during the holidays, boundaries are your friend

4 Tips to Manage the Holidays with Chronic Illnesses and EDs

You can enjoy the holiday season as stress and symptom-free as possible.

If you are reading this and struggle with an eating disorder (ED), chronic illness, or both, I am proud of you. You must manage countless challenges each and every day. EDs and chronic illnesses can be thought of as “invisible illnesses.” On the outside someone may appear perfectly fine, yet the inside tells a different story. If you relate, I see you and I hear you.

In this article, I’m going to lay out some of the specific challenges that arise, particularly during the holiday season, and offer a couple of concrete tips to help you navigate this busy time of year. And these tips can help anyone whether or not you have a chronic illness.

The holidays bring up a wide range of emotions for folks. It’s normal to feel excited or grateful, but it’s also normal to feel sad or disappointed as well. For a lot of people, there is a sense of planning that goes into the holiday season – family gatherings, work parties, catching up with friends, travel, etc.

All of these events are delicately planned but do you know what is super unpredictable? Chronic illness. The stress of unpredictability and not knowing if your body will be up for something creates even more stress on the body.

  • “What will people think if I don’t show up?”
  • “I’m going to be so depressed if I can’t go to “x” event.”
  • “How will I deal with the fallout of disappointing others?”

I know what this is like because I’ve been there. Nothing feels worse than planning and looking forward to an event than being sidelined by your health. Now you’re stuck on the couch the rest of the day, wishing you could be anywhere else.

during the holidays, boundaries are your friend

If you’re able to make it to your destination, challenges abound. There’s family and food to have to handle as well. Unwanted comments, judgements, and questions may be another hurdle you have to overcome. If this is something that stresses you out, it may be helpful to have a couple of lines you can say in those situations before changing or leaving the conversations.

Boundaries are your friend. You don’t owe anyone anything you don’t want to share. Know you are doing the very best you can.

When you have a chronic illness and/or eating disorder, food may be something that is also on your mind.

  • What food will be there?
  • Will I be judged for what I’m eating?
  • Will I be comfortable with the food options available?

If you know the food at the event is not going to be something that works for your body, I’d encourage you to bring something that you can enjoy yourself or, even better, bring a dish to share! It can also be helpful to have a support person to lean on in case something comes up in the moment. I’d also encourage you to try to really listen to your body as much as possible. Our body is so smart and often sends us cues if we’re willing to listen.

I’ve put together a list of things to help you navigate the holiday season the best you are able:

  • Intentionally build in times/days to rest. If you’re going on vacation, perhaps plan to do an excursion one day, but plan on taking it easy the following day. Or if you know you’re going out to dinner with friends, plan to rest earlier in the day. While this may bring up tough feelings, it’s important to acknowledge that your pace may be different from your family and friends.
  • Give yourself permission to say no. If it’s going to put your health at risk or cause you to have more symptoms, is it really worth it? Will you even have fun if you’re not feeling good? It’s okay if you can’t keep up with what others are doing. Consider having an exit plan ready in case something comes up, and you need to leave early.
  • Maintain as much of your normal routine as possible. If you are used to eating three meals and two snacks per day, try to keep that up! Continue to take your medications, go to appointments, prioritize sleep, and build in time for your regular self-care. Your mind and body will thank you.
  • Keep a little emergency kit with you if you will be going outside of the house. For me, this helps keep my mind at ease that if a symptom does pop up, I have the tools to manage it. Some of my go-to things are hand sanitizer, extra medication, gum, a small snack, hydration packets and my glasses.

I hope these tips can help you enjoy the holiday season as stress and symptom-free as possible. By meeting yourself where you are at, setting boundaries, and practicing self-care, you are on the right track to feeling better over this hectic and hopefully joy-filled season.

If you feel this is too much to handle on your own, please reach out. We are here to help folks and families just like you. There is no shame in asking for support, because it is often that support that helps our clients prioritize themselves so you enjoy these holiday seasons and all the events and food that come with them!

Anita Dharwadkar
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with Marci RD Nutrition

Feel free to reach out to request an appointment and we will be in touch right away.