Handling the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

Published On: November 21, 2022Categories: Eating Disorders

Have you found yourself fretting about the upcoming holiday season, wondering how you’ll cope with feelings of sadness during the holidays or get through your family’s thanksgiving feast?

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder and your symptoms are exacerbated by the holidays, here’s what you’ll want to know about identifying and managing triggers.

Eating disorder triggers during the holidays

As anyone with an eating disorder knows, triggers can come at any moment and feel uncontrollable. When triggers arise, an eating disorder takes the wheel and can cause overwhelming distress.

The holidays and the unique events, settings and emotions that come with them can cause negative reactions, like binging, purging, excessive exercise, extreme dieting, compulsive weigh-ins and more.

If you’re hoping to avoid the pitfalls of the holidays and prepare yourself for potential triggers, here are things to be aware of:

  • Large meals (like Christmas dinner, “Friendsgiving,” New Year’s party platters and so forth)
  • Eating in front of others
  • The expectation of consuming large meals and the social pressure to participate
  • The main focus of holidays is the mealtimes
  • Specific foods that trigger fear or shame (like high-calorie desserts)
  • Quantities of food that you’re only used to encountering in small portions
  • Feeling “trapped” at family gatherings
  • Social anxiety when interacting at parties with relatives or friends
  • Shame or guilt over body image or appearance
  • Provoking conversations at family gathers
  • Remarks from others regarding appearance or weight
  • Self-comparison to others
  • Unhappiness, loneliness, disappointment and other feelings can stem from the holidays
  • Memories of past holidays (such as missing a loved one or nostalgia about childhood festivities)

Triggers to eating disorders are plentiful during the holidays, but that doesn’t mean relapse is inevitable. Despite the looming threats, you can overcome any trigger with the right tools and treatment.

How to manage eating disorders during the holidays

If you’re struggling with a current eating disorder or slipping into past struggles with persistent eating behaviors during the holidays, you’ll want to have some tools in your repertoire to manage symptoms.

  1. Plan ahead: when you know the triggers you’re likely to face, you can plan around them. Decide on a safe spot to eat if the family table feels intimidating or eat a balanced meal beforehand and show up late
  2. Enlist help: tell someone in your support circle about your specific fears. It will be nice to have someone dismiss comments if you don’t take a scoop of every dish
  3. Having coping tools at the ready: practice a few techniques that are truly calming that you can use in any setting (try breathing exercises, mindfulness or self-affirmations)

With the assistance of a therapist, you can incorporate coping mechanisms that are effective for you and can bear you through the holidays with an eating disorder.

Eating disorders that may be affected by the holidays

Anorexia Nervosa: anorexia is characterized by extremely low body fat content, fear of gaining weight and distorted perceptions of body image. Someone with anorexia may struggle with situations that focus on food, weight and image.

Here are some examples of anorexia triggers:

  • A family member comments during dinner that you’re not eating the dish she brought
  • Your family celebrates the holidays with a cookie-eating contest
  • The clothes you receive as gifts are all too big, making you feel like you’re perceived as fat

Avoiding food is not a healthy reaction to any of these triggers. Working with a therapist can help you see yourself clearly and make positive choices.

Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia is characterized by binging (over-eating) and purging (weight loss through vomiting, extreme exercise or other measures like laxatives). When a person who has bulimia partakes in festivities, he or she may feel like excessive food is an invitation to binging and then shame and regret.

Here are examples of bulimia triggers:

  • Comparing yourself to relatives and friends who are thinner
  • Feeling self-conscious when talking about yourself to others at social gatherings
  • Family comments on your appearance from family members you haven’t seen in a while.

Binge eating disorder: Binge eating disorder, like bulimia, is characterized by periods of over-eating but does not involve purging. Binge eating disorder is not always identifiable by looking at a person, and episodes of eating will feel uncontrollable.

Here are some examples of binge eating disorder triggers:

  • A large spread of delicious dishes and desserts consumed over the course of hours
  • The pressure to fully partake in over-eating and indulging during holidays
  • The feeling of grief when missing a loved one during the holidays

Each eating disorder carries unique triggers and maladaptive behaviors can be provoked in different ways during festive celebrations. If you’re struggling with any of the above conditions or other disorders like rumination disorder or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, the best time to start treatment is now.

Thinking ahead about the holidays

If you’re facing disordered and persistent negative thoughts about yourself and the food you eat, it’s time to get help. The best way to manage the holidays (and actually enjoy them) is to start treatment as soon as possible.

When you prepare yourself by identifying and creating techniques to handle triggers, you’ll feel more at ease and able to create non-food-related memories. Eventually, you’ll find you’re able to heal a relationship with food and be in control of your life again.

At Tapestry Recovery, you can find the help you’ve been looking for. Compassionate experts can guide you with evidence-based methods and personalized treatment plans. Call now to schedule an appointment.

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