It’s no surprise that the holidays can be difficult for people living with an eating disorder. The stress of attending social events, seeing family and friends that you may not have seen in a while, and navigating situations and experiences that so often revolve around food can feel overwhelming for many individuals doing their best to remain on the path toward recovery.

To help loved ones better understand and be supportive in these situations, and to let those who are experiencing these emotions know that they are not alone, we reached out to some individuals in our partial hospitalization programs at Walden Behavioral Care to share their insights on coping with an eating disorder during the holidays.

Below are the tips that our amazing patients provided:

  1. Find new holiday traditions that don’t include food. “We can still enjoy the holidays, but we need to find new ways to enjoy them. The lights are so beautiful during the holidays. My family and I have started going around together in a van and looking at all the beautiful lights.”
  2. Decorate a gingerbread house. “I don’t want to completely separate myself from food but would feel more comfortable if I was interacting with food in a ‘safe’ setting. I can use my creative skills to decorate a gingerbread house while also practicing being around food without having to be focused on eating it. The fun of making a gingerbread house is all in the creativity!”
  3. Bring a platter of food to the gathering that you know you feel comfortable eating. “I know that it’s important to expose myself to different foods that may not feel ‘safe,’ but holiday gatherings are hard for me. Instead of worrying all night about what is going to be available for me to eat, I’ll know that I have something that I will eat, and I can better focus on enjoying myself and the company.”
  4. Find a support person at the gathering who is ‘there’ for you. “I’ve found that it is really comforting to know that there is at least one person at a holiday gathering that I know will be there to support me if I’m feeling overwhelmed by negative thoughts or feelings. I tell my friend what they can do to be helpful beforehand, and when I’m feeling like using a behavior, I let them know and they can help me to use a skill or distract me.”
  5. Make cue cards of answers to questions that you will likely get asked. “It’s helpful for me to feel prepared in advance for questions people might ask at a family event. I often worry about how I’ll react to certain questions about my eating disorder, the way I look, my eating habits/behaviors or treatment, so having answers to these uncomfortable questions makes me feel more at ease during these gatherings.”
  6. Make a list of helpful distractions to minimize disordered thoughts. “I use my phone as my go-to distraction to keep my thoughts from spiraling. If I’m feeling an urge to use a behavior or feeling uncomfortable, I take a few minutes alone and find an article that is completely unrelated to what I’m experiencing and that usually helps a lot. After I am able to clear my head, I am able to go back to the party.
  7. Have some self-compassion. “In treatment, we learn a lot about giving ourselves a break. The eating disorder often makes us believe that we are less-than or should be ‘better.’ I know that I can’t be perfect and when I think in all-or-nothing terms it makes giving myself some grace really difficult. All we can be is our best in that moment and we have to learn to accept and be okay with that.”

Whatever your plans are for the holidays, know that you don’t have to go through them alone. Do you need some extra support this season? We’re here for you.