When Holidays are Hard

Tips for coping with a food-centric season

(Family Features) During the holidays, no matter where you turn, you find food, food and more food. From vendor treats filling the office breakroom to celebratory dinners with family and friends, virtually everything and everyone seems to be focused on food. For someone working to overcome an eating disorder, it makes the season anything but festive.

Eating disorders affect 20 million females and 10 million males in the United States and can be diagnosed in boys and girls 7 years old and sometimes even younger.

Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice; they are mental health disorders similar to depression, bipolar disease or schizophrenia. It is not an individual choice to develop an eating disorder, but rather severe underlying pathological factors which drive individuals to take part in self-destructive behaviors associated with eating disorders.

Genetic, environmental and social factors all play a role in the development of an eating disorder. Interpersonal issues, past trauma, low self-esteem, abuse, co-occurring mental health disorders, substance abuse disorders and unhealthy family and personal relationships can all contribute to the environmental and social factors associated with eating disorders.

Even for someone who is well into a successful recovery program, the holidays can trigger unwanted thoughts and comments surrounding food. Whether you are actively treating your eating disorder or suspect you may have one, you can take steps to make this holiday season more comfortable with these tips from eating disorder expert and licensed therapist Dawn Delgado, director of clinical development at Center for Discovery.

1. Always have a safe plan. If you plan on attending a holiday party or gathering, you may want to consult with your dietitian to have a plan beforehand, especially if you feel you may be inclined to binge. If you feel triggered to binge, or if you feel pressured by another individual, create an escape plan, which may mean having a friend accompany you to the party or even come pick you up. Your plan may also involve finding a safe place at the party where you can be alone to gather your thoughts until you feel comfortable re-engaging with others.

2. Be prepared to say “no.” Many individuals, with good intentions, will push food your way. They will want you to try their favorite dessert or their new recipe without understanding your struggle. Know that it is OK to say “no” and to take care of yourself in these situations. You can choose to clarify why you are saying “no,” but do not feel obligated to do so. Also give yourself permission to decline joining holiday office parties, family parties or other holiday-themed get-togethers if your recovery could be compromised, or plan to bring a supportive friend.

3. Know your triggers before you engage in social situations. Understanding your triggers and learning how to use coping skills to control them at holiday functions can help keep negative thoughts and self-sabotaging at bay. If there are certain topics of conversation that trigger you then avoid those topics or change the conversation when those topics arise. Be honest with yourself, be honest with others, recognize your emotions and learn to take control of your scenarios.

Supporting a Loved One

Watching someone you care for battle an eating disorder can be emotionally challenging, but your love and support can make a big difference during the stressful holiday season with these tips from the experts at Center for Discovery:

  • If you’re uncertain how you can help, just ask then be prepared to listen without judgment.
  • Make it clear you are willing to be a sounding board or assist your loved one in getting to a safe place if he or she is triggered during an event.
  • Voice concerns privately. Public comments about weight, body shape or food choices can only exacerbate the angst your loved one is feeling, and when you put him or her on the defensive, he or she is less likely to be receptive to your genuine concern.

Mindful Eating Tips

These simple steps can help you rediscover your natural intuition about food and hunger. These tips can be used all in one meal or you can choose one tip at a time to focus on. When you feel you have mastered one, try a new one. Over time, eating mindfully can become second nature.

1. Practice mindfulness: Start by eating one meal a day in a slower, more aware manner.

2. Hunger check: Before eating, check in with yourself to determine how hungry you are. Are you hungry enough for a meal or just a snack?

3. Emotional check: What are you feeling? Are you happy, content, stressed, bored or something different?

4. Senses check: What type of food are you hungry for? Do you want savory, sweet or salty? Do you want something hot or cold?

5. Time check: Do you have time to sit and savor? Or are you crunched for time?

6. Time crunch: Planning to nourish your body is an act of mindfulness. Taking the time to grab some food or packing food to eat on the go is being mindful that your body needs fuel.

7. Focus: Concentrate on the meal in front of you. Avoid doing other activities while you eat such as working, talking on the phone, watching TV, driving or reading.

8. Savor: While eating, notice the colors, smells, flavors and textures of the food.

9. Food awareness: Notice your reaction to the food you are eating. What do you like, what don’t you like? If you are enjoying your food, savor it. If you don’t like your food, choose something more appealing.

10. Patience and grace: Mindful eating is a practice that takes time to learn and develop. Since there is no judgment in mindful eating, give yourself grace and patience as you learn.

Learn more and find options for treatment at centerfordiscovery.com.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

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