Psychotherapy for adolescents, adults, and families.







Recovery-Minded Tips for the Holidays

The holiday season is here and along with it can bring epic highs and lows that can hit hard and hit fast, especially if you are actively struggling with an eating disorder or have a loved one that is. Here are a few tips to focus on from both sides when you are feeling some holiday hopelessness about recovery:


1. Remind yourself that your awful feelings will pass - and truly they will.

Intense negative feelings, like hopelessness and grief, can feel overwhelming and very permanent, so it is important to keep reminding yourself that this is part and parcel of the very DNA of those feelings. It's also true that you won't really believe that those feelings will pass and if they do, you're likely to think that they're just destined to return to haunt you for the rest of your waking life. Try to find a quote that will be an inspiring reminder about this thinking error, send yourself an email, or post something on your phone that will help send a message from the other side. (Personally, I've always liked this one.)


2. Be mindful of your gaze.

What we pay attention to gains strength as it dominates our thoughts, which then influences how we feel. If you find that you are staring at your food, other people's food, the snack bowls, the buffet, your body, and so on, practice shifting your gaze up to other people, a window, or artwork to help you take your mind away from obsessive food and body image thoughts. Take a deep breath and let yourself engage in another way.


3. Stick to your concrete plan for meals.

This does not mean adhering to your "good/bad" foods or restricting at other meals to compensate for an anticipated large holiday meal, but rather this one is about staying on track with your meal plan that you set up with your nutritionist, treatment team, and/or loved ones. If your struggle is with restricting, then keep to your plan and refrain from skipping any meals or snacks, even if you are feeling full. Remember that not eating is just not an option. If you struggle with binge eating, be sure to set realistic meal goals for the day along with strategies to manage your urges to binge.


4. Have support in place.

Connecting with others goes a long way. Think back to a time that you spent a day alone, after which you had a brief positive interaction with a stranger that gave you some energy that wasn't necessarily there before. The same applies here. If we are stuck in our heads it can be hard to reach out, but it is the exact thing that needs to happen! Have a few trusted people in your support line-up (either in your head or by talking with them about this ahead of time) that you can talk with (about anything) and help distract you from eating disorder thoughts and urges - in person, on the phone, via video, or texting. Keep in mind it doesn't even have to be about feelings or challenges but something as simple and silly as exchanging awkward family photos in order to engage your brain in a different way!


5. Focus on what you want to see happen.

Putting your mind's energy towards what you would like to have happen in the day makes those things much more likely to actually come to be! Your brain has a lot of power behind it and helping it to focus on your desires rather than your "shouldn't's" can be the difference between trying to climb an icy hill in flip-flops to having some ice cleats attached!


6. Give yourself the gift of compassionate self-talk.

I'm not talking about using uplifting quotes or phrases here (although these can be helpful too), I'm talking about really paying attention to how you are talking to yourself and the words you are choosing. If your tone is demanding and the words are jagged, you can bet that your mood is going to be closer to cranky and a shark pool away from cheerful. Also, the words we choose have a tremendous impact on how we feel and subsequently how we behave - which in turn has a big impact on how we feel about ourselves. As this article underscores, language even shapes what we see, so it's critical that we create compassion in our internal worlds. Think of it as a Peace Snuggie for your mind.


7. Finally, if you have a lapse, recognize it as that and let it go.

This can be challenging. After all, if you've "messed up" by not go big? This is what is known as an "all or nothing" kind of thinking error and it can get you into trouble and create more problems that you started with. Give yourself the room to have missteps (as we all make these) and remind yourself that they are an integral part of not only recovery, but life itself. Persistence pays off and taking the next best step will feel much better than rolling into old habits that aren't serving you!


If you have a loved one struggling in their recovery during the holidays, here are a few tips for you too!

1. Give

I'm tweaking the KISS principle to, "Keep It Sweet, Sweetie." It can get frustrating to see a loved one hide food, find vomit (or remnants of), or see a loved one speeding down the slope of a binge. Instead of reacting, take a breath and respond with care. Let your loved one know that you are sorry they are having a hard time, that you love them, and that you are there for them to lean on. Then offer to team up with them to beat the card shark in your family (for the first time!) at Gin Rummy.


2. Distract, distract, distract.

Help your loved one come up with things to do to get their focus off of their negative thoughts about food, their body, or themselves. Have games, activities, and conversation topics lined-up that you can engage them in. The more fun and silly the better - remember that nothing loosens up a tense situation much better than humor and playfulness!


3. Have your own support system.

When emotions heat up and you are feeling hopeless or powerless to help your loved one, have a few trusted others you can lean on to help you to regain both your strength and your hope. The FEAST's Around the Dinner Table Forum is a great way to vent, get ideas, and connect with other carers who have walked (or are walking) that marathon in your shoes.


For some additional ideas, check out the recorded teleseminar "Empower, Don't Devour!" with Ondina Hatvany, MFT here. I'd also love to hear your thoughts or any tips that you have found most helpful and supportive during the holidays!


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