Focus on staying festive: Navigating eating disorder recovery during the holidays
For many, the holiday season may inspire the joy of quality time with loved ones, the stress of planning, and gratitude for a new year. But for those navigating eating disorder treatment, another emotion may arise: panic.
As Equip’s Director of Mentorship JD Ouellette describes it, dinner on an average weeknight can be a challenge, but a holiday meal may feel like an insurmountable challenge.
“When it’s hard to eat or feed your child on the best of days,” JD says, “All of a sudden we have these holidays coming at us in a culture that’s organized in lovely ways around eating and people. At various stages of eating disorder recovery, we have to weigh the impact of all the people and food, and how we’re going to navigate through that.”
How to Stay Mindful of Your Recovery During the Holidays
Allow yourself to be aware and present of where you or your loved one is in their recovery process to inform holiday decisions such as:
- Decide if this year may not be the best time to attend family gatherings that are expected to be overly stressful, especially if early in recovery.
- Recognize that while passing on a beloved family tradition might be a difficult decision, the focus on healing will make room for many more years of holiday celebrations in the future.
- Speak with your treatment team to decide whether or not to attend holiday gatherings this year to make this decision in an informed and supportive manner.
How to Show Up to Holiday Gatherings in a Recovery-Supportive Way
For those who do attend holiday gatherings, there are some practical tips to do so in a way that is supportive of recovery:
- If you’re anticipating, like many families, a lot of “diet talk” at the dinner table, try sending out an email to attendees in advance of the holiday.
- Provide your family with education and information on eating disorders to help empower them to support you and the person navigating recovery. Sharing this article might be an excellent way to get buy-in from extended family!
- Email your loved ones to outline your boundaries in a respectful way and provide suggestions for how to honor them.
- Provide clear, tangible examples such as asking family members to avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” or making comments like “I’m starting my diet tomorrow,” during dessert.
- Find your allies to run interference with you. If you're hosting a family gathering, or able to collaborate with the host, appoint them to interfere or redirect “diet talk” throughout the gathering.
- Get creative with tables, and choose to sit with loved ones who feel more informed about eating disorders and are able to be supportive. Or, find a quiet spot away from the main dining area to give your loved one a calmer space to eat a potentially challenging meal.
Uphold Routine to Stay Grounded and Reduce Stress
- Holidays are not the time to deviate from your loved one’s meal plan. Ensure adequate nutrition throughout the day to support recovery and normalize acting against diet culture norms like skipping meals before a holiday dinner.
- Role model for your loved one by eating at regular intervals throughout the day. Eat breakfast, lunch, and snacks together as a way of establishing normalcy.
- Stick to your meal plan to provide the powerful learning experience of having consistent energy during a busy day of activities by taking the time to nourish and fuel.
Another way to support your loved one in recovery is to shift the celebration off of the dinner plate. There are many other ways to honor the spirit of the holiday season through connection, gratitude, and joy.
- Try a quiet family evening at home with a board game, movie, or crafts.
- For those for whom movement is a safe choice, suggest a gentle walk or bike ride.
- Consider volunteering to observe the spirit of the season in a way that inspires community and connection.
Changing the focus of the holidays doesn’t mean removing food altogether, as food isn’t simply fuel. Food represents culture, love, and community. But for those working towards recovery, food can also be stressful and overwhelming during this time. Finding the balance between both can be nuanced, but with the support of guidance from mentors with lived experience, it can absolutely be done.
About Equip Team
Equip is a virtual eating disorder treatment program helping families recover from eating disorders at home. Equip’s holistic, data-driven, gold-standard care program is delivered by a team of five care professionals, giving families confidence they’re providing the best opportunity for progress and lasting recovery.