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Eating disorder triggers and the holidays


Holiday gatherings can feel like a constant focus on food. For some, being surrounded by comfort foods and sweets can make eating in moderation a difficult task. For others, the overabundance of food and a focus on sitting down together for family meals can cause anxiety.

The key to navigating holiday eating with confidence lies in planning for challenges that may arise, as well as placing an emphasis on practicing flexibility and asking for support. No matter your stage in eating disorder recovery, practicing these five strategies can help you protect your eating disorder recovery during the holidays and avoid potential triggers for eating disorders relapse.

1. Shift the focus from food, meals and counting calories to celebrating and spending time with loved ones. Spending your time evaluating available food to identify the healthiest options keeps you "in your head" and prevents you from meaningfully engaging with the people that care about you most. Accept that food is a part of seasonal events and reframe your thoughts to emphasize interaction with family and friends over meals themselves and the types of foods served.

2. Avoid "good food"/"bad food" thoughts. As we say at the Victorian, “There are no bad foods.”  In general, healthy eating is all about moderation, and this notion is particularly true when it comes to traditional holiday fare.  Try to enjoy healthy portion sizes during each course.

3. Avoid overbooking your schedule with holiday functions. Shopping for holiday gifts, attending all the holiday functions and hosting your own parties can make for a stressful holiday season. It's important to maintain an awareness of your stress level during the holidays. Trust your instincts and take a break if events and obligations become overwhelming. Don't worry about disappointing friends and family if you're unable to attend this gift exchange or that dinner; they'll understand that protecting your recovery is your number one priority.

4. Surround yourself with people who have healthy relationships with their bodies, food and weight. If possible, bring a trusted family member or friend with you to a holiday gathering, and be sure to keep lines of communication open and honestly discuss your challenges, victories and goals with members of your support team. If you're comfortable doing so, share your thoughts and feelings with trusted individuals; if they understand why the holidays can be a difficult time for you, it will help them provide support. 

5. Continue working with your nutritionist. Ongoing nutrition counseling with a registered nutritionist provides powerful guidance, support and education to help patients overcome their fear of food and normalize eating behaviors, particularly during times of stress. If holiday travel keeps you from keeping your regularly-scheduled appointments, consider speaking with your nutritionist by Skype or phone for a brief check in about your experiences and dietary challenges.

We hope everyone has a very happy and healthy holiday season in recovery!