We are entering that joyous time of year; the winter holidays! For many, this season is a precious time centered around family, friends, gifts, and traditions. It is a time to slow down and reflect as the evening arrives earlier and the cool air invites us inside. We swaddle ourselves in cozy clothes, sit by a fire with a mug of hot cocoa, and exchange presents and laughter with family and friends. We gather around a festive table to partake in a meal lovingly prepared for the special occasion, eyeing the table full of colorful confections. It is a season full of merriment and wonder, however, for those individuals suffering from eating disorders or body image issues, the holidays can be a time of heightened stress. But, the stress and anxiety associated with the holidays can be managed, and the holidays can still be a time of merriment. Our Director of Nutrition Services, Leigh-Ann Bamberg, has outlined several helpful ways to remain body positive during the holidays, and she has also provided guidance for loved ones so they can provide support this season to someone struggling with body image or eating disorders.

If you struggle with body image or have an eating disorder, then Bamberg suggests providing yourself with positive affirmations and reciting them to yourself consistently, especially when confronted with the stress of the holidays. A few examples of affirmations that might help alleviate holiday anxiety are, “I am worthy of recovery,” “I will practice self-kindness,” or, “I deserve happiness.” She also suggests setting boundaries with friends and family members around topics that might be difficult to discuss. You might ask your holiday party goers to refrain from making comments about diets, or making remarks like, “I will need to work out so much after eating that slice of pumpkin pie.” Perhaps most importantly, Bamberg emphasizes the need to surround yourself with a group that will uplift you. If your holiday is starting to feel less than merry, have your support group ready. Work directly with your team to discuss positive coping strategies should the holidays trigger you. Choose your media wisely! People love to highlight their holiday activities on social media, but some accounts just contribute to negative body image. Bamberg highlights a list of body positive accounts to follow on social media:

Alissa Ramsey, RD
Anna Sweeney, RD
Body BLoved
Ashlee Bennett, HAES Art therapist and counselor
Thebodylovesociety
Jennifer Rollin, ED Therapist

If you have a loved one with body image issues or an eating disorder, Bamberg has many suggestions for you to help your loved one feel supported throughout the holidays. First, simply ask your loved one what they need from you, then listen to their desires and respect the boundaries they create. Trust that your loved one is asking you to create boundaries that make them feel secure, and do your best to protect those boundaries. You can also minimize conversations centered around food, exercise, or body-related topics. Food is often the highlight of holiday festivities, so the topic of food cannot be completely avoided, but you can incorporate your loved one in the meal planning as much as possible. Sometimes being involved in the planning process can ease some stress. In lieu of discussing food, exercise or body topics, you can ask what their favorite gift has been so far, if they have any travel plans, or what is something exciting that has happened to them this year. Find ways to celebrate your loved one for things unrelated to their body. Congratulate them for recent work or school success, or remind them of the reasons why you love and enjoy them. Focus your attention on the things they do well, the things they have to look forward to, or great memories you have shared together. Ultimately, the best way to help ensure your loved one has a joyful holiday season is to simply remember that they are going through something difficult and will need your support. Recovery is an ongoing process, but your loved one will feel safe and secure with you if you offer your continued support and practice patience.

The winter holidays are such a whirlwind of both stress and excitement. It is important to practice consistent body positivity throughout the holidays to avoid potentially triggering situations, so you can focus on the fun of the season. Implementing Bamberg’s suggestions for you and your loved ones will help create a holiday environment that is joyous and full of laughter, instead of a season full of stress and anxiety. With these strategies in place, it’s time to get cozy by the fire, exchange presents, and create beautiful holiday memories that will last a lifetime!