Invaluable advice from people who have been there.
So to help you get through — and actually enjoy yourself — we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community, as well as Dr. Dena Cabrera, certified eating disorders specialist and Executive Clinical Director of the Rosewood Center for Eating Disorders, for their best tips.
Think about what holiday-specific triggers you might run into so you can put some coping mechanisms in place.
In addition to the actual food that's present during the holidays, there are also a lot of other factors at play, says Cabrera. For example, more so than any other time of the year, holidays come with this pressure to ~indulge~ and eat a lot more than you normally would. Not to mention, all the difficulties being around family can bring — parents fretting over whether/how you're eating and making you feel watched, uninvited comments from relatives, even just an overwhelming environment in general.
If you start by thinking through what problems you might run into, you can adjust your expectations and hopefully be ready for them, says Cabrera.
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Make a plan ahead of time with your therapist, physician, nutritionist, or whoever else makes up your support team.
"Last holiday season was my first one in recovery and it wasn't easy at all. Both my nutritionist and therapist were incredibly supportive and they helped me plan ahead so I could have emotional resources and feel comfortable towards my diet in those days."
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If you are worried about there being "safe" foods available, offer to bring a side dish you feel comfortable eating.
Let go of the notion that the holidays mean you should be happy.
All the holiday-themed commercials and decorations and movies and music emphasize that this should be the most magical time of the year, and that in and of itself can be a huge trigger for people.
"When we don't have that kind of family or environment or support, we compare ourselves and set ourselves up for disappointment and feeling even worse," says Cabrera. So go easy on yourself — a picture-perfect holiday isn't realistic.
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Tell your family what comments and phrases make you uncomfortable.
"I ask my family to steer clear of triggers such as ‘you look well’ or ‘well done’ after finishing a meal."
This primer on what not to say about food during Thanksgiving might be a helpful resource to show them.
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Do all your favorite self-care activities in the days leading up to the food-centric holiday.
"I'll spend time alone meditating, hit the gym, go for a mani/pedi and journal. On the actual day of the holiday, I make sure to eat a healthy breakfast and go for a run or take a workout class which makes me feel better about being around trigger foods (and less anxious about enjoying some of them)."
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Come up with secret signals with people who support you in your recovery to alert them when you need some time or are triggered.
"My mom is really supportive in my recovery, so whenever I'm uncomfortable, I can squeeze her hand and she'll give me an excuse to leave the room like, 'Oh, can you go grab the gravy?' or 'Can you bring the dog in?' so that I have a small escape. I would highly recommend talking to someone that will be there to develop a similar game plan."
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Make sure to eat breakfast and lunch as you normally would before a holiday dinner.
"People will usually not eat all day to 'prepare' to eat as much as possible at dinner, and then end up dwelling on their eating and feel overly full. When you do eat, make sure that it is the same amount that you would eat every day so that when dinner rolls around, you can truly enjoy the food."
Daniela Cadena / BuzzFeed
If people start making annoying comments about what you're eating, just smile and don't reply.
"This may sound like it will never work, but I've found that just smiling at the person and not responding to them really helps. Then depending on where you are in your recovery, exit the room and find a quiet place to take a few deep breaths. By not drawing attention to the triggering comment you decide what control it has over you."
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Text someone who knows what you're going through so you can support each other.
"I always text some of my friends with eating disorders and we support each other. They tell me that it's okay to eat fatty foods, that it's alright if I want a second helping of mac and cheese, and we just communicate all day to make sure everyone's okay. It's not easy, but it's always better when I'm talking to them and knowing they're going through the same thing."
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Throwback to the non-food-related holiday activities you enjoyed as a kid.
Like playing games with your family or friends, enjoying the crap out of a great holiday-scented candle, making seasonal arts and crafts, listening to holiday music, etc. Putting emphasis on that kind of thing instead of the food-y part of the holiday can help you recreate the holiday season in a way that's comfortable, fun, and tolerable for you, says Cabrera.
Plan reasons to leave the room ahead of time so you have an excuse when you need a breather.
"Good excuses are leaving your bag elsewhere in the house or having your phone charging somewhere else. Having a """legitimate""" reason to get away from the food helps a lot both with guilt and family."
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Pick a seat at the table where it's easier to exit without drawing attention to yourself, just in case.
"Don't feel bad about leaving the table! Ain't nobody gonna die if you get away from great aunt Helen's dusty ass turkey for a bit. Try and sit somewhere with an easier escape — not in the middle or at the end of the room."
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Focus on nostalgic foods that remind you of happy memories.
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Wait until the people who comment about your eating are gone to enjoy your favorite parts of the meal.
"My family always makes comments about how much or little I️ eat, so I️ always eat a little bit of everything. Once I feel slightly full, I️ stop and let it digest. Once my grandma and sister leave, I allow myself to eat what I️ want in comfort. They’re the two who normally cause the trigger so I️ just wait until they leave and eat as much of that goddamn mac and cheese that I️ want."
Find a way to give back or support others.
According to Cabrera, for a lot of patients in eating disorder treatment and recovery, finding opportunities to give back to others and the community is an invaluable way to get outside yourself during an otherwise difficult season. That could mean finding a way to volunteer — or hey, even just designating yourself the go-to shoulder to cry on for your family members who need to rant after dinner.
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Journal your thoughts and feelings before the meal.
"Before I sit down to eat, I use my phone (or journal) as a containment journal. I set a three minute timer, and I type out everything that is going through my head. The minute I start freaking out again, I remind myself that I have already voiced my feelings. Then I tend to use containment journaling afterwards."
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Ask someone to keep you accountable in whatever way you need.
"I ask my biggest supporter to not let me go to the bathroom alone. A little accountability can go a long way."
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Forgive yourself if the day is hard for you and doesn't go the way you want it to.
"Even if you have a day where you feel out of control, the sun will always rise the next day and you can get back on track."
Anna Borges / BuzzFeed
And finally, don't push yourself — if you feel like you can't be around certain people or food in order to stay in recovery, then don't.
"Your health is more important than trying to be nice. I️ say this as someone that has family members that comment on my weight and eating when I’m around them. It’s still a struggle for me, but when you’re in the beginning it’s even harder to be around and be okay."
You can also reach their hotline at (800) 931-2237 or text "NEDA" to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.
And always remember to consult with your doctor about your personal health and wellness. BuzzFeed posts are for informational purposes only and are no substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or professional medical advice.