Trigger warning: this piece discusses disordered eating habits and eating disorders.
The holidays are upon us. Whatever part of the world you’re in and whatever you celebrate: Christmas, Hanukkah, Boxing Day, New Year’s, etc, most holidays are centred, at least somewhat, around food. Delicious food that I didn’t have to buy or prepare? Sign me up! I love big holiday meals, but I didn’t when I was in early recovery from an eating disorder. I actually dreaded the big meals, especially since they came with my relatives’ rampant opinions and excessive dialogue around food.
For anyone in eating disorder recovery or with a history of disordered eating, holiday meals can be a challenge. I used to feel panicked, overwhelmed, guilty, and often angry when my grandmother would say, “Let’s go around and guess how many calories are in the pie!” (true story). Or, when the rest of my family would go for a long run or skip lunch to 'save up' for our big Christmas Eve Dinner. It took several holiday seasons for me to not let this impact my enjoyment of the holidays, but it is doable even if it doesn’t feel that way.
Here are some strategies that helped me:
Lucky for us, most ideas floating around out there about food and diets are simply wrong. Next time you hear something about ‘saving up for the big meal,’ ‘packing on pounds over the holidays,’ fight your thoughts and worries back with facts!
- A holiday meal is just a meal! Just because you’re eating certain foods you might not eat on a non-holiday doesn’t inherently mean you’re going to eat a larger meal than you normally would for lunch/dinner.
- If you do eat more than you would on an average day, that’s totally fine! We don’t eat the same amount every day - some days you eat more than others. It’s normal. Even if you eat significantly more at one meal, it takes much more than that to change your body shape or weight. Gaining weight only happens over long, sustained periods of caloric surpluses.
- ‘Saving up’ for a meal is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t eat enough during the day and go into your evening meal famished, you’re more likely to eat past the point of fullness or even binge.
Change it up
Sometimes, you just need a break when your aunt is going on and on about her new diet or when your cousin is sharing tedious details of his workout routine. Plus, when there’s a lot of food around, it’s easy to obsess over the food and not be able to think about anything else. It’s okay if you need a break!
- Get out of the kitchen. Staring at food and talking about food can make your mind run wild. Hang out in another room or take a short walk to clear your head.
- Distract. It’s okay if you need to take a break from talking and get your mind off grandma comparing you and your cousins’ weights or your grandpa commenting on how much butter is in the cookies. I like to pre-plan non-food-related activities for myself and my family like a holiday movie or an arts and crafts table for nieces, nephews, or any other kids who come to dinner.
- Worst comes to worst - it’s okay to hide in the bathroom and scroll TikTok for a few minutes. Whatever you need to do to clear your head!
Sometimes, the best way out of a situation is through a laugh. Either out loud or in your head.
- “Are you really going to eat dessert and have wine? That’s a lot of carbs.”
- “It’s Christmas. Jesus turned water into wine and gave people bread, I think it would be sacrilegious not to, Grandma.”
I hope you find these strategies helpful. If a family member or friend is continuously saying something that’s particularly bothersome, it’s also okay to ask them not to talk about it so much. I found that asking casually, subtly, and gently was most helpful. Most people who make triggering comments don’t do so with malice and are open to hearing what is and isn’t helpful to a loved one. It’s also important to remember that it’s not other people’s responsibility to accommodate your triggers. And, asking someone to change what they say in an overly aggressive or accusatory way can make the situation more uncomfortable. We can’t control what other people say, but we can control how we apply (or don’t apply) it for ourselves. Grasping this helped me immensely in my recovery.
It takes persistence, but I hope you can use what works for you: logic, changing it up, humour, or something else, to get through any rough patches that arise so you can enjoy your holiday season. You deserve all the joy, hope, and love this world has to offer!
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