The holidays are upon us, and with the holiday season often comes a run of family gatherings and potluck meals. While getting together with friends and loved ones is something many look forward to each year, for someone in recovery from disordered eating, the events of the holiday season can quickly lead to stress and anxiety. It is not uncommon to worry about being part of the holiday festivities without sacrificing your recovery. The holiday season can be stressful for people of all ages trying to stay focused on their recovery. The dinners, sweets, and buffet spreads accompanying family gatherings can be challenging for anyone to manage. However, it is essential to remember that it is indeed possible to attend (and enjoy) family events and other holiday functions without putting your recovery at risk. By following a few simple strategies, you can navigate the holidays while staying on track.

Know What Your Triggers Are and How to Manage Them

Triggers are the people, places, events, or situations that may lead you to relapse. During the holiday season, it is essential to understand your triggers and know how they could affect you. When you know what your triggers are, it is possible to plan how to safely and effectively manage them. Preparing ahead of time for the inevitable challenges that holiday gatherings may pose can help you maintain your recovery while attending special events. In addition to pre-planning, it is also important to call upon the relapse prevention skills you learned as part of therapy. These can also play a vital role in helping you navigate triggering situations.

Make a Plan to Manage Eating Challenges

Another essential part of avoiding relapse during the holidays is careful planning. Ensuring you have a plan that you can successfully follow will help you be accountable and provide much-needed structure. If you are planning to attend a family gathering or another holiday function, ask questions of the event organizer. It is helpful to know where and when the event will occur. You will also want to know what type of food will be offered and what time meals will be served. Knowing these important facts about the day will help you avoid any dietary pitfalls that may impact your eating schedules or diet restrictions. Knowing what and when you will eat ahead of time will go a long way in helping reduce stress and anxiety about meals.

Also, if you follow a particular meal schedule or plan as part of your recovery, don’t abandon that during the holidays. If you plan on attending a large family dinner, it is essential to still eat a balanced breakfast and lunch to avoid mealtime struggles when dinner arrives. In addition, if you are concerned about the availability of foods that feel “safe” for you to eat, offer to bring a dish to the gathering to share. This will help ensure you have access to the foods you need to choose recovery.

Have a Support Structure in Place

While normal day-to-day interactions may seem more manageable with each passing day, the stressors of the holiday season may require a more robust circle of support than a typical day. It is important to make sure you have someone (or a group of someone’s) you can reach out to when faced with triggering circumstances. Support is a vital aspect of helping you stay “safe” during the holiday season. Your support circle can also help you by providing guidance at gatherings and meals.

Your support person or group is also essential for things other than mealtime support. You can turn to them for help maintaining and adhering to your meal plan. They can also help you by providing an “excuse” to leave a potentially a triggering situation or avoid unhealthy (and triggering) conversation topics like dieting, physical appearance, and food. Many hotlines and peer support groups are available if you do not have a healthy support system or need someone to talk to during the holiday season. Although these options may not feel ideal, they may be a better alternative than trying to manage the holiday season without potentially vital support.

Be Kind to Yourself

Anxiety, fear, and panic may happen if you allow yourself to eat foods you believe you should not. If you do, it is OK, and it is vital to avoid self-criticism and negative self-talk. Do not punish yourself. Instead, move on and remember these feelings will pass and it is ok to sit in the discomfort. The safest and most effective way to maintain recovery without impacting your psychological health is to monitor your hunger cues and check-in with yourself during meals. In the end, the most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself.

Family gatherings and potluck meals can be challenging to manage for someone in recovery from disordered eating. But, the idea of spending time with family and friends during the holidays does not need to increase your concerns or stress. By planning ahead and ensuring you have a source of positive support to help you manage potential challenges, you can enjoy these gatherings without impacting your recovery. If you need a little extra help to manage holiday events, contact us at Magnolia Creek to learn more about our eating disorder treatment center for women.