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How to Set Boundaries During the Holidays

Eating Disorders

December 10, 2021

Along with the colorful lights, holiday movies, and festive sugar cookies, we know that there are challenges that arise related to the abundance of celebrations around the holidays.  It’s that time of year where it may feel like there is social event after social event, which for someone in recovery, can be a challenge to say the least.  In order to maintain recovery during the holidays, it can be helpful to set some boundaries that will help you to prevent any relapse.

 

Why set boundaries in recovery?

There are a lot of things we do in life for other people, but eating disorder recovery - that’s all for you!  This is a time where you are putting time and effort into yourself and restoring your relationship with food and your body.  Of course, there are things that may get in the way or challenge the progress that you have made, and the holidays are one of them.  This is where boundaries come in.

Boundaries are a way to protect yourself and your needs.  Throughout the recovery process, you may find that there are things that compromise your ability to move forward, whether it’s toxic diet talk or not having enough time for self-care.  Maybe these things are triggers for relapse.  Setting boundaries can allow you to focus on what YOU need and make space for recovery.  That may mean telling someone “no” or reaching out for more support.  We know it can be hard, but you deserve to put yourself first in recovery, no matter what.

With all of the challenges that come with the holidays, it’s a great time to take a look at how to set some boundaries for yourself and ensure that you have the tools you need to maintain your path to recovery.

 

1) Communicate your needs to someone you trust beforehand

Having someone in your corner at a holiday event can make all the difference.  We’ve mentioned time and time again how asking for support is one of the most powerful things that you can do for yourself in recovery.  We’ve even made a script to help you do it!  If you know someone you can trust who is going to be at your next holiday party or family gathering, tell them how they can support you during the event.

Sometimes just letting someone know what you’re experiencing before an event can go a long way - they can serve as a safe space where you can let off some steam if you need to.  Maybe they’re someone that you can take a step outside with for fresh air.  Or, if there are certain things that you know will be challenging throughout the event, this is someone who could watch for these things and help you navigate them.  

 

2) Don’t feel the pressure to eat something that doesn’t appeal to you

Oftentimes at holiday events, there is an abundance of food.  Maybe your aunt made her “famous fruit cake that you just MUST have a slice of.”  (We all have one of those aunts, right? No, just me?)  But fruit cake just isn’t your thing.  Or maybe it’s a fear food that you haven’t incorporated yet.  It is okay to tell her no!  You get to eat what appeals to you. Period.

In fact, here are some phrases to use to help set boundaries around your food choices:

  • “That smells delicious! I’m just not really in the mood for it right now. Thanks for offering!”
  • “I’m really enjoying this [fill in the blank] right now, but maybe I’ll try some of that later.”
  • “You’re so sweet to bring that - could I wrap some up and take it home with me?”

 

3) Swerve the diet talk at the table

If we had a nickel for every time we heard someone say “all of these holiday foods are really ruining my diet!” or “ I can’t have that or I won’t fit into my holiday dress,” we’d be rich!  Unfortunately, these comments are thrown around the table at the holidays without a second thought.  

These statements are rooted in diet culture, and are not very helpful to hear for someone in recovery.  It’s okay to set some boundaries for yourself and swerve the diet talk.  A few things that you can do to get away from the diet talk are:

  • Leave the room.  Go outside and catch a breath of fresh air.
  • Change the subject.  Ask a family member about what their favorite holiday tradition is!
  • Remember what you know about diet culture.  We probably know by now that restriction and dieting isn’t the way to have a healthy relationship with food!
  • Lean on a friend or family member (see #1 above).  Let them know that you are uncomfortable with the conversation and ask them to help you change the subject.

 

4) Go with what you know - create a balanced plate

In your recovery process, you have probably worked with your dietitian or been a part of the NourishRX PATH and know what a balanced plate looks like for you.  Whether you’re following an exchange-based meal plan, the 3x3x3 method, or the plate-by-plate approach, you have the tools and the knowledge to create a plate that fits into your goals.  If you are surrounded by fear foods, go back to what you know - starches, proteins, fats, fruits, and vegetables.

Of course, there are likely to be some foods that you don’t commonly have, or that fall outside of your comfort zone.  It’s okay to incorporate these into your holiday meal - they can still be a part of a balanced plate!  Think about it this way - sugar cookies still have carbohydrates and fats in them.  Holiday ham is a great source of protein!  Candied yams are full of fiber and carbohydrates.  Find things that feel satisfying and comfortable for you because when it comes down to it, every food nourishes your body in some way.

 

5)  Take time for yourself amidst the family time

With holiday celebrations, we know that sometimes they can feel like a marathon.  Maybe you’re hopping from party to party to make sure that you’re seeing all of your loved ones.  For you introverts out there, this can get tiring real quick.  That’s why we encourage you (as always) to make time for some self-care.  Set boundaries around the social time; it’s okay to say no to plans when you’re exhausted.

Self care can look different for different people.  It can be taking a walk by yourself after a meal with family.  Maybe it’s sitting down and watching a holiday movie with a hot beverage.  Or, our personal fave - listening to some holiday music and having a little dance party!

 

6)  Create a plan with your team

Sit down with your dietitian or therapist and discuss what types of challenges you typically face around the holiday season.  Or, head over to the NourishRX PATH community to find support from people who are facing similar challenges.  Maybe someone else has a great tip for how to navigate the challenges that come with the holiday season that you haven’t thought of yet.  

What has been tough to handle in the past?  What are you nervous about?  What has worked for you in the past?  Talking through various scenarios with your team or the NourishRX PATH community can give you the extra tools you need to set boundaries as you navigate recovery this holiday season.

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CATEGORIES

eating disorders

intuitive eating

diet talk

meal planning

movement

parent support

work with us!

tell me more!

I'm Ryann. Founder of NourishRX, mom of three and a certified eating disorders registered dietitian. To us, you're a unique individual with a story that led you to where you are today - not a stereotype or just a name on a chart.

Hello!

take the quiz

Which NourishRX PATH is right
for you?

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