P.R.E.P. for the Holidays

November 23, 2022

As the season changes to fall, our attention is drawn toward the upcoming holidays. Often marketed as the “most wonderful time of the year,” the holidays can be an especially challenging time for those dealing with disordered eating and eating disorders.

Now is the time to prepare for this approaching holiday season so you can feel the greatest level of support for your recovery efforts and create the opportunity to engage in what can be enjoyed or appreciated. Here are a few tips on how to P.R.E.P. for the holidays.

P – Plan

Looking ahead and creating a structured plan for the different holiday events and stressors is one of the most important steps you can take. Ask your provider team and those close to you to provide additional insight and support. Here are some important areas to consider:

Identify what events, gatherings, and situations have been difficult in years past. If they will occur again this year, what will help you best deal with them? Remember, this can include choosing to not put yourself in that situation, minimizing your exposure, or making sure you have support people around. Also, be as clear as possible on the details of an upcoming event—how long will it last, who will be there, what food will/will not be available, and what the expectations are while you’re there. Make sure you will be able to meet your meal plan or your body’s needs if the event falls over a meal or snack time.

Anticipate high-stress situations. Whether it’s a big holiday meal or those relatives who always ask how you are coming along with your “issue,” knowing what is coming gives you the greatest ability to handle it without losing it. There will be stressors—you can’t just plan to avoid them—but you can practice your responses (remember to include the skills you have learned) and devise an escape plan or fallback plan if needed. The only thing better than a plan is a plan inside of a plan!

Create alternate supportive activities. Does everything seem to revolve around food? How about proactively suggesting other activities/traditions that can end up benefiting everyone involved!

R – Routine

Once you have your plan in place – stick to it! Having a consistent routine is the antidote to the extra stress caused by holiday busyness and unpredictable schedules. Some situations or events are not up to you, so focus on what you can control. Keep to your meal plan if you follow one, having regularly planned (and eaten!) meals and snacks set the base for a well-regulated physical system and mental/emotional state. Be especially careful to avoid, or limit, stimulants or foods/beverages that you know can be troublesome. Try to maintain a steady wake/sleep schedule and a consistent, moderate activity routine that aligns with your recovery efforts. Make sure you have your provider sessions and other recovery activities in place and don’t let them get bumped out. Is your routine balanced? Are the times of active engagement in work, school, and life offset by scheduled times of rest, renewal, and pleasurable activities?

Play the long game. There are going to be things that disrupt your routine. Keep your sights set on your overall objective, not the minor bumps or alterations. Focus on the adjustment, not the deviation, to help keep you on track.

E – Express Yourself

Don’t be the strong, silent type. Let your providers and support people know how you’re doing. Use your voice to ask for what you need. Don’t assume others know what you need or will act in the way you expect. Be honest with your family and support people. The clearer you can be, the more helpful others can be, even about things you aren’t clear on!

Set boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say “no” if you are overwhelmed or feel like you don’t have the support or resources you need to stay safe in your recovery. However, it is important to reflect on what the barrier or difficulty was and what actions you do need to take to avoid getting trapped in eating-disordered patterns.

Celebrate your achievements. It’s not just about letting people know what you are struggling with but sharing your successes, insights, and small day-to-day victories as well. Allow yourself to take in and internalize your strengths and abilities.

P – Pause

Press pause when needed. All the hustle and bustle of the holidays can make us feel ungrounded and overwhelmed. Practice hitting the pause button to give yourself the space to check in with how you are doing. Listen to your body and your heart, as well as your thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself what is best for you at that moment. Using the concept of “Wise Mind” can help identify disordered thoughts or actions.

Practice self-care. Prioritizing your physical, mental, and emotional needs when there are competing demands helps keep you on track. Grounding or centering exercises, as well as calming, relaxing routines and rituals, can be especially useful when things get busy or in times of greater activation or anxiety.

Embrace mindfulness. Being as present or mindful as possible will help you take the most supportive action when you are feeling stressed or when the eating disorder thoughts get loud or overbearing. Being in the moment can allow you to appreciate and savor the moments of peace, enjoyment, and well-being that you may also likely experience, helping to balance out the noisier challenges and struggles you encounter.

These tips and strategies, in addition to others you or your support team identify as supportive to your recovery, will help you embrace the upcoming holiday season with confidence, flexibility, and self-assurance. Remember to P.R.E.P. for success!

Hilmar Wagner, MPH, RDN, CD, is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN), licensed in Minnesota and Washington State. Hilmar joined The Emily Program in 2006, and currently serves as the Dietetic Internship Coordinator and Clinical Outreach Specialist. In these roles he oversees dietetic intern experiences for both Emily Program and Veritas Collaborative. As Clinical Education Specialist Hilmar has presented on a wide range of eating disorder and related nutrition topics at local, regional, and national conferences. Hilmar received his bachelor’s degree in Nutrition/Dietetics and Master’s in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Minnesota. He has worked in the field of eating disorders for the past 15 years. Hilmar has extensive experience working with clients of all eating disorder diagnoses in both individual and group settings. He has a particular interest in mindfulness and body-centered approaches to eating disorder recovery. For more information about The Emily Program, please visit www.emilyprogram.com.