Eating Disorder Therapy Recovery Thanksgiving Tips
By: Abby Emmert M.A.
Holidays in Eating Disorder Recovery Can be Hard
We know at Recovered and Restored that holidays can be very hard for individuals in recovery! Not only are holidays usually surrounded by food, but also in new environments and with people that might not be the best supporters of recovery. Since we know this can be a challenge for anyone in recovery, our eating disorder therapists are here to offer some tips that can make the holidays a little easier! Before we get to those, we want to start with a reminder that…Food is meant to be fun! And this doesn’t just apply to the holidays.
“Why does food need to be a part of every holiday and celebration?”
This is a question we often have clients ask. We know this question comes from a place of pain because the reality is that food is not the enemy here but instead the way your eating disorder makes you feel at events around food! That anxiety and fear can really taint and change your experience of holidays and events, and ultimately inhibit the memories we are working on creating!
The Reality is as Humans, We Eat Every Day
But here’s the deal, as human beings we have to eat all day, every day in order to sustain the energy that we need to survive and live the lives we do. If we have to be eating all day, why not eat in the company of those that we love surrounded by laughter and fun? We know this isn’t enough to make the anxiety or fear go away, and we don’t expect it will. But, we hope the reality that food can be fun gives you hope that this year’s holidays can be different than what you may have had in the past!
To help with that, let’s look at some tips we as eating disorder therapists suggest to our clients, and as eating disorder survivors have used ourselves!
Compare to who you were last year.
Comparisons around the holidays can be soooo hard to ignore. You may be seeing that cousin that you grew up comparing yourself to or the aunt that is always on a diet. You may find yourself comparing body sizes and changes, food decisions, plate sizes, clothing, or life updates. Regardless, this tip can help you find focus on what is really important: where YOU are at.
So when you find your eyes wandering to other’s plates or bodies, we want you to refocus on where you were this time last year. Maybe things were a lot healthier a year ago and your struggles with food or your body hadn’t started.
Maybe you were deep in your behaviors and ED and were struggling to get out, but since then you have received help and you’re working on it.
Or maybe you are seeing a lot of similarities between this year and last. In each example, ask yourself what is the same and what has changed.
Maybe you have made tremendous progress, and even if you are still hitting bumps, you can celebrate the fact that this year is so much different because of each little success you have had.
Maybe last year was a lot better and we can use that as motivation and an example of what a healthy relationship during the holidays looks like!
Or maybe things have stayed the same and we can also use that as motivation to use this holiday as an opportunity to make progress and growth so next year things are different.
Comparing Yourself to Others Doesn't Change Your Eating Disorder Recovery Journey
The main point is, comparing your process to others doesn’t change anything about yours, but it might create feelings of shame or doubt in what you’re doing that isn't going to be helpful to your recovery. So let's practice refocusing on what really matters: YOU!
Have a support person appointed before the holidays start!
Having support through recovery is essential, but especially important throughout the holidays! We hear far too often that clients get to the dinner table, their heads filled with screaming eating disorder thoughts, stomachs in knots, and chests filled with anxiety only to realize they feel completely alone with no one aware of what they are going through. We never want you to feel alone!
So we have two proposals: name someone that will be there with you as your support person. or someone that you can call.
Having people that are aware of your struggles and what you might need will help decrease the risk of relapsing and increase your level of support! Before the holidays begin, find out who will be there and assess if any of those present are people you feel comfortable enough to share with. You can start by reaching out and letting them know you have been struggling and could use some support, which could look many different ways! It could be occasionally checking in during meals, pulling you aside to have quiet time, or combating diet conversations with you!
Focus on What YOU Need From Your Support System
Think of what you need and what usually helps from your support system for example. If you are going to an event alone and don’t have someone physically present with you at the event to help, check in with someone that will be amiable at that time that you could call if you needed! We are so lucky to have connections to others so easily, so let’s utilize that! Make sure you feel comfortable with this persona and they are comfortable being there for you! And never feel bad asking for what you need! :)
Make a self-care plan before the event, including foods you are comfortable with.
Recovery is always centered around challenges and pushing yourself through discomfort. But holidays are sometimes overwhelming enough as it is, we don’t always need to add more challenges to it! It is okay to come up with a plan for food that you are comfortable with going into the event or meal. That might mean looking up the menu at the place you are going to, checking in with the host to see what will be available, or bringing your own snacks and sides that you can count on being able to eat!
The main priority is making sure you are adequately nourished
We can save challenging fear foods for another time:) In addition to this plan, add some self-care steps in there. Before, during, and after self-care can be the sure way to prevent relapse and take care of yourself when the anxiety rises. Come up with a plan of ways that you can take care of yourself before the event, while you’re there, and after you’re home. If you need help, check in with your support system or friends for how they participate in self-care during the holidays!
Eating Disorder Recovery Thanksgiving Skill
We love these tips as examples of how you can care for yourself during the holidays, and we even have a skill you can practice for some extra support! Going into any anxiety-provoking event or meal for our clients is understandably scary. But what we try to focus on is the purpose behind the event or experience.
One skill we often do with clients before the holidays is making a list of the purpose behind the experience they are about to participate in.
For example, if we have a client going to a birthday party dinner we would ask them to make a list of the purpose of this dinner. This could look like: celebrating my friend, seeing people I haven’t seen in a while, trying a new food place, making memories with my friends, showing my friend how much I care about her, challenging myself with a new meal, and making a step in recovery. Once we have this list, we have them make a list of the pros and cons of listening to the eating disorder going into the event.
For many clients, the pros might be higher due to their anxiety around the event. But then we ask them to compare back to the purpose list and look at the true reasons why they are going. When doing this, the eating disorder might still be strong, but the focus changes from making the eating disorder happy to ALL of the other reasons going to the event is a positive step! Try this with your Thanksgiving plans coming up and see what your lists look like!
For a more advanced step to this skill:
make a list of ways that you can make sure the purpose list happens! Ask yourself if there are any barriers you can see coming in the way and what you can do to ensure they don’t!
For more information on eating disorder recovery around the holidays, check out these resources:
Start Eating Disorder Treatment at Recovered and Restored Eating Disorder Therapy Center
At Recovered and Restored we know firsthand how challenging the holidays can be for those in Eating Disorder Recovery. We are here to support you! We’ve been there and have fought our own with food-centered holidays! We get it. We are a group of recovered professionals that are here and ready to support you on your recovery journey. Check out a blog by our owner Gabby where she shares about her personal healing and triumph.
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Recovered and Restored is an eating disorder therapy center founded by Gabrielle Morreale. We specialize in helping teens and young women heal from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge eating disorder and treat disordered eating, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We provide eating disorder therapy in the towns of Horsham, Upper Gwynedd, Lower Gwynedd, North Wales, Lansdale, Hatfield, Blue Bell, Doylestown, and nearby towns with eating disorder therapy. Also providing virtual eating disorder therapy in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida. Some towns served virtually but are not limited to Pittsburg, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Center City, Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Mount Laurel, Cape May, Avalon, Brick, Dover, New Castle, Bethany Beach, Marydel, and Oceanview.