How to Survive the Holidays in Eating Disorder Recovery
This was written for all people that have struggled with food and body image. It is for those who have had diagnosed anorexia or bulimia, sure, but it is also for the compulsive exerciser, the emotional eater, the chronic dieter, the person with a constant loop of mean body self talk. I use “eating disorder recovery” in the loosest sense of the word. This was written simply for those who have added stress around food and body during the holiday time. I love you all, and together, we’ve got this.
For the rest of my life, I will consider myself to be in eating disorder recovery. Although it has been years since I actively practiced any of the behaviors that made me categorically “sick”, the first thing that happens when I am tired, sad, or stressed, is that I notice myself having shitty dialogue with myself about the way I look. My brain remains very quick to judge my body, and although I do not accept the crap it comes up with, it’s still there. Holidays drive me batty for this reason.
This Thanksgiving I watched my dialogue around food and body rise and fall. I made a big and beautiful pile of greens for the potluck I attended and I felt happy and positive and strong. I arrived to my party and saw a gigantic table full of piles of food and I felt incredibly anxious and tired. I acknowledged the anxiety was still there (YES, after all these years, after all my skillz, after all my self love and teaching my clients to do the same) and I told myself that I could eat what I wanted, without emotional repercussion. I made myself a plate of food fit for the awesome weight lifting vegan lady that I was. I ate until I was full, and then I ate a little more. Dessert came and I had pie, because I wanted some, and because my brain told me I shouldn’t and I was so angry at the shoulds that I felt I had to. I felt sad. My stomach was not stoked. I was simultaneously proud of myself for enjoying the food with my friends, and pissed off that it was difficult to deal with my over full-ness in stride.
When I looked around after the meal my friends and I enjoyed, I saw that most people were really full. They were laying down, and watching movies, and doing puzzles, and farting tofurkey farts. No one looked sad about their fullness. In fact, an hour or so later the whole cohort went out to get pints of coconut ice cream. It boggled my mind. My friends ate as much as me and were in fact, more than fine. They were happy! Comfortable and hanging out and stoked.
That’s the thing about eating disorder brain. It takes you right out of your life and into your head. All through the meal I was only able to be half present because of the negotiating I was doing. ME. Been-in-recovery-for-a-long-ass-time-ME. Damn, that sucks.
The difference between in-the-sickness-recovery and in-the-wellness recovery is my ability to notice what’s going on and my ability to make changes going forward. I plan to do Christmas differently, because it is in my best interest to fucking love the people I’m with instead of having an argument with myself that no one will ever win. Here are a few tried and true methods of mental wellness that I am happy to remind myself of.
1. Make a gratitude list
Gratitude saves my ass on a constant and regular basis, and is the simplest thing that I often forget to do. Taking ten minutes to write things down that you’re grateful for straight up changes your disposition. I am spending my Christmas with my family first, and my partner’s family second. I plan to take a moment to not only write down everyday things that I appreciate, but also things I appreciate about all the people I am seeing. At the core of holidays is the desire for togetherness, so I am focusing on the people I am surrounding myself with.
2. Participate in whatever exercise doesn’t fuck your shit up.
Move your body, and keep your goals in mind. (If you are in recovery for anorexia and underweight, do not do high intensity interval training, for example.) When I am anxious, the first thing I want to do is go for a run. I allow myself that luxury because it doesn’t mess with my recovery overall, but I also take time to stretch and breathe deeply when I am done. The goal is to do whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you are on your body’s team. That might be walking, it might be yoga, it might be lifting, it might be a sprint. Do what you need to do, but do it because you’re trying to love yourself, not come out on top of a calorie calculation.
3. Tell someone
So much of what keeps people eating disordered, body dysmorphic, or self-hating is secrecy and shame. Because we live in a terribly fucked up society, chances are someone you know is struggling in the same way. Opening your mouth gives you the opportunity to support and be supportive.
4. Be assertive- with yourself and with others.
If someone is pressuring you to eat more or less, don’t take that shit. You are the boss of you, and you don’t need to be afraid to say so. For those concerned with how to gracefully decline more when you’re at capacity, a simple “No, thank you!” is totally great.
If you are pressuring yourself to eat more or less, that’s another opportunity to take charge. Do what makes your body feels best, do what makes you feel most connected to yourself and your socializing, and if you catch a mean thought, just let yourself marvel at it. “Who would say such mean bullshit?!” you can think. Then have a good laugh. Not you! No way, no how.
Please be kind to yourself and your body this holiday season. Let yourself talk out your internal dialogue, be a listening ear, and remember that I am just an email away. The chaos will end, just like it does every year, and when it is all done, you’re still going to be standing. How cool is that?!