Christmas, New Years and Eating Disorder Relapse Prevention

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Eating Disorder Hope

brown-518324_640As an eating disorder survivor and someone in recovery, you will likely encounter many seasons throughout your journey, including holiday seasons. While the holidays can be a rather intimidating time for a person who is recovering from an eating disorder, there are several steps that can be taken to help with relapse prevention.

Relapse is not always something that can be prevented. There may be a time or period in your recovery process that you do experience relapse. Even in this scenario, it is important to know how to get back on track and to continue progressing forward with your healing.

What Can Trigger a Relapse?

What is it about the holidays that can trigger a relapse? Understanding the circumstances can help you better prepare for what might come. Holidays can be triggering in the following ways to a person that is recovering from an eating disorder:

  • Increased tensions from unresolved conflicts involving family and/or friends
  • Increased anxiety/depression
  • High focus on food
  • Irregular schedules due to traveling, work, etc.
  • Lack of structure and treatment

Getting the Assistance of a Treatment Team

Keeping these things in mind, it is important to look at your recovery objectively. This is best done with the assistance of a health care professional on your treatment team, such as a therapist or counselor.

In order to prevent relapse, it is necessary to understand what triggers eating disorder behaviors. Do you feel an urge to restrict when under high pressure? Does the need to binge or purge strike you with social anxiety?

You may find it insightful to learn about the various triggers you might experience and the emotions you tend to associate with them.

Reenact Scenarios that May Trigger a Relapse

pinky-swear-329329_640Another key for relapse prevention is to reenact possible scenarios that may occur with a trusted health professional. For example, do you tend to experience conflict with a particular family member or friend? Work through the scenario ahead of time to prepare emotionally for things that may occur.

This might include the practice of DBT or CBT skills. Talk with your therapist about any situations that cause you anxiety or distress and work through them together.

Make a list of the coping mechanisms that help you work through difficult situations without resorting to your eating disorder, such as practicing mindfulness, journaling, gentle exercise and more.

Having a Backup Plan

Do you have a back-up plan? What if you find yourself in a scenario that has overwhelmingly triggered your eating disorder? Have a plan for exiting a situation if needed. This might include calling or messaging a trustworthy friend or checking in with a mentor.

Building a support system for your recovery is a tremendous part of relapse prevention. Having a strong network of individuals who all love and support you will provide accountability you need to stay the course.

Practicing Gratitude

Another aspect of relapse prevention is the practice of gratitude. Staying thankful and recognizing the things in your life that you are grateful for can help you remain positive, even during challenging times.

When a situation is bleak or difficult, chose to find the good in it and you will have hope in any circumstance. Keep a journal to record the things you feel grateful for on a daily basis. Having a written record can be a beautiful thing to reflect on, especially during trying seasons of life.

If you are having a hard time cultivating an attitude of gratitude, enlist the help of a loved one.

Relapse Does Not Mean Failure

girl-206144_640Lastly, it is important to remember that relapses are not the end of the world. If you do experience a relapse in your recovery journey, give yourself the grace to continue on in the fight against your eating disorder.

Relapses do not equal failure. The black and white thinking that is characteristic of eating disorders make it easy to hyperfocus on the negative. Do not let a bump in the road negate the work you have poured into your recovery and allow you to give up in your fight for life and freedom.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What do you think make Christmas and New Year’s an especially challenging time for a person recovering from an eating disorder? What are helpful ways for facing these challenges?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 7th, 2014
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