Does stress around the holidays prevent you from actually enjoying this special time of the year?
I get it, the holidays are definitely stressful! Stress around this time can come from many different things: hosting Thanksgiving, costs of gifts, cooking, prepping, and planning. There’s also the stress that comes with being around family. While most of us really do cherish the time spent with family, it can be hard figuring out how to navigate all the different personalities under one roof. What about my introverts out there? Just being around so many people can be extremely draining!
The holidays were especially difficult for me when I was deep in my disordered thoughts and behaviors around food. Let’s face it. The holidays are tough any time you are struggling, but it can be much worse when you are struggling with your relationship with food and your body. Whether you are actively working on recovering from your eating disorder or you are attempting to tune into your own body signals to guide you, being around so much food and talk about food will be challenging. But that’s why I wrote this blog post for you: to provide some strategies and tips to help you not only survive the holidays, but to have your best one yet!
If you are ready for this to be the year that you enjoy your time with loved ones, and the delicious food, all without the guilt, shame, anxiety, and negative self-talk, you are in the right place!
To begin, let’s identify what typically gets in the way. What are your barriers to having a stress free holiday? It may be helpful to do some journaling here. Do you find yourself unable to connect to your own hunger and fullness levels, causing you to eat way past fullness? Do you have thoughts about needing to eat all of the food because you never let yourself have it otherwise (AKA one big cheat day)? Do you have to endure constant diet talk and body shaming by those around you? Do you spend the day only eating safe foods and dodging questions about why you aren’t eating like everyone else? Do you “save” up all your calories by skipping meals which leads to binge eating and feeling like a failure? What about the day before or after? Do you over compensate with intense exercise, believing that this is the only way you can “earn” your calories? Think about what your barriers to eating mindfully have been recently and also in the past years at holidays.
Once you have identified what is most likely to get in the way or lead to anxiety, shame, or back to dieting/disordered behaviors, you can make a plan. My first recommendation is to start this process early! Start today!
Next, review your coping mechanisms. What tools do you currently have in your toolbox? If you are like me, then you may have tools for before, during, and after stressful situations. What are some strategies you can start implementing the week before or the week of the holiday in order to feel at peace going into the big day? Basically – how do you feel your best? Is it by going to therapy? Doing some daily walking, stretching, or yoga? What about daily meditation? Reading? Talking to a friend? Sleeping enough? What are your tools for during a stressful situation? Do you repeat positive affirmations or mantras in your head? Take 10 deep breaths? Grab your mom and take a break? Write down all your tools! Have them fresh in your mind and create a plan by picking a few to practice in the days leading up to the holiday as well as the day of.
You may want to prepare for tough conversations that may trigger you. Have a response or two ready if someone asks you about something difficult. If someone comments on your weight or your food, you may want to respond with one of these statements:
“I’m trying something new where I learn to listen to and honor my body’s signals”
“I’m focusing on improving my health right now – that includes my mental health as well as my physical.”
“I’m working on being kind to myself and loving myself. It’s going really great, thanks!”
“If it’s okay with you, I’d rather talk about something more interesting, like my new promotion at work!”
Consider the person you are conversing with, and if it is worth it to share your new journey with them. It’s up to you to decide who you want to spend your energy on. For many people, it may be worth it to just change the subject.
Next, I want to address the FOOD. In my experience, it is a big mistake to save up calories, skip meals, or compensate with intense exercise and/or restriction. These behaviors will only pull you farther away from your internal cues, will disrupt body trust, and will lead you into a possible “restrict-binge” cycle. So my next tip is to eat regularly! Having an early dinner or a late lunch? It’s completely okay (and encouraged) to still eat breakfast! Eating a balanced breakfast will help you better tune into those body cues all day long.
Another important strategy I recommend is to take a break. Before the big meal of the day, excuse yourself to the bathroom or a private room. Sit down and take 3 deep breathes. Check in with yourself. Ask yourself how you are doing. Take inventory as to what feelings are coming up. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Are you enjoying yourself and the conversations? Next, check in with your hunger. Have you eaten a few appetizers and you feel only slightly hungry? Are you feeling pretty hungry and ready for the meal? Once you’ve identified your hunger level, think about what sounds good to you. What food do you want to make sure you put on your plate, and what item is going to leave you feeling satisfied? How do you want to feel when you finish your meal?
Having a plan for stressful or overwhelming situations is key. It can be so easy to psych yourself out, revert back to old coping techniques (disordered behaviors) or just freeze and isolate yourself.
Now, I’d like to share with you some of my personal strategies I have been implementing in the weeks and days leading up to Thanksgiving. This month I have focused on sleeping enough, eating enough, and drinking enough water. This helps me feel my best and also helps my immune system. There is nothing worse than being sick over the holidays! Something else I do is incorporate “treats,” desserts and fun foods most days in order to not feel deprived. If I can enjoy these foods anytime I want, there is no need to binge on them or feel out of control. As far as stress management goes, I have started a daily meditation practice – only 5-10 minutes in the mornings. This has helped me better able to tolerate and accept my feelings, which leads to resilience. Positive affirmations are also very helpful for me (I am not my feelings. I can handle anything).
Lastly, the day after a holiday can be brutal for some. Feelings of guilt, shame, and even regret may come over you. You may wake up with a stomachache or nausea or negative body image. This is incredibly important: In order to stop the cycle of restricting and binging, you must first stop the restriction. Restriction can be physical, mental, or both! It can start with skipping breakfast or intense exercise. It can also start with your self-talk. Did you know that just THINKING about a diet is enough to increase your hunger hormones and your cortisol? So what is the best thing you can do for yourself the morning after? Be kind. Be compassionate. Give yourself permission to feel all of your feelings. Take deep breaths. Sip ginger or peppermint tea if you are experiencing GI distress. Have a slow morning with your loved ones, pets, or with a book. Express gratitude for the day you had, the food you ate, and the people you interacted with. Remove any triggers such as social media. Do some journaling if this is very uncomfortable for you. You CAN get through these feelings. You are not your feelings, and the only way past them is to get through them.
Just a reminder that if this is your first holiday with intuitive eating or recovery, then congratulations! While it is difficult, it is incredibly worth it. The good news? It gets easier. It takes time and patience and practice, but it does get easier. Remind yourself of the end goal with recovery. Remind yourself of your WHY for healing. You will get there.
Have a happy holiday season!