These Tips Can Prevent a Relapse: Eating Disorder Recovery During the Holidays

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The holiday season brings with it much joy, but also much stress—to say nothing of an unusual, inordinate focus on food. For these reasons, it can be an especially difficult time of year for those who struggle with eating disorders. A common worry for those in recovery is that the holidays will trigger a relapse. While this concern is understandable, it is by no means inevitable—and with the right strategy, it’s more than possible to enjoy the holidays without relapsing.

Some considerations:

Get support from your family or family of choice.

Candid communication can go a long way, so be open and upfront with your loved ones about your concerns. Let them know you are worried and that you value their support. Also, speak with your therapist or dietitian to seek some specific strategies or solutions.

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Avoid talk about diet trends or “fatness.

One reason the holidays are so hard for those with eating disorders is that this season tends to bring increased distorted thinking about body image; nip it in the bud by steering clear of any talk about weight, calorie counting, dieting trends, and so on. Although it may seem like talking about weight, diet, and fat might decrease your anxiety, studies show that these conversations increase anxiety and increase body distortion. It is also smart to let your family members know that these topics are obstacles, and to ask them to avoid these conversations as much as they can.

Maintain a regular meal plan.

The best way to navigate holiday meals is to be prepared. Maintain a regular eating routine by not skipping any meals or overcompensating for meals you may have missed. Often, people in recovery become anxious about the food at holiday meals, so they adjust their meal plan in preparation. This tendency can be a set up for a slip or a relapse. Instead, continue your meal plan as planned. Also, it can be helpful to be proactive and visit your dietitian in preparation for the holidays, even if you have been going solo for a while. Being prepared is the best way to avoid holiday relapse.

Do not beat yourself up.

You may find yourself fighting the urge to binge or purge during the holidays. Piling on the guilt will only make the struggle harder. Be kind to yourself this holiday season; cut yourself some slack. If you have a slip, you can get back on track right away. Don’t wait until the next day or the next week or until the holidays are over. “Doing the next right thing” can prevent a slip from becoming a full blown relapse.

Be intentional about avoiding an eating disorder relapse this year—but also leave yourself room to enjoy a happy, healthy holiday with your family!

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More from Nicole Siegfried, Ph.D, CEDS - Castlewood