How To Handle Holiday Feasts When You Have An Eating Disorder

Photographed By Winnie Au.
If you struggle with disordered eating, you may find that the holidays challenge your relationship with food like no other time of year. (Even those who don't struggle with disordered eating often face eating anxiety in this feeling-heavy, food-stuffed, family-centric season, as wonderful as it may otherwise be.) Speaker, author, and Eating Recovery Center's National Recovery Advocate Robyn Cruze understands this battle firsthand. In a recent live webinar, Cruze shared what her own eating-disorder recovery over the past 10 years has taught her about navigating the holidays with confidence.

While her tips are tailored to others with eating disorders, her insights are valuable for anyone who gets a little stressed when Aunt Mabel starts pushing a third slice of her famous sweet potato pie. "The holidays are usually going to have three things: family, emotions, and food," Cruze said during the webinar. "I remember my years in my eating disorder... It was really hard for me to show up for my family members, so most of those holidays were spent sleeping all day or trying to find a way to disconnect myself from the family, because I felt like I was this burden." Read on for her pointers on banishing shame and guilt during the holidays — and actually enjoying the festivities.
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I am worth recovery. I am deserving of experiencing a full life. I am exactly where I am meant to be.

1. Equip yourself with a mantra.
Before joining the revelry, pick a phrase or phrases to say to yourself when you start to feel overwhelmed or disconnected. Cruze recalls that when she was in recovery, she still found herself lamenting that she wasn't "perfect" around food. She had to remind herself to accept where she was in that moment — "letting go of what you think you should be and making room for what is," as she puts it. A mantra is a powerful way of doing that. Cruze offered her own examples: "I am worth recovery. I am deserving of experiencing a full life. I am exactly where I am meant to be. I will ask for help when I need it. I will not be ashamed of my story. I will show up for my life. I am recovery."
Photographed By Winnie Au.
2. On that note, ask for help when you need it.
As Cruze explains, "help" should come from the professional(s) treating you, if you're receiving professional treatment, as well as friends and family who support you in your recovery. "Speak to your treatment team and discuss a food plan," she recommends. "If you feel like food is going to be a trigger, talk about it — talk about ways that you can keep yourself safe during the meal time." You may also find it helpful to increase the frequency of your treatment sessions around the holidays.

As for family and friend backup, "Get a piece of paper that is small enough to fit in your wallet, and write down three to five 'safe' phone numbers of people who won’t judge you," Cruze suggests on her blog. "Instead, they will support your recovery process." Even knowing your cheerleaders' numbers are close to you (and in physical form, not only floating around in your list of contacts!) can make you feel more peaceful.

3. Create space for yourself.
It can be hard to advocate for your own needs in the midst of a whirlwind of friends and family, but remember that you deserve to have them met, now just as at any other time of year. If you know that you'll be more present after a 30-minute walk, carve out the time to take one; if you're aware that your peace of mind starts to slip if your sleep schedule is thrown, feel entitled to excuse yourself from the table at midnight even if your uncles are ready for another round. And, in a pinch, "The bathroom can be the ideal place to gather your thoughts; I kid you not," Cruze writes. "Once you feel calm again, rejoin the celebration fully refreshed."

The bathroom can be the ideal place to gather your thoughts... Once you feel calm again, rejoin the celebration fully refreshed

What's more, "creating space" doesn't always mean space for you alone. If your house is beginning to feel claustrophobic, invite your family to join you for that walk, or if lingering around the table feels triggering to you, suggest that everyone migrate to the living room after dinner (embarrassing home movies, anyone?).

Whether or not you struggle with eating, you may find the holidays suffocating at times. It's okay to struggle — and okay to feel joy, as well. "When I first got into recovery," Cruze shares, "I found myself feeling awkward all the time, and when I feel awkward I often get in my head and I start thinking about everything I need to do or be — so I started reminding myself that I deserve to feel joy with no strings attached." And isn't that what the holidays are really about?
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