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Learn More About Renfrew’s 2024 Eating Disorders Awareness Week Campaign: In My Empowerment Era

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Holiday Celebrations & Food Disorders: 4 Helpful Reminders

Written by: Megan McIntire, LCMHC
Professional Relations Regional Manager, The Renfrew Center

For folks who are struggling with eating disorders and related mental health concerns, this time of year can be a challenge. Regardless of what holidays you celebrate, it’s likely that food is involved. In this post, we look at how to navigate without focusing on the food.

From feasting to fasting and everything in-between, holidays can involve preparing and eating meals together, culturally specific cuisine, and food rituals that are integral to the celebrations. For some, holidays are a time of loneliness, where community or family are lacking.

Whether you are struggling or supporting a loved one who is, here are some tips on navigating the holidays, and specifically how to enjoy them while taking the focus off the food.

4 Helpful Tips for Eating Disorder Recovery

Be kind to yourself!

Holidays can come with a host of expectations, obligations, and stress. We are often busier than usual, with less time for rest, and self-care routines. It can be helpful to consider ways in which we can make the season easier on ourselves. Check in with yourself about your needs. Maybe you bring store-bought cookies instead of baking, or maybe you give yourself permission to spend your time baking in a labor of love- consider what’s right for you!

Go in with a plan and share it with your supports.

Because we are likely to encounter diet culture everywhere we go, it’s not unusual to hear someone discussing their New Year’s resolution to lose weight, or goal to “work it off” the day after a dessert. While it may be important to confront diet culture in your family at some point, be careful to set your expectations, knowing that change takes time. It may be helpful to have an exit strategy, or someone lined up to debrief with afterwards. You could practice a script such as, “It’s not helpful for me to hear how many calories are in that; I’m more interested in where the recipe came from, it’s delicious!”. If you do find yourself in a very food-centric conversation, here are some non-food topics you can be ready to use to guide the conversation:

  • What are your favorite holiday traditions?
  • How do you take care of yourself during this busy time?
  • What meaning did this recipe have for your family?
  • Is there anyone you really miss during this time of year?
  • January can be such a long month. Are you traveling anywhere fun after the holidays?

Be aware of how this time of year affects you.

Possible stressors include financial concerns, travel anxiety, social isolation, decrease in daylight contributing to mood concerns, missing lost loved ones, etc. Consider what you can do to fill your cup, whether it’s scheduling an extra therapy session, setting a limit on your gift-budget, or visiting a special place in nature to remember a loved one. Being mindfully aware of your triggers can help increase your self-compassion and remind you to reach out for support.

Have a plan to process in advance.

If you know you’re going to be in a triggering situation, make a plan to process your emotions after the event and cope with any eating disorder urges. Meet with a member of your treatment team, journal out your thoughts, connect with a friend, engage in joyful movement, load up your phone with Renfrew’s podcast All Bodies. All Foods. to hear some friendly voices offering compassion around recovery or join an in-person or virtual alumni event. As a reminder, healing is non-linear, and it’s ok to ask for help at any stage of recovery.

What If You’re Supporting Someone with an Eating Disorder?

ASK.

It may sound oversimplified, but just acknowledging that this can be a challenging time can be incredibly helpful. Often our clients know what they need – it’s asking that’s hard. So, you can provide that space by saying, “I imagine this is a challenging time. Is there anything I can do to support you right now?”

Be an anti-diet role-model.

Leave your Fitbit at home, and don’t even glance at the back of the box of chocolates to see the nutritional info. Enjoy the food and company, and instead of commenting on your next trip to the gym, consider sharing about a favorite seasonal movie or a special ritual for ringing in the New Year. Do not comment on anyone else’s body, as size is not an indication of health, and comments about weight loss or gain can contribute to eating disorder thoughts and behaviors.

Be kind to yourself as well.

It’s painful to see someone you love struggle. Seek support for yourself in a community who understands what you’re going through. Here are some resources and guides.

Conclusion

The holidays can be a triggering time for people who struggle with eating disorders, body image and mental health in general. Being aware of this, we can take steps to support those who are struggling. If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one, please reach out to us! We are here to help at 1-800-Renfrew.

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