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Navigating food and body challenges over the Holidays

The holiday season can offer a chance to connect with those that we love and celebrate traditions and make new ones. The season can be extra exciting or extra stressful, depending on your feelings about food. Whether you are recovering from an eating disorder, disordered eating, or chronic dieting, the holiday season may present challenges and obstacles. The holiday season often has increased emphasis on food, social pressures, and diet talk. The reality is that we live in a diet culture and will interact with people who might be judgmental about food choices while also making unhelpful comments about their own or others’ food choices and body image. 

Here are just a few strategies to support you through the holiday season while staying on track with your recovery.

Mentally prepare yourself and set out a cope ahead plan. Start discussions with your support team (therapist, dietitian or supportive individuals in your life) and strategize about the holidays. If you know that certain foods, events, or individuals have been triggering in the past, set out a cope ahead plan for how you can navigate these challenges. The plan can include actions and skills that you can engage with before, during, and after.  

Plan how to deal with unwanted food or body/ weight comments. Unfortunately within the culture that we live in, popular topics often might center around diet or weight-related discussions, and knowing how to respond will be important. To not be put off guard it can be helpful to plan and practice responses to comments. Here are some ways that you can respond to diet or bodyweight comments:

1- Change the subject. Create a list of go-to topics that you can use when you need to change the subject.

“Did you know …” or “Let’s talk about …”

2- Ask THEM a question. If someone makes a comment about what you are choosing like “should you be eating that” or “You are skinny and can eat that” dont respond directly to the comments and shift the focus to them. Here is just an ideas of what you could say:

“This is my favorite flavor/ cookie/ festive food. What do you enjoy this time of year?”

3- Set boundaries. Unfortunately others might not be aware of the work that you are doing in recovery or to support your body. A comment like “Have you gained/ lost weight” might be really triggering so if you feel able, set a strong boundary. 

“I would prefer it if you don’t make comments about my body. It is not very helpful to me.”

4. Affirm that you are not open to commentary.

“Actually, do you know what, I am doing well and have a care team that is supporting me. If i ever need your advice I will ask.”

5. Excuse yourself and take a timeout. If you find you are getting overwhelmed, or just need a break you can step away and take a pause. It is always an option to excuse yourself from a situation and take a few minutes to step away, take a few breaths and or connect with a support person.  

Self care is key. Self care is crucial all days of the year but even more so during eating disorder recovery and especially during the holiday season. No matter how busy your social calendar gets, aim to carve out a minimum of 20min per day to take care of yourself and be intentional about these activities. Try and make a list of things you like and could do during the holidays to prioritize you, this list will be unique to you!. This might include: taking a walk, reading a book, taking a bath/ longer shower, doing some gentle stretching, watching your favorite movie, breathing activities, taking a nap ect.. Be intentional about these actions.  

Be Kind to Yourself. If you eat more than you had planned, binged, purged, or restricted, do not dwell. Once you notice, make a plan to start again with your regular patterns at your next meal/ snack. Remember recovery is not linear, it’s like a rollercoaster with ups and downs. Through this process you are learning positive coping skills and allowing yourself to make mistakes and respond in a compassionate and supportive way. Remember that letting go of disordered eating patterns is hard work that takes time and lots of patience.

May these tips offer you some added support and guidance to help you successfully navigate this holiday season. 



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