For many people, and perhaps especially those who struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder, holidays can be nerve-wracking. This time of year, it seems that everywhere you turn there is another plate of holiday cookies or a long-lost relative you’d rather not see. Rather than letting the challenges catch you by surprise, consider these tips to help you prepare yourself for the stress of the holiday season:
- Plan in advance: Think forward to the coming weeks- what situations come to mind as the most stressful? Is it a big holiday meal? The gift exchange that usually devolves into a shouting match between cousins? The comments your aunt might make about her new fad diet? Identify strategies for how you can manage these triggers before you find yourself faced with them. If you’re worried that your plan will escape you in the moment, write it down on an index card or as a note in your smartphone and keep it handy.
- Plan now: What if you come across a stressful situation that you didn’t anticipate? Take a breath, take a break, and give yourself a few minutes to come up with a quick plan for what you can do in the moment. This might involve identifying an ally with whom you can consult – perhaps calling a supportive friend or pulling your sister aside from the rest of the company. Remember, the impromptu plan doesn’t have to be perfect to be helpful!
- Take good care of yourself: Do what you can to make sure you get enough sleep, stay well-hydrated, and have some time to decompress when you need it. Practice saying ‘no’ if your holiday social calendar is preventing you from getting the rest and relaxation you need. If you’ve got these basics down, you’ll be less vulnerable to triggers for engaging in eating disordered behaviors.
- Check-in: Pause throughout the day to gauge how you are feeling; if it’s hard to remember to step aside and assess, set an alarm as a reminder or tie your check-in to a specific, repeated event (for example, taking the dog out or checking your email). How are your stress level, mood, and hunger level? If you notice that you’re starting to get a little irritated or your hunger level is rising, it’s helpful to catch these feelings early so that you can do something about it sooner rather than later.
- Get your three squares per day (and then some): Make sure to eat regularly- 3 meals and 2 to 3 snacks per day. If you’ve got a meal plan, stick to it. Try not to go more than 4 hours without eating. Being overly hungry can make you more vulnerable to becoming stressed out. If you struggle with overeating or binge eating, extreme hunger can set you up to overdo it when you finally do sit down to eat.
- Go easy on the eggnog: Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and can increase your likelihood of overeating, binge eating, and poor decision-making in general. Keep your drinking to a minimum.
- Avoid the naughty, stick to the nice: Surround yourself with family and friends who support your recovery efforts, to the extent that you can. Is there someone you can talk to if you find yourself struggling? See if you can identify a few “go-to” people that can be there for you when you need it most. If holidays will definitely involve some exposure to some less-than-supportive people, perhaps you can also plan a visit to see a beloved friend, or even take a time-out from those who are taxing by checking out an interesting site (from which you can call one of your “go-to” people).
- Find your reason for the season: What makes the holidays special and meaningful for you? Are you someone who enjoys taking a tour of all the houses decorated with holiday lights? Are there faith-based aspects of the holidays on which it feels inspiring to focus? Is it a time reconnect with the things for which you might feel grateful or proud? Or, an occasion to reconnect with others, or yourself? Think about what you like most about the holidays and see how you can integrate these ideas or activities into your holiday experience.
Remember, thinking ahead and taking action today just might lead to a more relaxing (holiday) tomorrow.