Holidays are celebrated as a time for gathering with loved ones, sharing meals and creating memories. But this time of year can be especially difficult for those dealing with an eating disorder or body image issues. Food is a central element of holiday celebrations and there’s often a lot of it on display. You may be expected to consume certain types of food or a large amount of food. Holidays may also force you to interact with relatives who have a negative impact on your mental health and body image, whether with their words, actions, or their very presence. Sometimes, the anxiety associated with going home for the holidays can even trigger a worsening of symptoms.
Large family gatherings present many challenges for those with an eating disorder. Maybe your relatives don’t know about it and you’re anxious about it being found out. Maybe you’re triggered by just the sight of a large display of food or constant conversations about food. Then there are the relatives who make comments about your body or your food.
Here are a few coping strategies to consider as you navigate the festive season.
Setting Boundaries with Relatives
Family gatherings can be especially stressful when our relatives cause us to feel uncomfortable. The holidays are often a time when friends and family provide unsolicited and unhelpful comments about your body or your eating habits. You may be forced to deal with remarks on weight loss or gain, and questions about the quantity or frequency of your meals. Sometimes, these comments are well-meaning and may be coming from someone who doesn’t understand how triggering they can be. Regardless of their intentions, the effect of these comments can still be detrimental.
Anticipate these comments ahead of time and come up with a game plan for responding to them. For example, you can decide that you will say “I’m not hungry. Please stop trying to force me to eat that” and physically distance yourself from anyone who causes you to feel uncomfortable. If your family is aware of your eating disorder, is it possible to have a conversation with them before the big gathering?
Here are some phrases that can help you to politely, but assertively set boundaries during these scenarios:
- I won’t continue this conversation if you keep making those comments.
- No, thank you.
- I don’t want that.
- I’m not comfortable discussing this topic.
- You’re making me uncomfortable, so I’m going to leave.
- Thanks for your concern, but I can take care of myself.
- Let’s talk about something else.
- I don’t like being called that name.
- I didn’t find that funny. Please don’t say that again.
Rely on Your Support Systems
Who do you usually rely on for emotional support? Are you able to access them at this time? Sometimes during the holidays, we’re separated from our usual environments or social groups, as we head elsewhere to spend time with family. If a friend is your usual support system, but you’ll be apart for the holidays, be sure to let them know what’s happening. Inform them ahead of time of the difficulties you’re anticipating during this season, and that you’ll need their support. Texts, calls and video chat can all be incredibly useful tools for connecting with your support system. Knowing that they’re on standby can bring a feeling of comfort as you navigate this challenging time.
Don’t Neglect Self-Care
Holidays bring huge changes to our daily routines and environment. With all these changes, it can be difficult to stick to your own routine and self-care may fall to the wayside. But during emotionally challenging times, we need more self-care than ever. If you have been prescribed medication, be sure to continue taking them as directed. Keep up with your hygiene habits and, if you’re menstruating, ensure you have everything you need to make yourself comfortable (such as a heating pad or pain medication). During stressful times, it’s especially important that you get enough sleep, water and nutrition. If you have a special hobby that brings you peace, are you able to engage in this hobby during the holidays?
Financial self-care is important during the holidays, since this is often a season of spending. Check in with your finances to ensure you’re sticking to your budget, to avoid any undue stress come January.
Remember to Recharge
This can be an extremely overwhelming time. How will you recharge your body and mind? It can be as simple as taking a ten-minute walk to clear your head before heading back into the gathering. Maybe you have a playlist that puts you in a better mood or you enjoy watching videos of cute animals online. Have these things at the ready for when you need a moment to catch your breath. Writing in a journal is an effective way of reducing stress and recharging. Spend a few minutes to check in with yourself by writing about how you’re feeling. Meditation, breathing exercises, coloring and taking a short break from technology are all simple ways of finding peace during chaotic moments. Bring along a good book, magazine or video game for a quick escape.
Flourish Psychology offers treatment for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and other disordered eating and body image issues. By working with a therapist, you can equip yourself with the tools and resources needed to handle your day-to-day challenges. You will notice increased levels of self-esteem and a decrease in feelings of fear and stress. We want to help improve your relationship with your body, food and exercise.
Contact us today to schedule your first session.