Navigating the Holidays In Eating Disorder Recovery
Kelly Boaz, CNP
No matter what stage of eating disorder recovery you’re in, the holidays can be a challenging time. Nearly every holiday is food-centric, which can trigger anxieties you may have moved past in your day-to-day life. The holidays present different challenges, though, whether it be family, or a change in routine, or even just too much time to think. But, no matter what stage of recovery you’re in, it is possible to get through the holidays, and maybe have a good time doing it.
In early recovery, it can be a challenge just to get through all the meals you need to on a normal day. For the holidays, you may need a more rigid plan to get you through. The first step to the plan should be communicating with the food-providers for the holidays. Get as precise a menu as you can in advance, and figure out which foods you KNOW you’ll be able to eat, which foods you THINK you’ll be able to eat, and which foods you aren’t so sure about. Remember: what comes easily in your own controlled setting may prove more difficult during the holidays.
Once you’ve determined what you CAN eat of what’s on the menu, figure out what’s missing. If all you’re sure you can show up to is green beans, you’re going to have a pretty hungry holiday. Make a plan to either bring foods you can eat, or buy foods you can eat that fill in the gaps. Yes, it can be awkward to eat your own, separate foods, but it’s better for your recovery than going hungry. You can take it from me, the girl who once brought 12 pre-cooked meals home with her for Christmas, because she couldn’t trust other people’s cooking. Start with what you need to do for your own recovery, then worry about next steps when you’re ready.
The more confident you get in your recovery, the more you can challenge yourself around the holidays. It may still be useful for you to know the menu beforehand to reduce your anxiety, but maybe you can use that advanced knowledge in a different way.
Instead of bringing “safe” foods with you on the day, challenge yourself in the days and weeks before the holiday to try some of the foods on the menu that are scarier for you. Practice eating them more than once, just as though you were practicing a sport or rehearsing for a play. Then, on the day, they’ll likely still be scary, but you’ll already have built the skills you need to push through that fear, and eat what everyone else is eating. Being a part of the community is an important component of the human experience, and food often is associated with community. Being able to eat what everyone else is eating is an important part of recovery.
If you’re feeling pretty solid in your recovery, you may want to go in blind, so to speak. Challenge yourself to eat what’s available, without advance knowledge. You’ve got an understanding of what constitutes enough food for you, and what balance of foods is right for you. By all means, bring a dish along for the whole family that you like, too, but make an effort to try all the foods you enjoy on the table. I’m not going to lie - I still bring a few protein-rich snacks home with me, because I’m not a big meat eater, and sometimes there just aren’t enough protein options for me. I rarely need to break them out, but it’s nice knowing I have the option available if I need them.
It never hurts to have a backup, just in case.
Do what you can, and challenge yourself to do a little more. The most important thing, though, is your safety.
No matter what stage of recovery you’re in, challenge yourself to keep a regular schedule on either side of the holiday - no “saving up”, or compensating for calories. No matter what you eat or don’t eat on the holidays, you still deserve to eat normally the next day (and the day after that). Stay present, stay grounded, and have some fun this holiday season, and have a happy, healthy new year.
Kelly Boaz, CNP is a Toronto-based Holistic Nutritionist (CNP), specializing in eating disorder recovery and food freedom. After winning her 17-year battle with anorexia, Kelly Boaz turned her life’s focus to helping others do the same. She is also a writer and speaker (TEDx, TDSB), raising eating disorder awareness, and helping people heal their relationship with food and their bodies. You can find out more about Kelly, or get in touch via her website.