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How to Prepare for the Holidays With an Eating Disorder, Pt. 1

By: Zana Van Der Smissen

(TW: Eating Disorders. This article does contain content that might be triggering for some. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, please step away from the article and take time for yourself or reach out for help at Symmetry Counseling)

The holidays are a time of year for cold weather, Christmas music and of course, food. Food is the main event for most families whether or not it is preparing as a family, doing it potluck style or arguing about leftovers, food is a main topic of conversation. It can be a stressful time for most people but those who struggle with their relationship with food have commonly called it a “nightmare.” With the talk around food, diets and needing to exercise to get certain holiday weight off, it is understandable that those who suffer with an eating disorder have a difficult time being around the Thanksgiving and Christmas table. So how can you prepare for the holidays if you do have an ED? And how can family and friends best support a loved one at this time of year?

“The best thing you can do if you know that you will find yourself faced with these types of pressures is to be prepared” says Dawn Delgado from the Center of Discovery (2021). In order to plan for these holidays coming up, here are some ideas of where to get started:

  • Create a list with names of your support system
  • Talk with your counselor about coping strategies (short and long term)
  • Create a plan for the upcoming events/ schedule
  • Focus on what you enjoy about the holidays – what brings you good memories?
  • Prepare on setting certain boundaries
  • Be self-compassionate if things don’t work out as planned

Creating a list with names of your support system can look like who you might be able to approach at the holiday event that can be considered ‘safe’ or someone who you can text or call when you feel intrusive thoughts coming up for you. A safe person can be classified as someone who might not bring up appearance, weight, diet and foods during the conversation. However, ultimately it is up to you who you feel comfortable with. Coping strategies are similar in how every person is going to have their own set of tools that will work for them. Whether that includes Cognitive Behavioral techniques, distress tolerance skills or mindfulness, find what works for you and have them in your back pocket for when triggers might occur. 

When creating a plan for upcoming events, find what you think you are able to do in a certain amount of time. For example, if going to two different Thanksgiving events is too overwhelming then how can we create a plan where you are able to connect with others but ensure that you feel safe and comfortable? Checking in with yourself is really important during this time of the year to ensure that you are not spreading yourself too thin or causing yourself more stress than needed. There will be points where stress or anxiety might come knocking and that’s when focusing on joy or reframing into positives can be really powerful.

Setting boundaries for yourself is easier said than done. Most of the time it means stepping out of our comfort zone to let those around us know what we need. So checking in with yourself around what you are needing and wanting out of this holiday season is something that is important to do beforehand. Ensure that your needs are aligning well with your values and go from there. Certain boundaries could look like family members talking about their diets around you and you setting that boundary by asking them if you could switch up the conversation. It could also look like setting a boundary around where the line is when things become triggering and you need to leave the event for your own mental health. Again, boundaries look different for everyone so think about what would be the best for you before going into the holidays. 

Finally, holidays are unpredictable. You can’t control what people will say or do or what the environment will be like. So be compassionate with yourself if it doesn’t go as expected or your plans/preparations don’t go as planned. This is a really hard time of year so acknowledging that will allow you to reset your expectations. Now, if things do become very overwhelming or feels like too much during this time period, reach out to your counselor and coordinate what you could do in that moment. As always, if it is an emergency and intrusive thoughts are becoming too powerful, please call 9-1-1. 

Christianson, D. (2021). 5 Tips for Coping with an Eating Disorder During the Holidays. Center For Discovery.

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