Living with an eating disorder can feel isolating. You may be spending the holiday season among friends and family who are basking in traditions and social gatherings without reservation, but you are not alone in feeling anxious. Many of the 30 million Americans struggling with eating disorders are not feeling joyful and grateful this time of year. For some, food-focused events happen weekly in December, and across America, you are one of many who may be feeling distressed as you pull your chair up to the holiday table. It may be that you think the eyes of your family and friends will be on you or that people will judge you; you might worry about encountering certain foods, feel pressured to eat or not eat, and feel overwhelmed by the many platters and dishes before you.
Maybe your mom is reminding everyone that she ran the ‘Jingle All the Way 5k’ this morning, while your brother jokes that his diet starts tomorrow. Common phrases and remarks like this, expressed without any hidden agenda or malice, are often a part of holiday conversations that have developed over the years. But for a person in recovery, they can be anxiety-inducing and challenging to forget. Work with your therapist and treatment team to develop a plan ahead of time and healthy coping strategies to use in these potentially stressful situations.
Finding non-food related activities can help you feel a part of the celebration and reduce stress. There is often a dog needing to be walked, a homemade gift to make, a hill to sled down, a football game to cheer for, a book to curl up with on the couch, and that one holiday movie your family watches every year to watch again.
Going along with giving thanks and the theme of gratitude, consider taking time to make a list of the people and experiences that enhance your life.
Between parties, group dinners, and travel, structured meal plans that are essential for recovery can be impacted. You are not required to wear stretchy pants, make room for the meal by skipping breakfast, or do a juice cleanse to compensate for mashed potatoes. It can be helpful to look at these meals like any other meal you will eat throughout the year; a meal that will provide you with necessary nutrients. There is room for ham, corn, and apple pie in your meal plan. There is also room for you to say, “I’d rather not discuss what’s on my plate” or, “I would prefer not to talk about treatment.” It is okay to set boundaries, seat yourself next to the person you feel most comfortable with, excuse yourself from the table, and even leave early.
By taking part in holiday gatherings in any capacity, you are courageous and resilient. You are dedicating time to people who may not fully understand the depths of your eating disorder. You are blocking out the mental noise believing that future seasons will be easier to get through. You are showing the millions of people with eating disorders that powering through, focusing on love, gratitude, and connection (the true intention of this time of year) can be done.
By: Olivia Delahunty, LPC
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