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  • Writer's pictureJaya Roy, M.A., M.S.W., L.C.S.W.108767

6 Tips for Navigating Holidays With an Eating Disorder

All around the world, many cultures gather to celebrate holidays with food. For some people this can be a way to feel connected to your culture, explore another culture, or even just slow down, but to many folks the focus on food can add extra stress. If you are someone who experiences an eating disorder or a challenging relationship with food, the holidays can be hard to navigate. Below are a few tips that can help you through this time.

1. Anticipate And Except The Reality

When we close our eyes and imagine what any holidays look like, we might imagine happy smiling faces gathering around a table. The reality is the complication of family dynamics, stress, and expectations can make holidays a bumpier experience. It’s important to think about what you might anticipate and expect from the holidays based on what you know from either past experience or family members personalities. For example, there’s probably at least one person that likes to comment on people’s bodies, either saying something on how a person looks or their weight. Maybe there’s another person who takes up so much emotional space by talking loudly or making demands, that it is hard to check-in with yours. Get yourself honest and grounded what your reality is likely to look like.

2. Plan For Gearing Up And Soothing Down

Once you feel grounded in the anticipated reality. You can think of what you might need for yourself before heading into the space and what you might need to soothe yourself afterwards. Create a plan before gatherings to help gather your internal and external resources (such as oils, headphones, a comfy shawl, and other favorite momentos for grounding). Maybe the night before you watch a funny movie, take a hot shower, and spend time alone. Think about what replenishes your energy, because you will need it for showing up intentionally the next day. Also create a plan on how you’re going to sooth yourself for after the gatherings. Think about what helps you fall into a restful state. If you tend to have excess or frenetic energy after gatherings, consider ways to gently redirect the energy such as using a physical activity (e.g. going for a walk, doing Tai-Chi etc…).

3. Externalize And Name The Problem In Its Totality

So much with healing from an eating disorder is working on accepting that you are not the problem, the problem is the problem. What do I mean by that? Eating disorders for many people, are a manifestation of trauma and internalized oppression. This intricate web can make it feel challenging to discern what is you and what is everything else. Practice naming what you see and hear coming up not just within yourself but what you are seeing with other people. For example, if a family member makes a comment about how unhealthy the buttermilk biscuits are because they have carbs, say to yourself “that is healthism” so you don’t internalize the message as deeply. Below are some examples to watch out for:

· Healthism

Masking a challenging relationship with food and our bodies with the idea that we are following healthy behaviors. This can look like naming foods as good or bad, restricting foods to avoid gaining weight but disguising it as a dietary preference.

· Fatphobia

Fatphobia is the oppressive attitude and practices our culture has to put down people in bigger bodies. During the holidays you might hear this come out as people saying things such as “I don’t want to get fat so I won’t eat XYZ” or gossiping about another gaining weight.

· Patriarchy

Patriarchy has naturalized the idea that fem’s and women’s bodies are open to objectification and policing. This could come off presenting as a compliment towards fem’s and women’s bodies without the consent, and without the focus on masc or men’s bodies.

· White supremacy culture

Much of today’s beauty standards are centered around white European female bodies. This aesthetic has been seen as the idealized representation of femes and women and can put pressure on people to assimilate. One way you might hear this come up is discussion around not gaining any curves, wanting to be flat, or being able to fit into certain clothes.

4. Focus On What’s Important To You

While it’s true that so much of the holiday season can revolve around food, there are also many other things that people can enjoy. Think about what do you enjoy or what is important to you during this time. How can you center these experiences? Perhaps it has nothing to do with the holidays and it’s simply the ability to take time off for yourself. Focusing on what’s important to you can reduce the pressure of the other parts of holiday.

5. Find Safe Spaces For Nourishment

For folks that struggle with an eating disorder or challenging relationship with food, it might be helpful to think of the dinner table as a time of connecting during an event rather than a time of nourishing your body. For some people finding safe spaces such as with chosen friends or being alone is a better fit for a time to slow down and satiate whatever needs you might have. The safe space might be something that happens before or after the event. It’s OK if eating doesn’t happen during a specific time.

6. Plan For Extra Support

This is a good time to lean on your support. Brainstorming how to approach the holidays with an eating disorder can be really challenging. Having people be able to understand and hold space for all the barriers and challenges you might be experiencing is not easy. Below are some ideas of where you can get additional support.

· Check-in with friends

· Extra sessions with your therapist

· Joining a support group

If you are a California resident, identify as someone that struggles with an eating disorder or a challenging relationship with food, and wanting support, please feel free to reach out about my psychotherapy services at To learn more go here.

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