Holidays can be a mixed experience of family connection and pleasure along with family stress and anxiety. However, for someone struggling with an eating disorder like bulimia or for anyone struggling in their relationship to food, holidays can become an extremely stressful time regardless of the family dynamic. Many of our clients dread Thanksgiving dinner and can’t wait for it to be over weeks before it arrives. Many of our clients have found it helpful to engage in some preventative measures to help alleviate the stress around food. The following are some tips that may be helpful.
• Try to find out what foods will be at the meal and decide which ones you will choose in advance. It may be helpful to meet with a dietitian to determine food portions. Sometimes bringing a “safe” dish or setting a predetermined boundary with food, such as limiting your food intake to one plate, can help reduce anxiety.
• Know what foods are triggers to overeating and make a contract with yourself to decline those foods. On the contrary, it may be important to give yourself permission to eat foods you normally deem as forbidden; however, make an agreement to limit the portions.
• Set an intention for the day ... do you want to experience gratitude? Connection with family? Set your focus outside of food, and prepare your mind for the day. Make sure food doesn’t disrupt your intention.
• Try to make your day with food as balanced as possible. Don’t skip meals thinking that the Thanksgiving dinner meal will be all that you eat. Skipping meals can set you up to be too hungry, leading to a binge.
• Make a list of challenge statements to counter any automatic negative thoughts. Write them down and refer to them throughout the day. For example, if you think you may have eaten too much, remind yourself that it’s OK to feel some concern, but a bit of overeating at one meal will not make you fat. This feeling WILL pass!
• Make a list of things you can do after the meal to distract yourself from the anxiety, such as calling a supportive person, taking a leisurely walk, focusing on playing with children or pets, playing games, etc.
• If you need to, ask family members to avoid commenting on your appearance or your food choices. If someone makes a comment, prepare yourself in advance how you want to handle it. Remind yourself that you are in charge of your relationship with food and not to give your power away to other’s comments.
• Avoid triggers like counting calories or weighing yourself before and after a meal.
• Let go of guilt and give yourself permission to enjoy your meal. It doesn’t mean things are out of control if things don’t go perfectly.
Coping with the holidays when you struggle in your relationship with food is quite a challenge, but can be made bearable, and even enjoyable with a little preparation and planning.