A Survival Guide for Maintaining Recovery During the Holidays for Compulsive Eating

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Holidays can be a challenging time for those dealing with food addiction, compulsive eating and restricting, and other food-related challenges. Yes, you can still maintain your program through the holidays! But it will require planning, intentionality, and support. Below are a few suggestions to help navigate the upcoming holiday buffets, parties, and feasts.

If you’re asked to make something you choose not to eat for a holiday party or gathering and are worried this might tempt you terribly, either ask to make something else or explain that you will need to buy it as opposed to cook/bake it yourself. For years, I was expected to make my mother’s bread dressing for holiday meals even though I cannot eat gluten. One year, I wrote down the recipe (it came from my mother) and passed it out at our holiday meal, explaining that I was passing the torch to the next generation since I could not eat the bread dressing. They never asked me to make it again. In fact, they didn’t prepare it either when they realized how complicated and time-consuming it was to make it!

If going out to eat at a restaurant, contact the host in advance and ask about the menu. Explain you have food sensitivities so that you’d like to plan ahead. You can even ask if you can bring a dish to comply with your eating plan.

When offered something outside your food plan, a firm but polite, “No, thank you” should be enough to dismiss most requests. Of course, sometimes that isn’t enough. There is always your Aunt Margie who insists, “But honey, I made it just for you! I know it’s your favorite!” A big smile along with a nice “Thank you, Aunt Margie, but I’ve developed food sensitivities,” should ease the situation. She doesn’t need to know your food sensitivity is an addiction to sugar (or whatever substance you are avoiding). It isn’t a lie, either. Your body responds to that substance differently than other people. You are indeed very sensitive to it.

Remember the holidays are about spending time with loved ones and not eating sugary or fat-loaded foods. Is there someone at the event sitting alone with no one to talk to? Head over and say hello. Listen to them intently, as if you were interviewing the Pope. Not only is this a wonderful way to be of service during a time that can be notoriously lonely for people but by the end of the event you might have made a new friend!

Eat before the holiday event or party. A full stomach will make it easier to avoid all of the holiday specialties. And when dessert is served, head to the kitchen to help with the dishes or offer to serve the coffee. If you’re at a buffet, fill at least half your plate with vegetables, salad, or fruit. That leaves less room for the foods you want to limit or avoid.

Consider having an avocado or a few nuts before your meal (as long as they are not foods that you’re trying to avoid). The healthy fat will give you a sense of satiety and help you avoid the other items not on your plan.

If you’re feeling tempted or overwhelmed, try to find a spot to recollect yourself. Go outdoors or to the bathroom. Pray. Meditate. Call a fellow from your 12-step fellowship. Take a deep breath and head back into the event with a new resolve to stick to your plan with the help of God.

Play games with the children at the event or party. They are often pushed to the side by the adults and sometimes can feel left out. Don’t you remember sitting at the “kids’ table” and what that felt like? Make it fun for them. You may become their favorite aunt or uncle!

Have a big glass of water, sparkling or plain, perhaps with a lime or lemon wedge added to it. Sip on that as you converse on the opposite side of the room from the food table (and also the alcohol if that’s something you’re committed to avoiding). I once navigated an hours-long event with a silver goblet filled with lemon-lime soda instead of champagne. Only the bartender knew I wasn’t drinking alcohol. The fancy goblet and the bubbles were enough to fool anyone else. Relatedly, you can have a hot cup of tea or coffee. A hot liquid can help calm your appetite to better resist temptation and it can soothe your stress as well.

Navigating holiday parties, dinners, and other events with food-related addictions or compulsions can be challenging—but it’s possible. Remember, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones and not about food. Focus on the people you love—not the food—and you’ll be more likely to stay on track.

I hope at least some of these suggestions will help you navigate the coming holiday season while remaining abstinent from your addictive or compulsive food behaviors. May you have the merriest and brightest holiday season ever this year!

Celeste is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Louisiana’s Cajun Country. She is a lifelong Catholic and committed to spreading the Gospel through small group formation programs. She is a recovering food addict (embracing the slogan, “If you can’t stop at one, have none!”), an avid knitter, and a lover of God.