3 Tips to Navigate the Holidays in Eating Disorder Recovery
The other night I was able to speak with individuals at a virtual event called Hope for the Holidays put on by the Oklahoma Eating Disorders Association (OEDA). OEDA holds a near and dear place in my heart because this organization is where my eating disorder advocacy and recovery started. I will be forever grateful to OEDA for shaping me into the advocate I am today.
While I was writing out what was on my heart to share with attendees of the event, I knew I needed to pass this message along to more than the group of individuals on the call. So many (speaking from my own experience) struggle to find hope during the holiday season, and I pray that this post will provide some encouragement as you keep taking steps to your recovery. If you are a loved one supporting someone in their recovery journey, your love, kindness, and patience does not go unnoticed! I hope there are some good nuggets in here for you too.
My eating disorder started in high school when a dance program at the college of my dreams told me I would not be able to be a dance major or perform with their dance company if I did not lose a set amount of weight. Me being me, I knew I had to prove them wrong and lose the weight... which I did, but in a way which I considered "healthy" at the time. "Healthy" was actually rigidly restricting my food intake and compulsively exercising as punishment for what I ate (aka not healthy). Food, restriction, and concern about my body became an obsession that bled into every area of my life: friendships, family, dance, academics--you name it, my eating disorder was eating away at my life.
I do, however, believe that full recovery is possible--I am living, breathing proof that there is a life after your eating disorder! The holidays then seemed almost impossible to navigate. The holidays now are full of freedom and celebration. No matter where you are in your recovery journey, I want to encourage you to keep fighting for it, even in the holiday season when it seems impossible. Here is what helped me the most navigate the holidays:
Make a plan around food. My outpatient therapist at the time simplified it for me like this: "Make a plate. Check-in with yourself after you're finished. Are you still hungry? Then give yourself permission to have seconds." This clicked in my brain in a new way because it took the fear out of a "big" holiday meal and turned it into just another meal on just another day of the week. I was at a point in my recovery when I could recognize my hunger and fullness, but maybe you need a structured meal plan around this time of year. Maybe you need to reach out to your registered dietician to help you make a plan around food. Do what you need during this time. I promise asking for help is the best thing you can do.
Make a plan around movement. If you tend to compulsively exercise, or in other words, exercise to "undo" the meal you just ate or "save up" for a meal you are going to eat.... Make. A. Plan. For me, I knew if anxiety started to creep up, I had a great urge to run. I had to create a plan for other things I could do to spend my time. Great examples are journaling, reading a book, calling a friend, going for a drive, petting my pup. I think it's best to create activities that don't revolve around food and movement during the holidays to take your mind off what concerns you most.
Set boundaries. This is my worst nightmare. It's the hardest conversation to have whether that be setting boundaries around eating disorder recovery or setting boundaries with your boss. But the risk is well worth the reward. I remember being picked up from the airport after flying home for the holidays knowing I would have to have a hard conversation with my parents. I took a deep breath, and let it out to my mom and dad. "I need you to not talk about food. Don't talk about what's on my plate or what's not on my plate." Here's the thing: you cannot control someone's response to your asks and needs, but, if you set boundaries with someone who loves and cares about you, chances are good they will listen and respect you. I dare you to take the risk, you might be surprised by the response.
My dear recovery warriors, you are so strong and you can attack this holiday season with so much grace and compassion for yourself.
My dear family members of my recovery warriors, talk to your recovery warrior. They need you to listen more than anything during this time. Ask them what they need and ask them what they don't need. Create a safe space for them to navigate their recovery, and if you are ready to join them on their journey, I pray you will with open arms.