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When people think of the holiday season, they think of time spent with family, holiday specials on TV and lots of festive food. For people who struggle with eating disorders, the holiday season means something else entirely.

For those who struggle with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, the holidays act as a trigger and stressor to continue “extreme” dieting or the binge-purge coping mechanism. This inevitably leads to feelings of shame, guilt and disgust.

As someone who is currently trying to overcome her own eating disorder, I know how stressful the holidays can be on someone who is battling their own eating disorder. I feel that it is important to find ways to cope or at least bring yourself back from these triggers, especially if they occur during the holiday season.

  • Keep a Journal with you

Something that has always been incredibly helpful for me during my recovery has been journaling. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I just feel safe when I have that pen in my hand. I use my journal entries to write down what I am feeling, why I am feeling this way and how it relates to my eating disorder struggles.

I know this past Thanksgiving, I wrote an entry about me feeling anxious because there would be lots of turkey and pumpkin pie and I was scared that I would lose all sense of control and feel disgusted with myself. I find that being able to track your patterns and why certain events had been triggered, you have the chance to sit down and evaluate the root of the issue.

  • Drink water and relax

I know that this tip sounds a little strange, but it does a world of good. If you do “slip-up” during the holidays, drinking water will not only help to clean you out, but it will help soothe you.

Also, doing yoga or meditating is a positive outlet for dealing with possible triggers and relapses, as it will help bring you back to being “yourself” and take away that negative energy plaguing your holidays and eating patterns.

  • Take care of your physical needs

Don’t focus on your anxiety surrounding food. Take care of your physical needs first. Haven’t showered or shaved? Do it. Dirty dishes? Done. Laundry? Folded and put away. Small “real-world” accomplishments help bring me out of my head and back to reality. It’s also really uplifting to feel clean and sexy once in a while. Feel free to pamper yourself when cleaning. Bath bomb away. Homemade spa days are the greatest.

  • Go for a run

I run. I run hard, and I run fast. I can actually feel myself escaping the grip holiday eating anxiety can have on me, most of the time. It’s very liberating, empowering, and excellent at putting my mind at ease. Positive self-talk throughout the run also helps. “You are bigger than this. You are stronger than this. YOU WILL BE OK.”

  • Talk to someone – professionally or not

I cannot emphasize this tip enough. Silence is one of the most deadly symptoms for eating disorders and the more you talk about it, the easier recovery will be. While I know that some people are not able to explicitly talk about their eating disorder or have made their eating disorder known to their friends and family, even just having someone there to help distract and comfort you is all you need.

I know that the holiday season is a difficult time for me, so if there is a chance that I will relapse or am in distress, I will message one of my best friends and just explain to them the state that I’m in and they have always been incredibly supportive and know not to overwhelm me with too much talk and just assure me that I’ll get through it. I will also talk to my mom just about feeling anxious, and she will help me to strategize a plan to come back from a relapse or an anxiety attack surrounding food and the holidays.

Sometimes, people get to the point where they need to talk to someone professionally about their eating disorder. I know that when I went to therapy, it opened up a lot of doors that I hadn’t realized had been closed.

Therapy helps you change your perspective from negative to positive. You also figure out why you have these problems, which helps you get to the root of them in order to fix them. I went from not being able to enjoy my family Christmas parties without feeling anxiety to not feeling guilty for wanting a scoop of ice cream with my pumpkin pie.

Of course I still have “what if” thoughts, but I use it as fuel to prove to myself that I can do it. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I’m so glad that I made the choice to go because I was tired of food deciding whether I would be happy or not.

  • Be Kind to yourself

For the love of god, be kind to yourself. It’s so easy to blame yourself for what you are feeling, but the fact is that your emotions are valid and you’re not to blame. In fact, you’re pretty god damn amazing and you will get through this.

When it comes down to it, the holidays are supposed to be a time to be with your loved ones and have fun. For people who suffer with eating disorders, it shouldn’t be a burden or a source of anxiety. If someone you love is battling anorexia, bulimia or other variations of eating disorders, be a little sensitive towards them this holiday season. Recognize that they are struggling with mental illness and don’t shame them for it. Be patient and sensitive. They want to enjoy the holidays just as much as you do.