Looking back on this holiday season, it’s safe to say that social gatherings and celebratory feasts posed some significant challenges for anyone trying to develop a more peaceful relationship with food – including those in recovery from an eating disorder. That’s why The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt launched a social media campaign called the “12 Days of Eating Disorder Recovery.” The initiative shared tips on how to maintain healthy relationships with food through the holiday season and beyond. These are summarized below – one for each day of the 12 days – so you can use them to navigate future holiday seasons and get a little help finding the joy and peace within the hustle and bustle.
Day 1: Keep expectations realistic and set manageable goals that will help you stick to your plan.
Regardless of where you’re at in recovery, celebrations, holiday feasts and schedule changes can pose challenges. Planning ahead and setting realistic expectations can help you stay focused on what truly matters.
Day 2: Grab a notebook or journal and write down all the reasons why recovery is important to you.
While you’re at it, make another list of support people. Figure out in advance who you will call if things get overwhelming or if you simply need to get out of your own head. Things that help you cope daily are still needed during the holidays.
If you’re headed out of town, pack your suitcase with your notebook along with other recovery tools. This could be tangible things like a fidget cube, fun book, art supplies or a favorite essential oil.
Day 3: Connect in safe and meaningful ways with others in recovery.
Recovery from an eating disorder is a journey that requires support, encouragement and ongoing motivation. Individuals with eating disorders and their loved ones can find hope and help in others who understand what they’re going through. Support groups and therapy groups can be a great way to strengthen recovery skills and help remind you that you are not alone.
Day 4: Set a goal today that has nothing to do with food, weight or your eating disorder.
It’s common for social gatherings to revolve around food in our culture, especially during the holidays. These celebrations often lead to an intensified emphasis on meals and eating for those working on recovery from an eating disorder. Keep doing what you need to do to fuel your body in recovery, but try also setting a goal for yourself that has nothing to do with food or your eating disorder.
Day 5: Don’t let your eating disorder make decisions for you in the grocery store. Use price or brand to inform decisions instead of reading nutrition labels.
Whether we like it or not, grocery shopping is part of adulthood. But for the millions of individuals living with an eating disorder, this everyday task feels overwhelming and becomes a significant barrier to recovery. If you are worried about buying items for upcoming gatherings or celebrations, this tip can help make grocery shopping more manageable.
Day 6: Defuse grocery shopping stress by bringing a friend, avoiding crowds and shopping at smaller stores in off-peak hours.
If you’ve had negative experiences with grocery shopping, you can start developing more positive associations. A Registered Dietitian may provide some easy steps for managing your grocery list.
Ask your dietitian for support, or consider adding one to your treatment team if you haven’t done so. You can also go with a friend or support person the first few times to help distract from any eating disorder thoughts and avoid being triggered by diet products.
Day 7: Infuse your New Year with body positivity and gratitude.
Be prepared to see your newsfeed flooded with New Year’s resolutions, gym memberships and diet plans in the coming weeks. To balance triggering and unhealthy messages, remember to reality check all the bogus weight-loss ads and surround yourself online and IRL with body-positive people and organizations.
Pay attention to which images and messages contribute to your feeling badly about yourself or your body and do what you can to remove them from your daily life. When you notice them, remove them (unsubscribe, throw them away, etc.) or challenge them.
Focus on gratitude for the functionality of the breath in your body, the ability to move, see, hear, taste or touch. Try to elevate those in your mind as you go through your day.
Create your own New Year’s goals with body positive thoughts. Work to set aside unhealthy ideals and embrace your body.
Day 8: Tackle eating disorder stigma by dispelling myths among friends and family.
Major misconceptions about eating disorders are widespread, even among those closest to us. Family can be a key component to recovery success. Unfortunately, some family and friends may still subscribe to ED myths that lead to stigma and might make it harder to ask for help or to seek treatment. Help educate and increase awareness about eating disorders among your loved ones.
Day 9: Friends and family can be a great support network. Be open with the people closest to you about how they can best support you.
Holiday conversations often revolve around what people are eating or not eating, who’s eating too much or too little and even criticism or praise about body weight and size. Did this happen for you during Chanukah or Christmas this year?
The start of a new year can be a great time to enlist family members as allies by being open about your needs and boundaries. Set the stage for healthier gatherings in the new year by having a post-holiday conversation with them about how their words impacted you and what they can do instead to support you at the table and in other stressful situations.
Day 10: Meditate or listen to soothing music to start your day in a positive place.
It’s not just about food and body image. Incorporating mindfulness in the new year can be a way to care for your overall mental health. If you’re heading back to work or school after winter break, find a way to change up your routine to build in mindfulness practices. Even just three minutes of meditation can help you set a positive intention for the day.
You can be mindful in your social connections too. Cultivate awareness about the different support each generation of your family can offer. Hanging out with cousins can be a nice way to connect and get support on specific life stage issues like being away at college, parenting stress, job hunting, etc. On the other hand, reaching out to older generations, like grandparents, is an opportunity to see how priorities can shift throughout life. Even the youngest generations have something to offer you in your recovery-focused festivities.
Day 11: Aim for balance and flexibility rather than perfection.
Individuals who are perfectionists often struggle with the urge to compare themselves to people around them. Research has shown perfectionism to be a significant risk factor for the development of eating disorders.
Constantly striving to be perfect with food or appearance during the holidays can lead to tension and stress. Even those holiday photo cards hanging around your house can trigger negative social comparisons. Try making some small changes to help ease perfectionist tendencies this time of year.
Day 12: Support is essential to your wellbeing. Recovery is possible with treatment and support.
Whether you are an individual working on recovery, or a loved one who is close to someone in recovery during this time of year, it’s important to remember that support is essential to wellbeing.
Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone.
Ask for help.
If you are experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder and you’re not connected to a therapist or receiving treatment, don’t wait any longer. There is no reason to go through this alone. Call (410) 938-5252 for a free phone assessment today.
This holiday season, and year-round, carry these tips with you. Recovery is possible and recovery is worth it.