The holiday season can be an extremely tough time for anyone battling disordered eating and body image, from numerous conversations about food and diets to seeing family members who may provoke unpleasant emotions. If you’re recovering from or living with an eating disorder, or if you’re concerned about healthy eating during the holidays, here are a few tips to guide you.
Create a Support System
Having a support system is one of the most important things you can do to prevent disordered eating. This means having people in your life who you can talk to when things are going well, as well as when they are not. These people don’t have to be therapists, they can be friends or family members who are supportive of your recovery and will listen without judgment if you need an outlet for some difficult emotions that come up around certain events – such as the holidays.
If you don’t already have a solid support system in place, building one may seem like a daunting task at first glance, but it doesn’t have to be! Start by thinking about specific individuals who could potentially make up this network:
- Support Group
- Other healthcare professionals
Incorporate Intuitive Eating into Holiday Festivities
Intuitive eating is the process of listening to your body and honoring its needs. A common definition is a person who “makes food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honors hunger, respects fullness, and enjoys the pleasure of eating.” It’s about being able to recognize when you’re hungry, what foods will satisfy you, and how much food you need to enjoy eating. The key is learning how to trust yourself—and intuitive eating is an excellent way to do just that.
Here are 10 key principles from the book Intuitive Eating that can be implemented around festivities to help maintain healthy eating around the holidays:
- Reject the diet mentality
The idea that you can find a diet that will work for you is known as the diet mentality. Eating intuitively is an anti-diet.
- Honor your hunger
Your enemy is not hunger. Feed your body as soon as you notice the first signs of hunger. You’re more likely to overeat if you let yourself become overly hungry.
- Make peace with food
Get rid of any perceptions about what you should or shouldn’t eat.
- Challenge the food police
You are not good or bad for what you eat or don’t eat, and food is neither good or bad. Any ideas that suggest otherwise should be dismissed.
- Respect your fullness
Your body will let you know when it is full, just as it does when you are hungry. When you feel you have had enough, pay attention to the signs of comfortable fullness. Check in with yourself as you eat to see how the food tastes and how hungry or satisfied you are.
- Discover the satisfaction factor
Make eating a pleasant experience. Eat something that you enjoy. Making eating enjoyable may result in you needing less food to feel satisfied.
- Honor your feelings without using food
Emotional eating is a coping mechanism for emotional responses. To cope with your emotions in ways other than eating, try going for a walk, practicing meditation, keeping a journal, or calling a friend. Recognize when an emotion underlies a feeling that you might mistake for hunger.
- Respect your body
Recognize your body as capable and beautiful just as it is rather than criticizing it for how it appears or what you think is wrong with it.
- Exercise – feel the difference
Find enjoyable ways to exercise your body. Change your attention from burning calories to feeling alive, energized, and strong.
- Honor your health – gentle nutrition
Keep in mind that your health is shaped by your overall eating habits. Your health cannot be altered or compromised by one meal or snack.
Don’t feel obligated to eat a certain amount of food. Try not to let social pressure dictate what you do with your body. If it feels natural for you to eat small amounts throughout the day or week, then just do that instead of trying to match others’ eating habits.
Self-compassion means taking an honest look at your present circumstances and offering support to yourself in the same way you would to someone else who was going through something difficult. Self-compassion is not just about accepting our pain or flaws, it’s also about acknowledging our strengths and positive aspects of ourselves as well. This can help us feel more connected with others and build stronger relationships, which ultimately leads us away from isolation and towards wellness. Here are a few thoughts to be mindful of when practicing self-compassion:
- Acknowledge that it’s okay to be flawed.
- Treat yourself how you’d treat others.
- Be slow to judgement.
- Maintain a growth mindset.
How to Look at Food in a Healthy Way
In a recent You Learn You Turn podcast episode, Tiffany Godwin, a Registered Dietitian, shares suggestions on how to look and feel about food in a healthy way. “There is no one thing that works for everyone when it comes to food and nutrition. If you and I ate the same thing, moved our bodies in the same way – we would always look different. My body uses food differently than your body uses food. There are no good and bad foods, and people get puzzled when I say that. But really, if you think about it —let’s take a milkshake for example. Someone who has cancer and is going through chemotherapy, they don’t have an appetite and their mouth hurts from sores they have, a milkshake is going to be healthy for them because they can eat it and it gives them energy.”
Tips for Healthy Eating During the Holidays
The holidays present some specific challenges around food: Thanksgiving is all about a meal, and the perception is that we should overeat in order to to properly celebrate. Winter religious holidays also include big meals, parties with not-always-healthy options, and lots of opportunities to snack. It is a time to celebrate, so make sure to enjoy yourself, but don’t use it an excuse to ignore your health for two months. Here are some specific tips for healthy eating during the holidays:
- Set realistic goals. If you’re going to a party or a big meal, know there will be temptation. Allow yourself to take part, but be aware of your environment and plan before you go.
- Manage stress. There is lots of stress around the holidays, and binge eating may be a way to cope. Find ways to manage your stress so you have an outlet other than food.
- Slow down and savor. Take your time eating and appreciate the food. Slowing down helps prevent overeating. Also take some time before getting seconds; it may take time for you to recognize that you’re full.
If you’re struggling, it’s okay to get help. You are not alone and it’s not your fault. There is no such thing as a perfect recovery from disordered eating or any other mental health issue—you don’t have to be perfect to start healing. It can be scary to ask for help but getting support is always worth it!
- NEDA – National Eating Disorder Association: is the largest not-for-profit organization in the United States working to prevent eating disorders and provide treatment referrals to those suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder and those concerned with body image and weight issues.
- Call or Text: (800) 931-2237
- If you are in a crisis and need immediate help, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a crisis counselor at Crisis Text Line.
Remember: if you make a mistake, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that our recovery isn’t working anymore, it just means that we might need some extra support this holiday season. Setbacks are normal during recovery. Sometimes life gets hard again even after making progress on our goals. Two steps forward and one step back is still progress!