The holidays are in full swing and for most people with eating disorders, so are our triggers, vulnerabilities, ED thoughts and behaviors. This season is notorious for causing relapses and egging ED on. Whether it is family drama, the amount of meals that are eaten around other people, the literal NON-STOP diet talk or the olympic level comparison game going on in our heads...the holidays are hard....but they don’t have to be.
I’ve decided to share my list of ways that I get through the holidays. This list does not make everything all sunshine and rainbows. Many times I still have some sort of break down or set back, but it does help me to be more mindful and prepared.
So here it goes!!
1. SAY NO! It’s so hard to say no. I come from a big family with lots of opinions and people always wanting to do different things. This is wonderful, except for when you are swollen or exhausted from the mental mind game and all you truly need is to have an hour to yourself to get yourself back on track. I’ve learned that if I don’t say no, things get worse. I become more vulnerable to thoughts. I became exhausted and therefore unable to stay at the top of game. So now I know that if I’m feeling tired and anxious and people want to go out to dinner, I can say no and instead take that time to take care of myself.
2. KNOW YOUR LIMITS. This one is similar to number one but also a little different. It’s important to know what your limits are in situations that we know can be overwhelming. Maybe your friends want to meet up with people you haven’t seen in a while, but the thought of it makes you so anxious that you just want to sit at home. Maybe instead of saying no, you can decide to go, but just for an hour. Maybe you can handle two parties, but three is just too much. Know your limit. If three is too much, kindly and graciously decline. You have to take care of yourself!
3. EAT FOR YOURSELF. This one is really hard, but if I can go into an evening already in the mindset that I am going to eat for myself and not compare it to others, I tend to be more successful. I stay in my own lane and turn inward to listen to my own hunger cues and what my body wants. If I concentrate on what or how much everyone else is eating or how much I am eating compared to them, it becomes a disaster. So I just mentally make the decision to eat according to MY meal plan and what I know is right.
4. REMEMBER YOUR VALUES. Right now it is a core value of mine to not diet and to recover from my eating disorder. I also value being a great daughter and sister and spending time with my family. If I am caught up in ED thoughts I am unable to be present, I slip into ED behaviors and I end up not living according to my values. For example, if my sister wants to sing Christmas carols and asks me to accompany her on the piano in front of 40 family members, my value of spending that time with my sister trumps my insecurity of people looking at me playing while I’m at this weight.
5. BE OVERLY COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF AND EXTEND YOURSELF SOME GRACE. The holidays are hard! Be kind to yourself about it. We will not be perfect. Maybe I restrict unknowingly and then later feel bad about it. Sometimes I finally let myself go and enjoy food, only to have ED thoughts beat me up later about it. These are great opportunities to sit back and say, “Sara, that was hard, you really allowed yourself to try and that was great! Good job!” or “Sara, that conversation didn’t go so hot....it’s not the end of the world....lets learn from it and move on.” This keeps me from dwelling on any mistakes I made or times that I just don’t get it right.
6. REST. It is really important to rest. When we are tired and worn out we are more vulnerable to triggers and ED thoughts/behaviors. When we are well rested we have the energy to remember and use our resources and coping skills. This is VERY necessary during the holidays. They are overwhelming and very social, so maybe go to bed early, or take that nap during the day or maybe even sit and read a book alone to hit the reset button.
7. THE POWER OF SAYING OK. I don’t know about you, but often I find myself in conversations that I really have no desire to be a part of. Someone is telling me my politics are stupid, or sharing how sugar is now satan in a powdery form or telling me all the different reasons why it is necessary for me to start having children because, “I’ll definitely be SO tired if I have them any older...” A great response to these sort of things is a simple, “O.K.” and boom, the conversation is over. When you say OK to someone there really isn’t anything more to talk about. It’s not agreeing, it’s not disagreeing, it’s just saying ok. That’s it!
8. HAVE “GO TO” RESPONSES READY. People are nosey and many lack a certain chip that helps them realize what they are saying or asking is rude. We can’t control other people, but we can have an answer ready. If someone asks if I’m pregnant, I already have an answer ready...”No, and that is a really personal questions to ask me.” If someone asks about my treatment and I don’t want to talk about it with them my go to answer is, “Thank you for asking, but I’d rather not talk about it tonight!” or “You can read my blog at.....” Sometimes we are blindsided with someone commenting on our weight or how we look. Instead of standing there frozen and then being in our thoughts the rest of the night we can say, “I’d rather we didn’t talk about how I look, but doesn’t that pie look delish?!” I know for me people say things all the time and because I feel insecure or overwhelmed I either don’t stand up for myself, or my mind starts racing so fast that I can’t respond and then feel even worse about myself. I’ve learned to write down the things that trigger me and come up with responses to them that I feel aren’t rude, but get the point across. It has helped me tremendously. I also practice them a lot before I go into a situation so if something does happen, it just comes out naturally!
9. COPE AHEAD. One thing that has really helped me in the past is to make a cope ahead plan. I sit down and write out all the worst case scenarios and/or things I’m afraid will happen and then I write down how I will cope with it. Most of the time these things don’t happen, but because I’ve already worked through them my anxiety is less and I feel more equipped for anything that might take place. So, if you know that your family doesn’t eat bread, but you have to eat bread, cope ahead with how you are going to do that. That way when the time comes, you are ready. If Great Uncle Butthead always feels the need to let you know you have gained or lost weight, cope ahead. Prepare what you will say and how you will deal with the thoughts that will follow. If you know you are going to a party where the meal is a million appetizers but not a sit down actual meal, cope ahead. Figure out what a normal plate looks like, ask your dietician, write down what skill you will use to calm your anxiety as you choose what foods to take or challenge yourself with. This helps me a LOT. It puts me more on the offense then the defense.
10. SELF CARE. Make a list of ways you can practice self care at any time and put it in your phone. Whether it is practicing mindfulness in the middle of a party, or making sure you eat well all day so you aren’t vulnerable later. Maybe it is getting your nails done so you feel pretty about at least one thing, or it’s grabbing your favorite tea from Starbucks as you shop for presents. It’s important to take care of yourself, even in little ways :)
11. FAKE IT TIL' YOU MAKE IT...aka opposite action. I use to think that if I did this I wasn’t being true to my feelings...but there is a time and place for this and the holidays are the perfect time. We might not feel like eating or participating in a game, but maybe if you start doing it you might find yourself enjoying it! I almost always feel major anxiety about eating in front of people and just want to avoid it all together, so instead of allowing my anxiety to take over, I grab a plate and do it anyway.
12. REMEMBER WHAT THIS SEASON IS ALL ABOUT. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the food, the weight, the body image etc. It’s helps for me to take a step back and remember what this season is all about. Yes, it’s about family and friendship and giving and love, but for me at the center of this season is Christ. When I concentrate on who Christ is and why he was born, how can I worry about it if I’ve eaten one too many develed eggs at dinner last night? When I remember that baby Jesus was born and what he would end up doing for me, my weight becomes a little less important and counting little energy units becomes really superficial and useless.
Eating disorders rob us from SO many things. Let’s not let it rob us of another enjoyable and beautiful holiday season. Eating disorders are strong, but we are stronger. Especially when use these little tips and tricks and skills to fight it!
I want to wish everyone a Happy Holiday and a very Merry Christmas!
- Sara -