Returning Home for the Holidays and Eating Disorder Recovery

As the holiday season arrives, so do the invitations for family gatherings and celebrations. For someone in recovery from any form of disordered eating, the holiday season can quickly spark worry and anxiety about how to be “part of” the events around you while maintaining healthy recovery. You are not alone. The holiday season is a source of obstacles and challenges for anyone in recovery from disordered eating. However, with the proper preparation, support, and motivation to stay on track, it is possible to actively participate in family gatherings without sacrificing your recovery progress. Below are a few strategies you can use to help you feel safe and comfortable returning home for the holidays.

Plan Ahead for Possible Challenges

A vital component to maintaining recovery during the holidays is careful planning. Having a plan in place that you are comfortable following will help you maintain accountability and structure as you navigate potential challenges during the holiday season. When preparing to attend a gathering, take a moment to learn where and when the event will occur. It is also helpful to ask what will be on the menu and what time of day eating will occur. Knowing these things will help you plan around any dietary restrictions or meal schedules you have. Planning ahead and knowing what and when you will eat can help you avoid anxiety and stress during family gatherings.

Also, if you have a meal plan that you follow as part of your recovery, do your best to adhere to it. If you are going to dinner with family, do not skip breakfast or lunch because you are “saving up” for a huge meal at dinner. A key to maintaining recovery is to stick to what is working for you right now. If you are concerned about the availability of foods you typically eat being available at a family function, offer to bring something along to share that fits into your meal plan.

Understand Your Triggers

Another important component to successfully maintaining recovery during the holidays is understanding your individual triggers. Triggers are those people, places, situations, or foods that may lead you to relapse. Knowing what these things are helps you prepare in advance to safely and effectively manage them. It is also important to practice and continue to reinforce the coping skills you learned as part of your therapy program.

Have A Source of Support

The holiday season may require a stronger support structure than any other time of year. Having an individual or peer group, you can rely on during challenging times can help you remain “safe” with meals and gatherings throughout what can be a challenging time. Your support system can help you throughout the day, weeks, or months of gatherings that accompany the holiday season. These individuals can officer guidance during meals or act as a supervisor (should you want one) to help you avoid unsafe eating behaviors that may lead to relapse.

A support person can help you in other ways beyond mealtime support. You can turn to them for help sticking to your meal plan or for help leaving a situation that you feel could be triggering. They can help you navigate and manage uncomfortable conversations around eating, dieting, appearance, and other potentially triggering conversation topics. If you do not have a healthy support system or need someone to talk to during the holiday season, many hotlines and peer support groups are available. Although these options may not feel ideal, they may be a better alternative than trying to forge ahead without help or support.

Practice Self-Care and Self-Forgiveness

Anxiety and panic are common emotions if you allow yourself to eat certain foods you have deemed “forbidden.” Don’t criticize yourself in these moments. It is essential to put the moment in the past and move on to the next meal and recovery opportunity. Remind yourself that it is OK to eat what you did and that this one meal will not “make you fat.” Most people, including people in recovery, eat more during the holidays. The safest way to maintain recovery is to check in with yourself, monitor your hunger cues, and be intentional about your eating. In the end, the most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself and your emotional well-being.

Another important skill to help reduce stress and anxiety is to practice self-care. Stress can have a harmful effect on your day-to-day mental and spiritual health. If you are in recovery from disordered eating, many stress-related factors can heighten your challenges during the holiday season. Sometimes, these added stressors can lead to relapse. Practicing self-care during the holidays (and all year long) is an excellent way to manage the stress that can lead to a range of unhealthy challenges. Find a hobby, habit, or activity that helps you connect with your inner emotions and helps you feel grounded in the moment. Because self-care looks different for everyone, no singular practice will work across the board. Learn what works for you and practice as often as possible to keep stressors and anxiety at bay.

Although it certainly can be challenging, the holiday season and returning home for family gatherings do not have to be an unhealthy experience. With adequate planning and knowing you have a strong support structure in place, you can safely enjoy family gatherings without sacrificing your recovery. If you find you need a little extra help during the holiday season, contact us at Toledo Center for Eating Disorders to learn more about us and our programs.

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