Coming from a background of disordered eating in the forms of orthorexia and anorexia, the holidays use to be a very vulnerable time for me when it came to holiday meals and treats. Even though I love the holidays, I remember stressing weeks before worried about what I would eat on Thanksgiving or Christmas. I was worried that I would eat “too much”. Worried that I would be hungry all day because I might be too afraid to eat anything. Worried that I might gain weight from the pieces of pie I had. I was stressed about eating food that I hadn’t prepared myself because I didn’t know the exact ingredients. That meant two things. First, I didn’t know if the ingredients fit my “clean” ingredient standards. And second, I didn’t know how many calories were in the dishes which stressed me out further since I was an avid calorie counter for several years.
Eventually, through mindfulness, self-love, and determination, I have overcome my eating disorders and holidays are a lot easier for me now. I am able to enjoy them and enjoy my family instead of spiraling into myself worrying about the food in front of me.
Here are some tips that helped me while recovering from eating disorders. I still practice these things when I am feeling particularly stressed and want to start controlling things again.
Throughout the season, but especially on the actual holiday or before dinner parties, it’s important to ground yourself in the present. This is a way to connect yourself with your body, surroundings, and calm your racing mind. Some ways to achieve this are meditation, prayer, going for a walk, or writing in your journal. Or maybe it’s dancing alone in your room, playing an instrument, or singing in your car. Whatever it is that helps you be in the moment, calm your mind, and connect yourself to your body, do that. I tend to turn to breathing exercises when I need to calm my mind and bring myself back to the moment. Left-nostril breathing is my go-to to ease anxious thoughts. It helps stimulate the vagus nerve which in turn calms the body and mind.
Indulge in the Good Stuff
For people that have a history of disordered eating, it can be a challenge deciding if they should or shouldn’t eat something. Especially when working on recovery. I encourage everyone to be sure and have some treats during the holiday season. It’s a special time of year and food is a part of it. Here’s my advice, though. There is a lot of food. Some delicious, some mediocre. Indulge in the good stuff. The stuff that’s worthwhile or that’s your very favorite. The things I look forward to during the holidays are my mom’s homemade pie on Thanksgiving and her homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. I also love ample amounts of stuffing, gravy, and mashed potatoes. Most other things I could do without. I opt for homemade things because they taste the best, in my opinion.
Another piece of advice is to recognize when your taste buds are bored (this takes mindfulness). Sometimes we may feel like we have to eat a lot because that’s the way the holiday season is often portrayed. This is a great tip for those with a history of binge eating. Often the best bites are the first few and then we are kind of just eating out of boredom or a desire to clear the plate. If you aren’t hungry anymore if the food lost its spark, etc. It’s okay to stop eating. The good news, if you get hungry again, food will always be there for you to go back to it.
Wear comfortable clothes that you feel good in
This may be a weird one to some but I don’t love wearing clothes that are super restrictive or squeeze too tight in the stomach area. Especially when I know I’m going to be enjoying a large meal. Wearing clothes that have some give were important especially when I was first overcoming my eating disorder. I wasn’t used to feeling full and so I needed to wear clothes that allowed me to fill up my stomach with food without making me feel like I couldn’t breathe. Thank goodness for leggings and cute sweaters. Whatever it is that makes you feel good and comfortable, wear that.
It’s normal to feel full
Continuing on that point of feeling full, remember eating to satisfaction is normal. Eating a little past full is also normal. It’s okay to feel full and it’s completely normal. It can be an uncomfortable feeling at first especially if you are used to feeling just a little bit hungry all the time due to undereating but I say embrace the fullness. Recognize that you just filled your stomach with energy and nutrients and love and deliciousness. Your body knows what to do with the food that you give it. It will digest that food and you will eventually feel hungry again. For now enjoy that full, warm belly.
Get some movement
This can be a tricky one for people in recovery. It’s often recommended to not workout while overcoming an eating disorder, specifically if over-exercising was a thing that was used to manipulate one’s body. Let me be clear here. You do not need to earn your food with exercise. When I say get some movement, anything counts. A yoga practice, a walk, or just a nice stretch session are all forms of movement as well as running and weight-lifting. I recommend getting some sort of movement, gentle or otherwise because it can help relieve stress when not done to an extreme level. It can help us realize how wonderful it is to have a body that we can move in. Not to mention a nice walk after a holiday meal can help support healthy digestion.
But remember this, you do not need to exercise extra hard (or even at all) the next day because of the food you enjoyed the day before. Do not use exercise as punishment.
Connect with your Family and Friends
In the midst of my eating disorder, I remember being at several family holiday dinners or meals out with friends and being very quiet. I didn’t interact with those around me as much as I should have. This was because I was stuck in my head thinking about the food and how many calories were in it, how much I should or shouldn’t eat, etc. Now I focus on conversing with people and appreciating my time with them. The holidays are a special time to be with those we love. I don’t want to waste any more time in my head and I don’t want you to do that either. I want to get to know those around me better and enjoy some laughs with my friends and family. I like to ask others lots of questions to start conversations. This helps me think more about others than about myself. Social dinners are way more fun now.
Don’t connect your morality with food
This one takes time and reframing the things we hear so often from diet culture. We’ve all heard this statement (or something similar) before. “I’m so bad for eating 3 pieces of pie.” Did you steal the food? No? Then it’s not an issue of morality. So, how about we change that statement to “I ate 3 pieces of pie and it was delicious.” You’re not bad, naughty, or evil for eating food. Eat the food and move on. Making the food we eat a moral issue brings unnecessary shame and can lead to hurtful thoughts and behaviors. Do not give in to the shame that the diet world likes us to feel when we don’t eat a certain way all the time. You’re not bad for eating food no matter what you ate. The end.
Were these tips helpful to you?
Do you have any tips for cultivating a healthy relationship with food during the holidays?