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The Holidays and Eating Disorders – APPLE

Decorations, family, work parties, pumpkin pie, black Friday, one more glass of eggnog, travel, New Year’s resolutions… the holiday season is a unique time of year. Even for those that are healthy-minded and well-balanced, this “uniqueness” often brings along some additional seasonal stress.

For individuals with eating disorders, the extra food, family interaction, media messaging, and social stress may be experienced at a greatly magnified level. As a professional in the field, how can you help your clients tackle the challenges that arise during this difficult time of year?

Try using the APPLE approach. APPLE stands for Anticipate, Plan, PLay it Out, and Evaluate. The approach is a systemic method for handling specific holiday challenges, before they actually arise.

Anticipate: Help your client identify the specific holiday triggers or scenarios they are concerned about. For example: “I’m having dinner at my mom’s this Christmas. She always makes at least 3 kind of pie and I’m worried I’m going to binge on pie.”

Plan: Help your client develop a plan for the triggers or scenarios they identified in the Anticipate stage. This plan needs to be specific, concrete, comprehensive (i.e. planning for before, during, and after), and realistic (do not set your client up for failure!). It is also best if the plan involves another player such as a significant other, family member, or friend who knows what the plan is and can lend support in the moment. Some planning tools: behavior contracts, menu plans, coping skills cards, a timeline for the event, or pre-determined back-pocket responses.

PLay it out: Have your client practice their plan. Visualizing themselves going through each step, and being successful, can be extremely empowering. You can also engage your client in role play, e.g. mimicking a difficult dialogue they anticipate happening with a family member.

Evaluate: After your client has encountered their anticipated trigger or scenario, help them process it. Focus on drawing meaning from the experience, acceptance of what happened, and sometimes, forgiveness. Despite careful anticipation, planning, and practice, things never go exactly according to plan. What went well? What didn’t go well? What would they do differently next time? What did you learn from the experience?

“There is no such thing as failure, there are only results.”
– Tony Robbins

Happy Holidays!