Ho-Ho-Hold the Holiday Guilt and Shame

The holidays are loaded with triggers, uncomfortable situations, anxiety, diet talk, weight talk and fear foods.  Here are some keys to making it through the holiday season without relying on your eating disorder for support. 


·         Permission is key.  Before having a holiday meal or snack stop and think about giving yourself permission.  Give yourself permission to have the food you want and the amount you desire.  There are no good foods or bad foods.  Some foods may have more nutrient value, but other foods have benefits too.  Having fun foods will prevent you from binge eating, will help you work towards recovery and may simply nourish your soul.

·         Toss the black-and-white thinking!  The holidays can be full of trigger foods that lead to unhelpful thought patterns or urges to be symptomatic.  Many people who struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating think of holiday meals as the only time to have forbidden foods.  This often leads to over-eating or binge eating and robs you of the joy the food has to offer.   Choose to think “I can have some now and I can have some tomorrow.”  Challenge black-and-white thinking and see food as in the “grey.”  This allows for a more normal relationship with trigger foods and takes away the food’s power over you.  If you think of it as just food you will be less inclined to binge eat.

·         Step away from diet culture.  Walk away from colleagues who are talking about the latest diet trend.  Ask family members to avoid talking about good foods or bad foods or making comments about bodies.  Think about taking a step back from social media that you know may fuel your desires to restrict or change your body.

·         Listen to your cues.  If you are working on intuitive eating the holiday season is a great time to practice.  Check in with yourself and use mindfulness to check into the present.  Pay attention to what your body is telling you and listen to your food cravings. Pay attention to whether or not you are hungry for food, when you start to feel satisfied and then when you are feeling full.  There is nothing wrong with being over-full.  This is common for “normal eaters” over the holidays. 

·         If you are working on mechanical eating it is a good idea to have a plan.  Most people have an idea of the foods that will be present at holiday meals.  Think about balancing your meals with all the food groups.  Think about filling your plate as you would if you were feeding a friend.  This can provide insight into what a “normal” portion might look like.

·         Don’t deprive yourself leading up to the big event.  If you skip breakfast and lunch you will be ravenous by dinner.  This increases your chances of being symptomatic.  Instead, eat intuitively or mechanically throughout the day, just like it is any other day.

·         Practice self-compassion.  Be kind to yourself as you would to your friend.  The holidays are tough!  Offer yourself compassion and kind words when you make a mistake.  Whether making a mistake means slipping with a symptom after a meal or missing out on a holiday celebratory meal because it is just too much - IT’S OKAY!  You do not have to be perfect to be moving towards recovery. 

·         Have a plan for coping after holiday meals.  This may mean filling your evening after dinner with family time, playing a board game, having a bubble bath or calling a good friend.  Distracting after holiday meals will allow any post-meal anxiety to pass.

·         Unfortunately the holidays are often filled with stressful environments and being around people who trigger you. It may seem natural and easy to turn to restriction, binge eating or purging to cope with discomfort.  Have a list of alternate coping methods ready for when you are feeling the urge.

Holiday food is not your enemy.  Food provides nourishment, it heals both your body and your soul. The act of eating food mends your relationship with food.  Food is about spending time with people you love.  Food is about culture and tradition.  Food is about joy, you just have to feel it.

Michelle Johnson, RD