If you are recovering from an eating disorder, holiday meals can be extremely anxiety-provoking.
The holidays, synonymous with indulgent feasts and decadent desserts, can transform the dinner table or party into a battleground for those whose relationship with food is intertwined with fear and anxiety. Yet, amidst the tinsel and twinkling lights, there exists an opportunity to redefine our connection with celebration, finding strength in vulnerability, and fostering a sense of healing during a season traditionally centered around food.
With the new year approaching, I want to ensure you have some steps to help you make peace with food – and especially during this holiday season.
Did you know – dieting can predict binge eating, which in turn, leads to an endless cycle of “guilt” for bingeing, followed by restriction, and so on. If you’re a chronic dieter, large holiday meals can reinforce this binge behavior.
In today’s world, we are literally drowning in diet talk and diet culture all year round. The holidays can make this even worse and, for some people, it’s absolute chaos. Adding to this chaos might be discussions around new weight loss drugs, which are another landmine.
Folks in recovery from an eating disorder may still be on a structured meal plan with specific foods, portions, and times. The holiday meal or meals might include heavier “fear foods” and are often served buffet style — sometimes in the middle of the day. Family members, whether close or distant, can make insensitive comments without even realizing it.
Most meals have lots of desserts and treats that only come out once a year and those foods can be tempting and triggering – especially when you are recovering from disordered eating or an eating disorder.
I have heard some clients say comments like this:
“The hardest thing is the comments from others about weight, breaking their diets, good/bad food, guilt, indulgence, burning off the calories, or whatever. It seems like everyone feels the need to justify their food choices. I just want to tell them to shut up!”
“The worst is when people have self-imposed dietary restrictions and feel the need to convert others. And there’s this weird sort of pressure to join in on the diet talk because it’s almost like a bonding ritual.”
Relatives may comment on the way someone looks, particularly if the person in recovery has gained or lost weight. Often, an innocent comment such as, “You look great,” or “You look healthy,” can be misinterpreted (through the eating disorder voice) and heard as “You look fat,” or “You have gained (or lost) so much weight.”
For someone in recovery, the idea that a family member might be watching their food intake or commenting on it is also very triggering.
Food and the holidays can be a fearful time for many people!
So, how do you protect yourself against being triggered in this way?
Discussing how you will respond to certain situations with your healthcare provider, support person or friend beforehand can be very helpful. I encourage my clients to think about what will be served at the meal if they are following a specific meal plan.
Learning to set boundaries with others can be very empowering.
- You can say that the table is a diet-free zone and be prepared with subjects to discuss that are totally unrelated, such as politics, travel, weather, etc.
- Asking a friend or family member for support at the event may be necessary.
- Focusing on gratitude for all the wonderful progress you have made rather than on the negatives of the holiday season can also be helpful.
Recently, I shared 12 Tips to Manage Holidays Without Diets: Find Peace and Joy in Food Freedom – that list can get you started on preventing those triggering moments.
But it can be hard to manage that in the heat of the moment when those triggers are all there in front of you. That’s when the chaos of it all feels smothering.
The first thing to do is have compassion for yourself. Remember that recovering from an eating disorder or learning to give up dieting is a process that is filled with ups and downs. Each “mistake” is just an opportunity to practice new skills.
There are steps you can take to protect your recovery from chronic dieting or disordered eating with respect to your family and friends. These steps are often ones that help our clients manage the chaos of food that can come during this time of year.
Some of my clients have even said they’ve printed out these steps and handed them out before dinner so that everyone around the table learns to be more aware and thinks a little differently about their actions. That alone can help bring the peace with food you are seeking.
Here are 5 Steps to Make Peace with Food during the Holidays:
- No diet talk at meals. None. Whatsoever. There are so many more interesting things you could be talking about!
- Do not comment on other people’s body weight, appearance, or their food choices.
- Find other ways of complimenting people besides their looks.
- Come up with some ideas to help distract from food post-meal — whether it’s a nice walk, a quiet card game, or listening to music.
- Focus on connecting with all the wonderful people in your life – and to have gratitude for the many wonderful things our bodies can do for us!
Not everyone looks forward to the holidays because they can be hard for people who are in recovery or practicing intuitive eating and leaving the diet culture world behind.
When you follow these 5 steps and the other tips shared above, they will help you make a plan to get through the festive times and help keep them festive and fun, not stress and anxiety-provoking. No holiday time should make you feel that way!
And you never know when you might end up educating one of your family members on how their seemingly simple and harmless words can affect others.
If you are ready to experience a peaceful and joyous holiday season but need some help, book a discovery call today with me, and we can determine where you are with your own food journey and which one of your team members is the best person to support you on your path from food chaos to food – and holiday – peace!
Not quite ready to talk… check out some of our free resources to help you manage the food chaos and find peace with your body and food, too!
Are you ready to make peace with food and your body image for good?
Download and read our FREE Intuitive Eating Guide, the 3 Steps to Making Peace with Food and Your Body Image.
This guide is for you if you are…
- Wanting to avoid passing on your eating struggles and issues to your children.
- Always thinking about food as either “Good” or “Bad”.
- Feeling ashamed for doing everything “perfectly,” only to “blow it” by overeating.
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She and her team of eating disorder specialists and Anti-Diet Dietitians provide insurance-based care for eating disorders, disordered eating, chronic dieting, or other health conditions in a safe and non-judgmental space for healing.
We work virtually with our clients from our offices in Westchester County in New York as well as the tri-state areas of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, along with Florida, California, Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas, and Vermont. We are in-network with the following insurance companies: Aetna, Cigna, and United Healthcare; including Oxford, UMR, and The Empire Plan (NYSHIP).
We take the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, Erica will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!