Tips for Eating Disorder Survivors This Holiday Season

December 20th 2016

The holidays can be a difficult time of year for anyone, but a season which focuses on food and family can be particularly difficult for eating disorder survivors. "Family time brings up many dynamics around relationships and food," says Michele Kabas, a certified eating disorder specialist and licensed clinical social worker based in New York.

Disordered eating can include anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, binge eating, and EDNOS, which stands for 'eating disorder not otherwise specified.' Whatever form it takes, disordered eating means one's "relationship with food isn't fully healthy," explains Nicole Groman, MS, RD, in New York City.

With a little planning and lots of support, however, you can navigate the potential land mines which may arise.

4 pieces of advice for eating disorder survivors during the holiday season:

1. Avoid discussions about diets and New Year's resolutions.

With so many interesting discussions to have with friends and loved ones, it's a wonder people choose to talk about weight. In addition to being not very interesting subject matter, these conversations can be triggering for anyone in recovery from an eating disorder. Stay away from discussions about weight—their's or someone else's—as well as calorie counts in food and weight loss plans for New Year's resolutions, suggests Lauren Smolar, director of helpline services at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

This may mean speaking up when your aunts start talking about their plans to join Weight Watchers in the new year. "If conversation heads towards dieting, redirect," says Kabas. "Or if you feel courageous, speak up that that is not a topic you are comfortable with as you are struggling with your own recovery with food." It also helps to enlist a family member or friend who can back you up and help steer the conversation elsewhere, she says.

Remember that it may not be healthy for you to stay for the entire meal, Smolar adds. If you need to go into another room to text or call a friend, or to leave the premises entirely, that's perfectly OK if it keeps you safe.

2. Focus on conversations.

One trait of disordered eating can be obsessive thoughts about food. Since pretty much every major holiday centers around eating, people who struggle with eating disorders can be preoccupied with worry instead of enjoying a meal for what it is: a time to commune with friends and family.

It may sound counterintuitive, but to be fully present for the meal, it maybe be helpful to focus less on the food and more on the people around you. Groman, the dietician, recommends intently focusing on the conversations you're having and suggests it can be helpful to think about conversations you would like to have in advance with different guests.

3. Eat consciously.

People who struggle with binge eating or binging and purging may want to take special care to remember to pace themselves when enjoying food and drink.

At mealtime, Groman suggests putting down your fork between every bite to help you eat more consciously and savor every bite until you feel satiated. When you feel full, it can also be helpful to remember you can always bring home leftovers to enjoy later.

4. Reach out for professional help.

One of the best things an eating disorder survivor can do during the holiday season is to get in touch with a professional to figure out next steps, says Smolar from NEDA. Her organization has several options to reach out for help, including a toll-free, confidential helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also text "NEDA" to 741741 to be connected with a volunteer at the Crisis Text Line. In addition to NEDA, Kabas recommends Health at any Size, Recovery Warriors, and as great resources to explore.

Your feelings are what's most important and you should always reach out for what you need.

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