Holiday Survival Strategies for People Struggling with Food

Holidays are wonderful time to celebrate with family and friends. They also tend to be food centric. Everything from Thanksgiving dinner, to Halloween candy, to cookie decorating, leaves us with a lot of food and sweets around. Not to mention all the emotions that come up around the holidays and family gatherings. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it can be especially challenging for someone with an eating disorder.

If you are struggling with being triggered to binge, here are some strategies to manage urges:

  1. Notice the urge to binge as a thought or craving and not an imperative (just because you think about eating that plate of cookies doesn't mean you HAVE to have it)
  2. Drink a glass of water. Sometimes we confuse hunger and thirst so this may help you assess if you are feeling actual hunger. It also buys you some time to evaluate your options and ride out an urge.
  3. Take 20 min. Food will still be there when you're done but your emotions and urges may have settled a bit. During that time, do a mindfulness activity to switch focus. It’s not helpful to just obsess about food or binging for 20 min.
  4. Consider HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired). Maybe the urge is a result of one of these in which the solution isn't necessarily "eat all the chocolate".
  5. While food rules can be tricky, a decent food rule for someone dealing with binging behaviors can be "I need to eat it around people". If you want chocolate, enjoy it, don't hide it, eat it in a social context to avoid overdoing it.
  6. Make sure you're fueling consistently. Don't restrict calories or exercise a ton or purge meals to compensate for potential calories over the holidays. It may sound counter intuitive to eat consistently, but not doing that just keeps you in the cycle of binging because you have actual hunger and low blood sugar which can make you confuse hunger cues and binge urges,  make you more impulsive, and make you more vulnerable to overwhelming emotions, all of those make challenging binge urges harder. It’s hard enough.
  7. Set an intention. Instead of going to an event or going through the season being at war with food, try to shift the focus. While food is still there, it’s often helpful to go to a party with your focus on your friends, gratitude, being present, feeling proud of yourself, laughing, etc. Think of how you want to feel about yourself during the party. Or how do you want to feel physically or emotionally in the moment. Find something that is more important than food and stayed zeroed in on that as much as possible. It won't make urges go away, but having an intention can add much needed ammunition to the fight to overcome urges.

 

If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, try to be gentle and show grace in this tough season, and don't hesitate to reach out for help. We're here for you.