Preparing For the Holidays in Eating Disorder Recovery
Kelly Boaz, CNP
It's that time of year again. We're coming up on some of the biggest food holidays of the year: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. For most people, these are joyous occasions. For those of us in eating disorder recovery, the holidays can be a different story.
Any time food is the focus of a holiday gathering, it can trigger anxieties. What am I going to eat? Am I going to lose my cool? What happens if a family member makes an unwanted comment? There are so many unknown variables in these situations. Let's talk about some ways you can get ready for the holidays NOW, so you're not as anxious later.
What Am I Going To Eat?
Whether you're working off of a meal plan, or practicing more intuitive eating, it can be stressful not knowing what's on the menu. The best solution for that: ask! Talk to the host beforehand. If the host knows about your eating disorder, and you're comfortable doing so, you can explain your anxieties. If not, not a problem! It's not out of the ordinary for anyone to ask, "What's on the menu for Thanksgiving? Is there anything I can bring?" You may not get a detailed breakdown of all the ingredients, but if you know there will be turkey, mashed potatoes, and vegetables, you've got a lot of information to go on.
Once you know the menu, you can make a game plan. Take along a dish you know you can eat. Work with your team to figure out what components of the meal you'll be participating in. Make sure to leave space for spontaneity, though. Maybe you'll decide you want the pie that wasn't on the plan. That's great! Listening to your intuition is a wonderful part of eating disorder recovery.
Why am I telling you all this now? Well, it's so you have time to practice. If you were singing a song, or playing an instrument, or acting in a pageant, you'd want to practice beforehand. It's no different with food. I don't know about you, but I don't roast a turkey on a weekly basis. If you haven't interacted with holiday foods much lately, it might be a good idea to try them out before the big day. If you're nervous about stuffing, make up a batch of the stove top stuff and have some WELL in advance. Just like with anything else, practice until it feels natural to you (or at least not absolutely terrifying). That way, you can engage with it in a safer way when you're with your family.
Recruit An Ally
Family time can be stressful. Someone invariably says the wrong thing, someone talks about their new diet, and someone has a little too much eggnog. Hopefully, you have someone you can trust in your family to run interference. Talk to them beforehand, and let them know about your fears and anxieties going into family time. Tell them specific ways they can help support you. Maybe they help you prepare a plate. Maybe they quickly change the subject when your aunt starts talking about weight. Maybe you two have a signal, and can go for a walk when tensions get high. People want to help those they care about, but often don't know how to start. If you give them specific tasks, you can make it easier on both of you.
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The Day Of
It can be tempting to restrict your intake earlier in the day to compensate for a larger meal later on. That's not a helpful strategy for anyone, whether they're fighting an eating disorder or not. By restricting early on, you're reinforcing the belief that you have to make up for eating certain things. You're also setting yourself up to head into a stressful situation hangry, which can make you more sensitive to family tensions.
If you eat your normal breakfast, lunch, and snacks, you can keep your blood sugar balanced, and go into dinner hungry, but not ravenous. You'll be better in tune with your hunger and fullness cues, and you'll be able to enjoy your food instead of merely eating to sate your hunger.
There will always be unexpected and uncomfortable moments at family gatherings. That's because there will always be unexpected and uncomfortable moments in life. The holidays can be stressful, but they can also be wonderful, if you go in prepared. And remember: no matter what you eat (or don't eat) at a holiday meal, you still deserve to eat the next day.
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.