How to Successfully Get Through the Holidays
Another holiday season is upon us, and for many it’s a joyous, festive time. But for those of you struggling with disordered eating, the holidays with its emphasis on the abundance of food can be fraught with body image triggers. For some of you, the holidays mean facing the two things that bring about the most stress in your lives—food and family. The holiday season, from Halloween to New Year’s Day, can magnify your personal struggles with the potential to cause you enormous pain and dread.
Most holidays are spent cooking and preparing that day’s special meal. And just like the holiday song says, traditionally this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” You might not feel wonderful. In fact, inside you might feel terrified that someone will scrutinize everything you eat or comment about your body. You might be filled with confusion or rage. But you have to appear normal and happy and calm and pretend that this is the best day ever, because you don’t want to ruin it for everyone else. The actual table itself can be a big deal for you—you sitting at the table feeling extreme distress surrounded by plates and bowls brimming with food, and the eyes of your family on you, observing you, possibly judging you. Watching everyone else fill their plates and go back for seconds can cause anxiety and triggers.
Your family members might think that talking about the latest diet is interesting. They might even feel compelled to share their success story at the gym or their diet in order to urge others around them to get healthy. They aren’t bad people. So many of us these days live in a diet culture which values thinness and attractiveness over physical health and emotional well-being. This type of discussion usually emphasizes certain foods as either “good” or “bad”, stresses calories intake, and normalizes self-deprecating talk. It is toxic, and that kind of useless chatter should be nipped in the bud. Gently remind them that you are in the process of healing. You are getting healthier. It would be better for your journey if they refrained from talking about dieting.
This time of year may seem dreadful, but with a few preparations, you can enjoy the upcoming holiday season. Here are a few helpful ways for you to successfully manage the stress and anxiety that can sometimes accompany the holidays.
This is the best thing you can do to successfully navigate through the holidays. Nutritionist and Dietitian, Erica Leon, suggests you make a list of the things you don’t want to talk about. Actually write them down. Even before your friends come over or before the holidays with your family, understand your challenges and set clear boundaries.
- Don’t be afraid to communicate. Ask your family to hide the scale before you come over. Have them put away all fashion magazines.
- Set your holiday goals. Make them about doing something positive rather than preventing the negative.
- Make sure your support systems are in place. Choose a buddy you can count on either to listen to your concerns or to fix your plate for you during the meal if you don’t feel in control.
- Know beforehand that if things become unmanageable, you can take time to walk away for a bit to get your emotions back in check.
Having a game plan before the holiday will give your family a gentle reminder of the things they can do decrease your stress and anxiety levels.
Don’t skip meals
On holidays that revolve around food, it’s customary for people to go easy on breakfast and lunch or even skip a meal in order to save themselves for the big feast as though it was the “last supper.” This can increase your anxiety when that meal is finally served. Stick to your regular eating plan as much as possible, and treat it like any other meal. Make sure to have your coping skills at the ready if you begin to feel overwhelmed.
Wear something comfy
Choose to wear something comfortable that makes you feel fabulous. Feeling good can help decrease stress levels. Choose an outfit that will accentuate those parts of your body you love. If you’re wearing something pretty and comfortable, your focus won’t be on your clothes but rather on the time you’re sharing with your loved ones.
Do something beyond food
Instead of sitting around the kitchen talking about the meal, suggest fun things to do before and after. Play a board game. Watch a movie. Go for a long walk. Instead of hovering around the dining room table, pour yourself and your loved one a glass of water with lemon and sit on the porch and catch up. Talk about pets, kids, even the change in the weather. Suggest that you and your family volunteer to help others at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen, visit a retirement home, or take supplies to an animal shelter. It’s a great way to step away from the table and focus your energy on helping others. You could give someone an opportunity to be thankful for you.
It’s a process
You’ve heard the expression that Rome wasn’t built in a day. One day or one holiday will not make or break your goals. Give yourself permission to enjoy the day. Work on being flexible in your thoughts and expectations of yourself and others. Take a holiday break from self-criticism, rigidity, and perfectionism.
No one is perfect
Remember, you don’t have any control over outside forces. You can’t control the weather, or what someone thinks about you, or what someone says. What you do have control over is you and how you react to those outside forces. Stay strong and stay focused. Rise above. Let any hurtful words roll off you like water off a duck’s back. If you need to walk away and refocus your feelings, do it. You know what you need to do to achieve your goals. And that’s what’s most important.
Remember what the holidays are really all about
The holidays are more than just food. For many, the holiday season is a time of peace and goodwill. Make a list of all the things you are thankful for. Remind yourself throughout the day to feel gratitude for that moment, that day, for all the blessings you have, for the steps you’ve taken to achieve your success, and for all your amazing accomplishments yet to come.
One of the biggest things you can be thankful for…is you! However many years you have walked this planet, you have lived through joy and pain, and you have endured! Be grateful for this day, right now. You are beautiful. You are worthy.
If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating, please reach out to us. At Wallace Family Therapy, we are trained to provide the most effective treatment that meets your specific needs and challenges. We’re here to help you.