OPINION: Eating Disorder Recovery During the Holidays: A Guide

By Susan Katherine Corkran, Columnist

Between the Thanksgiving leftovers spilling out of the fridge and sugar cookies at every turn, I know firsthand that the holiday season can feel overwhelming during recovery from an eating disorder. Eating mindfully, giving your body what it needs, and making it through ordinary days can be a daunting enough task without facing a plate overflowing with turkey, stuffing, and pie. So how do you make it through the holidays without feeling like your food-related fears are tangling you up like a jumble of knotted Christmas tree lights? First step:  breathe. Know that you can do this, and take a look at this short list of helpful tips to turn to when you start to doubt.

1)    When you feel tempted to restrict your food intake or purge what you have eaten, make sure that you are with someone. This is usually a time for family and friends anyway, and the added support of having a loved one by your side will help you calm the instinct to “undo” whatever holiday treat you’ve eaten. When I’m afraid that I’m going to lapse into my old anorexic habits, I look for a distraction to make me smile at the happy memories I am making instead of crying about calories. It sounds easier said than done, but a friend by your side will remind you that you’re worth it!

2)    In moments when you feel panicked before sitting down to a family dinner full of your fear-foods, take a bit of time to soothe your nerves. I usually channel my anxiety through writing, but there’s no shortage of methods you can try. Whether you use a trusted music playlist, a favorite movie, or the simple comfort of a cozy holiday sweater, try to find something that will help you separate your disordered food-related thoughts from the happiness of the moment.

3)    Talk to a therapist or trusted person about your recovery goals before meals. If you feel strong enough to challenge certain fear-foods, talk through a strategy of reintroducing that food back into your life. Recovery is a unique experience, and it needs to be on your own terms. You don’t have to jump into taking two helpings of pie if that terrifies you. Instead, set small, manageable goals to reach gradually. My own goal this year is to eat a bite of my mother’s pumpkin pie for the first time in more than two years. It may seem like a tiny victory, but any step forward is a step away from my eating disorder. I hope other people get to have that experience this holiday season too.

4)    Especially as we come to the end of the year, take time to reflect on what you want to achieve from recovery. Make a list in a journal, and actually write out your feelings on the achievements you have reached as well as the hopes you still have for new progress in your journey of recovery. Be inspired by yourself, and try to use the upcoming holiday challenges as an opportunity to rise above your eating disorder.

5)    Finally, don’t be afraid to tell your family and friends when you are feeling overwhelmed and upset by food. One of the biggest burdens of eating disorders is the feeling of struggling with it alone in your mind. The act of opening up and starting a dialogue about it is the first step to finding a solution, seeking support, and overcoming the illness. If your family situation is too complicated to confide in them, look at online resources. There are open forums of survivors in recovery who are bravely sharing their stories and advice. Know that you are not alone.

You can do this. We can do this. Happy holidays, and happy recovery!