For most people, holidays are tough. They’re even tougher if you struggle with an eating disorder, body image issues, anxiety and perfectionism. To get you through this stressful period, we’ve curated the best advice from doctors and experts to help you feel your best and navigate sticky situations so you can enjoy the holidays and get through them with ease.
TIP 1: Handle disrespectful, body shaming comments from relatives like a boss
Here are some common scenarios and comments that our loved ones often make regarding our bodies, and sometimes they are completely oblivious to how insensitive they are being. It can be helpful to have a response ready to go in these situations, and thanks to Dr. Jen Gaudiani, MD CEDS and Healthy Is The New Skinny, here’s how things could play out:
Uncle Ben says, “You look bigger/smaller than last time I saw you!”
“Actually, I choose not to make my body size a topic of conversation. How’s your business going?”
Aunt Angela says, “I’m eating another slice of pie. It has so many calories! I’m probably going to put on five pounds this weekend. Who’s going on a diet with me next week?”
“I prefer not to talk about calories and weight while enjoying a delicious meal. Let’s talk about what we’re thankful for this year.”
Other common statements relatives might make include “You look like you’ve gained/lost weight. Good for you!”, “I thought you would be afraid of eating that”, “I assume you don’t want dessert” and “You are so lucky for being so thin.” Preparing a response in case these come up will greatly reduce your stress and anxiety.
Miriam Roelink, MS at Recovery Warriors also recommends that if you find yourself in the middle of an uncomfortable conversation, you can quickly change the topic by developing a list of topics beforehand. Roelink suggests:
“Think of television programs you are watching, the latest album of your favorite artist, or plans for your next vacation. Anything that helps you divert the topic of weight. Remind yourself that most people don’t know what it’s like to have an eating disorder and that looking recovered doesn’t have anything to do with being recovered.”
And if a relative is completely out of line and needs to be cut off immediately, you can say something like “I only look like this because I have a life-threatening disease and I’m far from being healthy (or happy)” (in the case of an eating disorder) or “saying something like this is really hurting me.” They will know immediately that what they are saying is inappropriate, and will likely not do it again.
TIP 2: Set boundaries with people and their food
This is a big one that is often not discussed. For many of us in recovery or struggling with body image issues, a major frustration is the overwhelming amount of food that is thrown at us whether we want it or not. For example, relatives may insist that you take home food that you don’t even like, or pressure you into eating something. Here are some ways you can handle these situations without feeling rude, courtesy of Dr. Ashley Southard:
- Get comfortable saying, “No, thank you.” It is ok to say No. Respect your body enough to only fill it with foods you do want and like.
- Give the food away. Graciously accept the food and then find a new home for it. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, and soup kitchens are all great candidates for enjoying your treats.
- Throw the food away. Graciously accept the food and then throw it away when you get home. While this may seem rude, remember that you do not need to put food in your body that you do not want or like. Your body is not a trash can, so don’t treat it like one.
TIP 3: Avoid engaging in fat talk or the latest diet trends
At some point during the holidays, conversation will turn to calories, weight-loss goals, exercising, and diets which can make you feel really anxious or possibly trigger you. Miriam Roelink, MS suggests that when these topics come up, you can retreat to another room or speak to another relative who is not involved in the conversation. It is also completely fine to ask that the subject be changed.
TIP 4: Don’t skip or restrict meals
It can be tempting to skip meals to compensate for the extra food you might be consuming, but keep up with your meal plan and regular eating habits during the holidays. Skipping meals can not only mess up your metabolism and deprive you of important nutrients, but it can trigger disordered eating habits and set you up for damaging binges or restriction.
TIP 5: Focus on being grateful
Remember that the holidays are not about food – it’s about spending time with loved ones! Focusing on those around you and enjoying the time you have together can take the focus off food and help you enjoy the moment. Dr. Ashley Southard suggests also focusing on:
- The activities you are doing
- The conversations you are engaged in
- The festive, colorful decorations around you
- The joyful sounds around you (e.g., music, laughter, conversation)
TIP 6: Be kind and gentle to yourself
Miriam Roelink, MS suggests that the holidays are the perfect time to ease up on yourself and show yourself some extra compassion. She says:
“It’s okay to feel the urge to binge or purge, or think that you need to compensate or skip certain things, as long as you don’t follow up on those thoughts or feelings! Don’t punish yourself for having these thoughts. They are there but they will disappear eventually. Something you can is to write down positive affirmations that you can read in between courses. You can also bring your journal or use the Rise Up + Recover recovery app to take a moment to write down all the feelings and emotions you are experiencing. Writing them out helps to get them out of your head and don’t fall down in destructive behaviors.”
TIP 7: Breathe
If you’re feeling anxious, one of the best things you can do is take a moment to sit still and breathe slowly. You can even go to another room if you don’t want to do this in front of anyone! This can help you slow down and help you feel grounded and present again.
TIP 8: Plan ahead
Try to think of any stressors or obstacles you might encounter during the holiday period. Look at your calendar to see what events you have going on and who you might be running into. If any of those events, people or possible dreaded situations create anxiety, try to formulate an action plan that makes you feel empowered and prepared to deal with that situation if it arises.
TIP 9: Honor your boundaries
We have just one more tip, which was brought up by Dr. Jen Gaudiani, MD CEDS. If you are really struggling with your relationship with your body and food, and you feel that being around family and a lot of food will hurt your recovery, you have every right to avoid putting yourself in this situation and skip it. Dr. Gaudiani says:
“Sure, it would be nice to be able to join everyone and eat without a care in the world, and there might be some eyebrows raised and maybe disappointment expressed in your not joining. But it’s your life. If you’re feeling fragile and aren’t in a place right now to withstand this kind of challenge, sit it out this year. Nourish yourself well that day, spend extra time on compassion, and consider finding a smaller group or one friend to get together with that day. If you so choose, there’s always the next holiday or next year to rejoin everyone.”
Did you find these tips useful? Leave us a comment and let us know! Good luck and happy holidays – remember, you’ve got this!