Living with Food Anxiety Throughout the Holiday Season

11.11.2020 — Jessica Nusbaum

Jessica Nusbaum is a holistic health coach helping women rewire their mindset around dieting food. 

Picture the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie on the table and ready to be devoured! Do you feel anxious just reading that? You’re not alone! Ask anyone how they feel about eating during the holidays and we’re in for some juicy conversation! That conversation is very different for those who have struggled with an eating disorder or are in recovery from one. Feelings of angst and worry can resurface during this food-focused time of year. Add family time into the mix and we have a recipe for a stressful season! Take a breath. You’ve survived the holidays before. You can do it again and maybe even enjoy yourself. Here are some tips to get through this season of eating before, during, and after it:

Talk to someone about it.

Because half of an eating disorder is hiding it, let it out. It doesn’t have to be with someone that will be present at the
dinner table. Or it can be. Seek comfort from getting your worries off your chest no matter how silly they seem.

Make your boundaries clear.

If you know a particular topic is tough for you, don’t feel guilty for not wanting to talk about it. Before the big day,
make your boundaries clear. Focus on what you DO want to talk about around the table. Family wants you to open up regardless of the topic.

Know your family triggers and ask:

Are they even about food? How much of an eating disorder is about the food anyway?! What non-food-related things can be a trigger around family? Work? Dating? How you don’t visit as often as they want you to? Take a deeper look at what you’re feeling
underneath these triggers. There could be some deep-rooted hurts that only resurface with them. Bringing awareness to your triggers is how the
healing process starts.

Come with a plan.

What’s a hobby you’ve taken up lately? A new book you can’t put down? Come up with a plan to discuss things in your life that
are neutral topics. If you initiate the conversation, not only does this allow you to set a boundary right away, it also shows your family you want them
to know about your life.

Slow down.

The chaos that surrounds an eating disorder doesn’t just magically disappear. What we can do is slow down and allow it to dissipate.
Slow down your movements and thoughts. Allow your nervous system to rest by taking a pause. After a few deep breaths, you can sort out your thoughts and decide which ones will serve you at this moment.

Don’t forget what’s underneath your family’s nagging, questions, or general chattiness – they care!

They might not always have the best communication method, but they are doing the best they can. It’s not always easy for family to show their vulnerability. Nagging or “should-ing”
you are often their ways of showing they care and want a connection.

It’s not always easy for family to show their vulnerability.

You’ve gotten through worse.

Think of your last moment of frustration around food. You got through it. You’re still here. Moments of frustration
and hopelessness, though painful, do eventually pass. Try to think of the last time you struggled with your eating disorder. You are stronger and more resilient at this moment because of it.

Sit with discomfort.

Let yourself get stronger by staying present in these uncomfortable moments. Notice who and what is around you. Notice how
your body is feeling. Knots in your tummy, tense muscles or shallow breathing all indicate a stress response. Take a few deep breaths to bring
you to the present and lower your stress.

Let go of ‘all or nothing’.

The holidays are overwhelming as it is. Now is the perfect time to make space for flexibility in your life. The idea of things going only one way or another gives us a false sense of safety: we think we can control how things go. These rules usually cause more anxiety than
ease it. Start small. Accept things as they come knowing your reaction is what you can control.

Give yourself the day off.

Take a day off from the shame and guilt around food. There’s so much power in allowing yourself permission, even
if it’s permission for unhealthy behavior. Permission means you can let go of the guilt, shame, and “what’s wrong with me”. It’s your holiday too!

While there’s a lot we can’t control around the holidays, we can control one very important thing: how we speak to ourselves. The internal language we
use can either make or break our holiday spirit. If you can show up for Thanksgiving, you can show up for yourself too!

Jessica Nusbaum