Q&A with Amy!: Dealing with the Holiday Stress

Q:    Hi Amy.  So, the
holidays are coming up and I’m kind of nervous about all the food that’s going
to be around and comments from family. 
Do you have any advice?
A:    I completely
understand where you’re coming from! I don’t think I have met anyone with an
eating disorder that really looks forward to the holidays! My entire family
(and yes, that includes my aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, their dogs
etc.) knew I was in treatment for an eating disorder. This made me incredibly
anxious about our family gatherings: Will they be watching what I eat the entire time? Will they think I’ve lost weight? Will they think I’ve gained weight? What if I cave in and eat some of those tempting ‘forbidden’
foods? What if I eat too much? What if I eat
too little and someone comments? What if I can’t
exercise because of the snow outside! What
if I start to eat and can’t stop!
…and this list goes on. 

Christmas was
the most feared time of year for me. I had to face two of my worst fears: food
and people. And, more importantly, I felt guilty for not being happy during
this ‘happy’ time. I felt unworthy to be
Now looking back, it’s completely understandable, with the huge
emphasis placed on food throughout the holiday season! When I had an eating
disorder, I remember this made sticking to a meal plan much more challenging! And
to add to everything, my therapist I was seeing was off for the month of
December, which left me feeling stranded on my own trying to remain
relapse-free. The one thing my therapist told me to do was plan, plan, and
PLAN! I also got my mom on board with the plan, which gave me the support I
needed and accountability. 

Here is a
list of a few ideas that may help you during the holidays:
•Plan ahead. Think of a friend or family member who you can call
when you are feeling stressed, having negative thoughts, or difficult emotions.
We have feelings and emotions that resurface during the holiday season and it
is important to have a plan for when those feelings arise so that we don’t
behave in a self-destructive way.  Call
them ahead of time and let them know of your concerns, needs, and the
possibility of them receiving a call from you.
•Take time for yourself!  Plan to spend some time everyday—even
if it is only 10 minutes—to take a walk, write, or just, be. Try to think about what is truly important in your
•Be curious. If you find that you are
punishing yourself for over-indulging or eating foods you normally would not
eat, try not to be judgmental about those feelings. Write in a journal, call a
friend, or talk about it with your therapist. Remember, you deserve nourishment
•Focus on the holiday aspects unrelated to food and weight (ie.
Decorations! The snow! Family)! 
with loved ones about important issues to you: decisions, victories,
challenges, fears, concerns, goals, special moments, relationships, and your
feelings about them. Make agreements with how your family can best support you
(ie. don’t make food the focus during the holidays).
choosing a loved one (for me, it was my mom) to be your “reality
check” with food, to either help plate up food for you, or to give you a
reality check on the food portions which you dish up for yourself.
you feel you need to, set some boundaries for yourself by telling people ahead
of time that you do not want anyone to comment on your appearance or your
eating. This is a reasonable request. You matter.
you have to be at a function with certain people who make you feel
uncomfortable, plan ways to excuse yourself from their immediate presence.
down your goal of where you want to be after the holidays are over. Take time
once a day to find a quiet place to become in tune again with your goal, to
remember, to nurture, and to center yourself into those thoughts and feelings.
Make your goals about “doing
” rather than about trying to prevent something.  If you have food goals, consider adding
personal, emotional, spiritual, and relationship goals as well.
to be flexible in what you eat and guidelines during the holidays, and take a
break from that self-imposed criticism, rigidity, and perfectionism.
a list of things you can do to help relax and distract yourself from the feelings
of fullness after a meal (ie. go for a walk, talk to a family member, go for a
drive, etc.).
you have a period where you end up bingeing or purging, do not beat yourself up
over it. Write it down, talk it through with someone you trust, and move forward.
Nobody is perfect.
Try not to avoid social situations where
there will be loads of food. Have you ever turned down an invitation only to
end up bingeing by yourself? I certainly have, and it’s very depressing. Get
dressed, get out, engage in conversation and try not to focus on what is being
served. Give yourself permission to eat if you’re hungry, and don’t if you’re
you feel yourself starting to panic because you are feeling too full or if you
allowed yourself to eat foods that you consider to be forbidden, remind
yourself it is okay to eat what you
did, that food will not make you fat, and it is okay to eat more during the holidays. 
responses to make to people who may say something to you that would make you
uncomfortable. I always hated it when people mentioned, “oh Amy, you look good,” because I interpreted ‘good’ as
being ‘fat’! This is not the case at all! I realize now that they really meant
it–I actually looked good! Stop your eating disorder voice in its track! You do look good and are proud of the hard
work you’ve accomplished!! So say in response, “thank-you! I think so
your triggers – take steps to avoid getting pushed off track.
might be helpful to talk with your parents and ask them to make it clear with
your aunts, uncles, etc. not to comment on your appearance.
honest with yourself and to others who support you. The eating disorder is very
conniving, and even the littlest lie hurts a lot. Keep no secrets. 
the dinner table, sit next to someone who understands your recovery, if
possible (for me it was my cousin!).
Allow yourself to have fun rather than
rigidly focusing on food or body concerns. 
Give yourself permission! 
•Enjoy yourself!  Make sure you take time to enjoy the
people around you and the essence of the holiday season!  You deserve
thankfully I no longer get stressed out during the holidays (except of course
for the last minute rush of holiday shoppers!), and I dont experience anxiety
about the meals anymore. Recovery took time and enjoying holidays didn’t come
easy, but as long as you keep fighting and never give up, food will no longer
prevent you from enjoying the holidays. You will be able to think of them as a
time to gather with loved ones and start looking forward to them as I do!
everyone a minimally stressful, maximally happy and healthy holiday season!!!


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