned in treatment and recovery. Be kind to yourself; you are doing your best.
- Get ahead of yourself. If you are experiencing eating disorder symptoms during the holidays, it doesn’t mean that recovery isn’t possible or that you have failed. It simply means that you have hit a bump in your road to recovery and that you may need some additional help. Your treatment team, therapist, or support system is there for you; reach out to them and let them help you get back on track.
Dos and Don’ts for Those Supporting Loved Ones
- Be considerate to everyone. Even if you don’t think that any of your family members are struggling with an eating disorder, act as if they are. You can never tell who has an eating disorder by just looking at them, so it doesn’t hurt to be considerate.
- Share helpful details. Those in eating disorder recovery may need to stick to a meal plan or may experience increased anxiety when they can’t anticipate what the plan is. So make sure to be clear about what is happening at holiday gatherings and send them the holiday menu beforehand if it would be helpful for meal planning in their recovery.
- Have options. Traditionally, holidays are very food-centric, which can be triggering for those in recovery. They don’t have to be, however. To alleviate food-related stress for those in recovery, plan activities that don’t center around food, like playing games, watching a movie, or doing fun crafts.
- Practice positive communication. When you find yourself wanting to compliment those around you, make sure that those comments center around positive qualities that have nothing to do with appearance.
- Diet talk or calorie counting talk. Avoid discussing any diet you may be on, the desire to go on a diet because of all the holiday foods you’ve eaten, or just diets in general. Another good rule of thumb as a support person is to avoid any talk of calories. Try to remind yourself that all food has value, even if it’s considered “unhealthy” by diet culture. Avoiding diet and calorie talk is important as a support person because that talk can be very triggering for someone experiencing or recovering from an eating disorder.
- Body talk. Do not, under any circumstances, talk about someone’s body. If you are unsure of what to say to someone, try talking about personality traits, recent achievements, or your life in general. Just like diet and calorie talk, body talk of any kind can be upsetting for someone experiencing or recovering from an eating disorder. Many individuals with eating disorders are struggling with food and their bodies. Because of that, comments about those things can have a larger negative impact than many realize.
- Be the food police. Do not comment on what food people are eating or what/how much they have on their plate. You never know how triggering it could be for someone experiencing or recovering from an eating disorder to receive comments about how little or how much food they are eating. It is best to keep those thoughts to yourself.
- Publicly discuss someone’s eating disorder without their permission. If a loved one has decided to share with you that they are recovering from an eating disorder, don’t assume that they have shared it with others. Make it okay for them to talk about what they’re going through and respect if they don’t want to discuss it. It is pertinent that they get to choose whether or not they talk about it. If you share that your loved one has an eating disorder with someone that they did not approve of, you may put your loved one in an uncomfortable situation that is detrimental to their recovery. Just like with anything else, everyone has a right to choose how, when, and with whom they want to share their story.
We know that the holidays are a stressful time for those in recovery. We encourage you to reach out for help if you need it. There is nothing wrong with needing support to get through a difficult time. And for those who do not have experience with an eating disorder, stick to the dos and don’ts in this article so that if your loved one is suffering with one, they may have a better experience because of you. Everyone deserves to have the best holiday possible.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, we strongly encourage you to reach out to Veritas Collaborative and get help. You can give us a call us at 1-855-875-5812 or complete our online form.