How to survive the Holidays?
For many people the holidays are a time of joy and celebration. It is a time to gather with family and friends, get caught up on each others lives, share a few laughs, and many look forward to sitting down and enjoying the traditional holiday feast. For people with eating disorders, the holidays are not quite so enjoyable. In fact, they can be the ultimate nightmare. For many, the holidays bring tremendous stress, anxiety, and fear. I would usually begin preparing for the up and coming holidays a few weeks in advance. I always felt that if I lost a few pounds before the holidays, then I would be able to allow myself to eat like everyone else. Of course, that never happened. I had never been able to truly enjoy any holidays because of the fear I had of all the food that was present. Whether it was Christmas, Easter or any other holiday, I could never relax and enjoy the day because I knew the moment would arrive when I would have to sit down at the table and face all that food. Usually with my in-laws I could get away with not eating very much. I especially liked having people over to my house, because I could keep busy in the kitchen and spend less time at the table. When I was with my own family, I would sit and eat with everyone else, but the meal was never enjoyed because my head was always too busy adding up all the calories in my head and the fear of getting fat would grow stronger with each bite of food. I always looked forward to the moment I could leave, so that I could rush home and purge. The days following the holidays were just as bad. The guilt I would feel was enormous and I would feel desperate to try and make up for all the calories I had consumed. I would really restrict my intake and I would exercise more. Holidays were a time that I just never looked forward to.
For other people, food is not the only thing that makes them dread the holidays. Being around family members may also cause a lot of stress, especially if the families tend to fight a lot or drink too much. The holidays may bring up painful memories from past holidays. You may also have to be around certain family members who make you uncomfortable or who you do not particularly like. If the families are also aware of your eating disorder, you may be subjected to comments about what you are or are not eating. You may feel pressured into eating more than you are comfortable with in order to please the people around you.
I do not think I have ever met anyone with an eating disorder that really looks forward to the holidays. Making a plan of what you will do ahead of time, may be a good idea to help you cope during these stressful times. Below is a list of a few things that may help you during the holidays:
*Make a list of things you can do to help relax and distract yourself from the feelings of fullness after a big meal. e.g. go for a walk, take a bath, read, visit a friend, go for a drive, etc.
*Have the phone numbers of friends and crisis lines available to you.
*If you have to be at a function with certain people who make you uncomfortable, plan ways to excuse yourself from their immediate presence.
*Try not to count calories and try to avoid the scale.
*If you feel yourself starting to panic because you are feeling too full or if you allowed yourself to eat foods that you consider to be forbidden, remind yourself it is okay to eat what you did, that food will not make you fat, and it is only normal to eat more during the holidays. Most people do and it really is okay.
*If you have a period where you end up bingeing or purging, do not beat yourself up over it. Just put it behind you and move forward.
*Prepare responses to make to people who may say something to you that would make you uncomfortable.
*If you feel you need to, set some boundaries for yourself by telling people ahead of time that you do not want anyone to comment on your appearance or your eating.
*Be sure to plan some time for yourself to do something that you enjoy. It is very important to take special care of yourself during the holidays.
I really do believe that you need to do what is right for you during these times. Do not allow anyone to pressure you into eating more than you can handle. You are not eating for them, you are eating for yourself. If being with certain family members or going home for the holidays is too stressful, you may have to seriously think about not going. Do not be afraid to disappoint people by not showing up and if you can, be honest about why you will not be attending. Holidays are a very stressful time for people with eating disorders and it really is important that you do whatever you need to do in order to make them easier on yourself.
I no longer get stressed out during the holidays, except of course for the last minute rush of holiday shoppers, but I do not experience anxiety about the meals. Recovery took time and enjoying holidays did not come easy, but I no longer dread Santa's yearly visit nor fantasize about killing the Easter bunny. As long as you keep fighting and never give up, food will no longer prevent you from enjoying the holidays. You will be able to think of them as a time to gather with loved ones, you can make your own special memories, and you may even be able to start looking forward to them. So whatever holiday is approaching, I wish you all the best and I hope that you all have a very Happy Holiday.
H unger means you eat when physically hungry instead of emotionally hungry.
A ttitudes about your size has to with the size of your heart instead of the size of your body.
P arents accept and value you for who you are, not according to how you look.
P roblems are resolved in ways other than stuffing your feelings with food.
Y ou spend as much time and energy on helping others, as you do on how you look.
H appiness comes from within rather than from expectations of others.
O ccasions for the holidays emphasize relating to others instead of emphasizing food.
L ove of self means you deserve to treat yourself in the best humanly possible way.
I dentity of self involves more than how you look.
D isapproval of self is changed to approval of who you are.
A cceptance of what one can not change includes your body features.
Y ou treat yourself as you treat your best friend.
S ociety values you for being you without emphasis to your weight or size.
Sharon Sward, President of Eating Disorder Professionals of Colorado
Author of You Are More Than What You Weigh
Radio Talk Show Host on self-esteem, weight, and eating disorders