Holidays, whether it be Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years or any other celebration really; can be incredibly stressful and/or lonely during an eating disorder. Eating disorders have a way of quieting the storm inside us, while also sucking the joy out of life’s precious moments. The joy sucking part can feel amplified during this time of year when we see others carrying on with traditions with ease- or realizing that your eating disorder has isolated you so much that there are no longer people in your circle to celebrate with. This experience can be painful and filled with comparisons “why is this so hard for me, what is wrong with me?” “Why can’t I just enjoy this holiday gathering, eat the cookies and drink the eggnog, like everyone else?” If this sounds familiar, here are some tips to help you through this.
- Instead of comparison- radically accept that you are struggling and release judgement. If you had cancer- would you judge yourself and expect yourself to function exactly like non-sufferers? Or, would you accept your limitations and attend to your needs? The first step is letting go of what ‘it should feel like’ and accept that this will likely be a hard time for you. The negative meaning we attach to what it means to suffer, or what it means that we aren’t as joyful as everyone else, keeps us suffering longer. The reality is, to be human is to suffer. It’s okay to feel like crap. It’s okay to not be in the holiday spirit. Offer yourself compassion for suffering instead of judgement. You are doing a hard thing, you did not choose this illness and the holidays are often one of the hardest times of year for folks in recovery.
- Identify your needs. Like I mentioned above, if you had cancer or any other physical illness, you would probably identify what you needed to make this season more accessible, easy or comforting. It should be the same with any mental illness. What do you need, being someone in Eating Disorder recovery, to make this season easier on yourself? How can you comfort yourself in this process? Some examples might be: setting boundaries around food, body and diet talk with family members ahead of time. A simple “Hey Mom, talking about diet and body stuff when I am trying very hard to recover in a weight obsessed world is like talking about taking shots to someone struggling with alcoholism. To best support me, can you please have the family refrain from these types of conversations?” Another helpful tool is to have at least one identified family/friend that just gets it; and who you can turn to during events when triggering things are said. Having just one person validate how annoying Aunt Susan’s keto talk is, is extremely helpful in knowing you aren’t alone. Another need could be: limiting time at events and prioritizing rest and self care in between. Know that holidays are really just like any other 24 hour day. You can decide how much of that 24 hours you want to spend at events and gatherings. It’s okay if you need to go home early, or skip something that you just know will not be good for your mental health (this is very different than avoiding something due to anxiety- such as a fear food). To distinguish between the two, ask yourself: will missing this gathering move me closer to or further from recovery?
- Identify your values! I talk about this a lot and that is because it is SO important. The holidays will likely come with discomfort. However, if you can stick to engaging in values driven behaviors; you will look back and thank yourself for being there WITH the discomfort. Research shows that the more values driven behaviors we engage in, the less psychological distress we experience in the long run. You have to envision: how do I want to look back on this holiday when I am 80? Do I want to remember avoiding the spinach and artichoke dip and hiding in my room to count calories and weigh myself? Or, do I want to remember being present with my family and friends, laughing, snacking and reminiscing? You can both be present and feel uncomfortable. The two are not mutually exclusive. Choose the behaviors your future self will thank you for NOT your eating disorder- it’s that simple.
- Keep yourself recovery minded. Tis the season to hear about all the fad diets and fitness trends am I right? This can be hard to hear no matter how long you’ve been in recovery. To counter the influx of these conversations- keep yourself recovery minded. Listen to a recovery podcast each and every day. End your day reading a recovery book. Keep your appointments with your therapist, RD, support groups and/or recovery coach. Curate your social media feed with recovery content. Whatever it is, stay focused on recovery, stay vigilant, because eating disorders are sneaky, and when they see you in a moment of letting your guard down against them, they often find their way back.
I am sending you all so much love- this is HARD and I know you can do hard things. If you find yourself needing extra support, you can always reach out to my practice or other local eating disorder professionals for support. You’ve got this!