I’m very happy to be able to help you with an extremely important topic when it comes to eating disorder recovery – explaining why it’s so important to keep up comforting habits and rituals during the holiday season. You don’t have to suffer over the holidays if you have food and body image issues, and keeping up your self-care routines can really help.
Have you noticed that each year holiday stress starts right around Halloween? You’re going along without a care in the world, and don’t remember it’s coming, but then… all of that Halloween candy shows up. The candy starts the entire holiday food parade, which marches on right through the New Year.
That’s an awfully long time to cope with food stress - October through January. That’s one quarter of every year of your life! There is a lot of rich holiday food around during the holidays that is normally not available. Just the presence of these types of foods can trigger eating disorder behaviors and low self-esteem around body image.
Be aware of the interruption of comforting routines over the holidays and have “backup” rituals to take their place. So many of our normal routines are interrupted over the holidays. If you’re a college student, you won’t have class for up to a month. You may have time off from work. Your meals might not be the same, especially if everyone is home at the same time, you’re trying to get organized, or there are many social engagements to attend.
It can be difficult to keep up with regular meals. You may not have your usual supports such as your therapist, or planned get-togethers with friends if they’re going out of town. If you’re on a sports team, they might not have practice over the holidays, for example.
Holiday time can result in interruption of routines that help you feel grounded. In fact, you might not even realize how grounded they make you feel until you don’t have them! It becomes all the more important to anticipate the interruption of these routines.
I suggest that you create special holiday rituals that will comfort you if your normal routines are not in place.
For example, if you’re coming up on the anniversary of the death of someone you love over the holidays, it would be important to plan a ritual to commemorate their memory. You might visit the cemetery, or light candles for them, or you could plan meeting for loved ones where you can all reminisce and talk about the person who has been lost.
Many people get “surprised” by the anniversaries of loss over the holidays and resulting grief. This is in large part due to our society’s erroneous message that one should “get over” feelings of grief and loss quickly and just move on. Grief does not work in this manner. It comes in waves. It can be triggered by a sight, a smell, a birthday, someone’s small comment. Grief can arise years or even decades after a loss, and this is completely normal. Many feel shame over these normal feelings of sadness and loss, and as a result try to push them away. What would help a lot more is to acknowledge the feelings, bring them out into the open, and actually make a place for them.
Here is a small selection of ideas for comforting holiday rituals:
- Make sure you schedule time alone to breathe and just relax.
- Plan to pursue interests for which you normally don’t have time, such as taking a trip to the beach, taking time for a hike in the mountains, or maybe even just sitting down and reading a book for an afternoon.
- Arrange to be in contact with your loved ones even if they’re out of town for the holidays. We’re so lucky these days to have Skype/FaceTime, and of course, our phones, as well as lots of ways to see and speak to the people we care about and love. Try hard not to isolate over the holidays.
- Try to keep up some of the normal routines that make you feel grounded, if you can. If you have an exercise routine, you could try to keep it up during these months. Follow your meal plan and don’t skip meals. Take your dogs on their regular walk. Keep your weekly poker game going.
- Keep up with volunteer activities over the holidays.
You probably won’t be able to keep all of your normal routines, but try to keep a few of them if you can; it will make a huge difference. And of course, if you need extra support around eating and body image issues over the holidays, we’re here at The Body Image Counseling Center to help. Just call for a free 15 minute consult and we will be in touch the same day to help!