Castlewood Eating Disorder Treatment Center Blog

Managing Stress Around Body Image and Holiday Parties

Social experiences can be very intimidating for those with eating disorders. The expectation of attending holiday parties can trigger fear and self-doubt, and a desire to soothe these overwhelming feelings through eating disorder behaviors.
“What should I wear? What will people think of what I’m wearing and how I look?”
Other fears are present around the party: being able to modulate the triggers around food, how to change a meal plan around a holiday buffet, heavy hors d’oeuvres, and alcohol. When at a party, or engaging in a social outing, the internal Eating Disorder Voice tells clients that everyone is going to view them as unacceptable, or that their body is unacceptable. It is easy to see how holiday parties escalate hard to manage emotions for clients in all stages of recovery. While some clients need only some reassurance going into the holiday party season, others need significant therapeutic preparation. Castlewood is very empathic to the extra difficulties for our clients at this time of year, and help clients prepare for holiday events at work, school, home and church. Preparing for a holiday party emotionally and cognitively is very important, even beginning with choosing what to wear well-ahead of time. Many women are empathic to the feelings of looking “just right” for an important holiday event. For someone with an eating disorder, this is magnified many times, and has additional underlying issues that exacerbate the feelings. The challenge is to understand what is really underneath: the fear of being seen, and the fear of social intimacy. It isn’t really about body image at all, but something deeper, with elements of social anxiety. Clients with eating disorders can work with their therapist on creating a structure for how they are going to engage at the holiday party, including the clothes that are chosen. Therapists help clients plan this out, even making a commitment well ahead of time on one outfit, with no last minute changes. For someone with an eating disorder simply choosing an outfit can be paralyzing. Without guided preparation, clients may find themselves going from outfit to outfit, feeling that this is rational, and that the “right dress” will resolve the irrational fear of going to the party. This can go on so long that they ultimately miss the party altogether. Working closely with their therapist, clients are able to admit that the event is going to cause a great deal of fear and insecurities that may trigger the eating disorder, or cause escalating feelings of avoidance or isolation. Specific techniques can be practiced to handle each step of the holiday party process: choosing the outfit, getting to the event, what to do at the beginning and during the party. Preplanning can make the difference, and help manage emotions. Communication can be important here, too. Going to the party with a friend or coworker, and being open and honest with them about the fears around the event. A degree of healthy disclosure with an ally about what the struggle is, and then using this personal contact to work through what feels overwhelming, is an excellent strategy for managing holiday events.