Okay. Thanksgiving is over. How did you do? Are you having anxiety over all the festivities that took place? Or, the food you ate?
This Holiday season can bring out a lot of stress and anxiety to any "normal" person, but if you are one of the estimated 10 million Americans fighting an eating disorder, then it's a whole different ball game. Holidays often revolve around food, sweets, caloric drinks, you name it and it’s on the table. A lot of it on the table, which can feel uncomfortable at best, or scary and painful at worst. Isn't it ironic that a time that is meant for togetherness, thankfulness, and enjoyment can evoke an extremely dangerous potential downward spiral for victims suffering with an eating disorder?
Here is a little perspective from a girl trying to live in recovery from her eating disorder:
Eating disorder (ED)'s lying voice SCREAMING in my ear:
"Everyone was watching you during Thanksgiving dinner! Relatives were scrutinizing every chew, swallow, and bite. Did you perform perfectly? Now they’re all talking behind your back at how worried they are. You know what they say, "She's the sick one, she'll always be the sick one.” You did not meet their expectations and now they are disappointed. Now they are questioning their love and acceptance for you. Shame on you. You should feel guilty about all the food you ate."
LET ME ASSURE YOU THAT THESE VOICES AND DANGEROUS SUGGESTIONS FROM ED ARE ALL LIES. THEY ARE POWERFUL DECEIVING DISINFORMATION THAT YOU CAN NOT GIVE INTO.
So if your ED brain starts to over analyze what people are thinking and saying and you feel triggered notice if you’re having these thoughts:
Do I feel the pressing need to be loved and accepted? Do I feel out of control or like a failure?
Do not go down the rabbit hole with those introductory triggering feelings!! Do not over analyze everything you ate and how you performed! Over analyzing begins to handicap anyone and can lead to isolation and depression. The vicious cycle starts very quickly if you are not prepared so I want to share some tools and skills that help me put a stop to this.
My simple recipe for a guilt free holiday season:
Eat and enjoy your food. Think of it as a privilege, not a punishment.
Focus on your blessings. Think of gratitude.
Choose, decide, not to feel guilty. Eating Disorders are not a choice, but you can choose to not feel remorse.
Get a journal and write down ED’s lies followed by the actual truth. Here is an example:
ED lie: “Shame on you for actually enjoying your food and family. Now you must compensate for this and you should punish yourself with starvation and exercise.”
Truth: Food is for nourishment and enjoyment. Avoid over analyzing every morsel of food you tasted. Flee from calculating every calorie you consumed. The urge to cut back after a holiday meal or feel the need to over exercise is just a compulsion. Food should not bring guilt. C.S. Lewis says “Food is a dripping of Heaven.”
Truth: There is nothing wrong with admitting that the foods we eat over the holidays are delicious and comforting. The trick is to avoid tacking on comments about gaining weight or having to burn off the calories. Stop shaming your body. Praise it. Remember all the amazing things your body does for you. Your body deserves to be nourished with this scrumptious food.
This year experiment with something different.
Enjoy and savor your meal. For example, here is a picture of my delicious feast!
Give yourself permission to taste the different flavors and experience the different textures. Take pleasure in the meal and LET THAT BE THE END OF IT! Do not engage in any talk surrounding the need to make amends or repair the damage. No counting calories, no promises to undo things tomorrow, no penalties or remorse.
Find a safe person you can trust and who will give your irrational ED voice the rational truth.
For me, this is my best friend or my sister in law. I prepare them that I will be seeking them out in times of vulnerability. Make a list of things you may predict that people will say that can trigger eating disorder thoughts. I like to carry factual and rational responses to these in my pocket on paper or on my arms.
Stay connected in your support group and with your therapist.
Discuss your fears and worries with them so they can help you predict, prepare for, and get through any uncomfortable situations without using your destructive coping mechanisms. This will also help you not to isolate.
Lastly, allow yourself to experience your emotions.
This is one of the most important and valuable things in your recovery. When you feel the urge to have Eating Disorder behaviors you need to vent to someone to get rid of the trapped emotion. Start journaling. Give yourself 3 positive affirmations. Say the affirmations out loud into the mirror. Voice your feelings to your safe person. FEEL THEM. Working through them will make you stronger and will help set you up for success during this season.