With the abundance of food, having to eat in front of others, and navigating difficult familial relationships, the holiday season can be immensely difficult for anyone living or recovering from an eating disorder. This year’s holiday season presents new challenges, as it is possible that you have not seen your family members for a longer period of time than usual. After what was another emotional and isolating year for many, our bodies may feel or be different for a variety of reasons, including major changes in lifestyle, as well as anxiety.
According to Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist and Certified Dietitian Hilmar Wagner, there are four key aspects of successfully surviving the holiday season while in eating disorder recovery. His method for a successful holiday is called P.R.E.P., and we will delve into each step of preparation he has outlined in our article below.
P – Plan
One of the most important steps you can take to improve your holiday experience in recovery is creating a structured plan. Seek insight and support from your provider team and those close to you while making your plan. Wagner recommends considering the following areas:
Identify what events, gatherings, and situations have been difficult in the past. If they occur again this year, what will help you handle them? It is essential to remember that this can include not putting yourself in that situation, minimizing your exposure, or ensuring that you have your support people surrounding you. “Be clear as possible on the details of an upcoming event – how long will it last, who will be there, what food will/will not be available, and what the expectations are while you’re there,” explains Wagner. “Make sure you will be able to meet your meal plan or your body’s needs if the event falls over a meal or snack time.”
Anticipate situations that give you stress. Thinking of possible scenarios that could give you high stress gives you the greatest ability to handle it. Stressors are inevitable and sometimes unavoidable, but you can have a practiced response ready, including coping skills you have learned in recovery, and create an escape plan or fallback plan if necessary.
Think of alternate activities if needed. Unfortunately, the holidays can tend to focus heavily on food. If the emphasis on food is something that triggers you, suggesting other activities or starting new traditions can be a great way to pull some of the attention away from food!
R – Routine
Once you formulate a plan – stick to it! You can never be too prepared. Having a consistent routine can be just what you need in order to survive the stress caused by the hectic and unpredictable holiday season. Hilmar also encourages people to focus on what they can control. “Keep to your meal plan if you follow one, having regularly planned (and eaten!) meals and snacks set the base for a well-regulated physical system and mental/emotional state,” he states. Consistently getting the proper amount of sleep, as well as maintaining a moderate movement routine can help immensely when trying to cope with anything the holidays throw your way. Avoiding, or limiting, troublesome stimulants or food/beverages is also important.
Focus on the overall goal. Inevitably, there are going to be things that get in the way of your routine. But getting bogged down by every little thing that doesn’t go according to plan will take you away from your larger recovery goals. Focusing on your overall objective instead of any deviations will help you stay on track.
E – Express Yourself
Don’t suffer in silence. Letting your support people and providers know how you’re feeling during this triggering season is encouraged. Asking for what you need and not assuming that others know what you need is so important. The more honest you can be, the more helpful others can be for you!
Lay down boundaries. Setting boundaries in recovery is also important. There is no need to feel ashamed or guilty for saying “no” if you feel overwhelmed or feel like you don’t have the support or resources you need to stay safe in your recovery. In order to avoid getting trapped in eating disorder patterns, it is pertinent to contemplate what barriers or difficulties may come up and what actions you need to take.
Celebrate your achievements. Don’t forget that preparing for the worst is just as important as celebrating the good things that happen. “It’s not just about letting people know what you are struggling with but sharing your successes, insights, and small day-to-day victories as well,” explains Hilmar. “Allow yourself to take in and internalize your strengths and abilities.”
P – Pause
Take a pause when needed. The chaotic nature of the holidays can make us feel ungrounded and overwhelmed. Try hitting pause to give yourself the room to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling. Listen to your body, as well as your feelings, and ask yourself what is best for you at that moment.
Prioritize self-care. Prioritizing your physical, mental, and emotional needs when there are competing demands is essential in recovery in general, but especially during the holidays. “Grounding or centering exercises, as well as calming, relaxing routines and rituals, can be especially useful when things get busy or in times of greater activation or anxiety,” says Hilmar.
Embrace mindfulness. “Being as present or mindful as possible will help you take the most supportive action when you are feeling stressed or when the eating disorder thoughts get loud or overbearing,” states Hilmar. Being present in the moment helps you not to dwell on what you regret in the past or what you fear in the future, but instead can give you a new appreciation for the good things.
We hope that these tips and strategies, along with others that you or your support system identifies as helpful, will make your holiday season the best it can be!