Holiday Eating Strategies for those with an Eating Disorder

eating disorders healthy holiday eating

This information is from a holiday eating hand-out that is an "oldie but a goodie" to help those with eating disorders connect with friends and family, and worry less about food this time of year.

Many major holidays are traditionally celebrated in an environment of social eating and elaborate meals.  These situations may present an overwhelming challenge as you work to recover from your eating disorder.  During the festive season, many of the people around you may adopt very irregular eating habits such as limiting intake during the day in order to overeat at a holiday meal.  You may find yourself in an unsupportive environment if your family and friends are not eating well-balanced meals and ignoring the message of "moderation" and "variety".  The following ideas are offered to help you experience less anxiety during holiday celebrations.

Strategies to Enjoy Holiday Meals if you Struggle with an Eating Disorder:

  • Work with friends and family to de-centre food and re-centre quality interactions with each other. Bring along games and activities or suggest leisurely pursuits that do not involve food. If you are not comfortable participating in holiday dinners, there are many other special ways to spend time with people outside of eating meals.

  • Expect some pressure to eat - this happens with everyone. Think of strategies to assert your ability to be responsible for what you need when faced with challenging demands from others.

  • Stick to your meal plan! This may require you to eat at different times from others around you, but it can help recent underrating or overeating.

  • Modify your meal plan slightly on specific days when you predict a meal may be larger than usual or later than usual. For example, if you will likely eat an extra starch serving at dinner but will not necessarily need your meal, you could switch your dinner milk serving with a starch serving from your afternoon or evening snack and still meet your needs for that day. Or, if you know dinner is going to be delayed until late evening, consider having larger afternoon snack by combining it with all or part of your evening snack.

  • Recommend that all holiday foods and snacks be contained in one room or area within the home, such as the kitchen or dining room. This may help move everyone's attending from eating and prevent you from experiencing potential anxiety or loss of control when constantly surrounded by food.

  • Ask to be involved in meal planning. This will help ensure that there are many safe options for you to eat. If you can't be involved in the planning, find out what is being served before the party in order to determine what will be your safest choices.

  • Serve yourself all the food needed to meet your meal plan on one plate so that you do not have to go back for remaining portions. This will allow you to be confident that you are not overeating.

  • You have the right to say "no thank you"! Praise the chef for their work and effort, but keep in mind that it is reasonable for everyone to decline certain dishes based on preferences or fullness.

  • Once you have finished the meal, remove yourself from the eating area.

  • Try to minimize the amount of leftovers. If the party is at your place, send guests home with leftover food. If the party is at another person's home, decline any leftovers they offer you.

Things to Remember:

  • Restricting is counterproductive to enjoying the holiday season. It may attract negative attention which can then lead you to cope in unhealthy ways such as further restriction or bingeing.

  • Restricting often gives rise to food cravings that grow increasingly stronger throughout the day. Because you will likely be surrounded by holiday snacks and treats that represent binge foods or unsafe foods, it is much safer to try to maintain your meal plan at all times.

  • Overeating is common during the holidays, but potentially upsetting for someone struggling with an eating disorder. You may interpret slightly larger portions as bingeing and then struggle to compensate by resorting to previous eating disorder behaviours. Try to accept that brief increases in your intake will not have disastrous results.

  • Don't expect yourself to be perfect! Set realistic goals with a realistic attitude. And focus on the event rather than the food - it is a holiday!!