Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ask Haven Holiday Special: Surviving Thanksgiving with an Eating Disorder

Dear Haven,

            I’ve battled bulimia and anorexia for years. Holidays are always really hard for me especially now that I’m in recovery and trying not to fall back on bad eating habits. Do you have any tips for getting through the holidays while recovering from an eating disorder?


Help me!

Aw Help me! my best piece of advice is avoid the holiday by all means necessary. Possibly contract something contagious. I believe small pox is an American tradition. I realize small pox can be difficult to get ahold of though (also, please don’t to that, I was just kidding) so let’s see what else we can come up with.

If you’re like me, when you have an eating disorder that’s plagued you for decades, holidays that are all about food, tend to be a terrible time for you. There are some things you can do to make them a little more manageable though.

1. Get Support

Having a support system is always helpful. If there’s anyone in your family that you can confide in and count on their support throughout the day, take some time to talk to them in advance. My sister and I do this for each other. They can be your “safe person” in case you need to take some time out, grab some fresh air, or talk through something that happened that triggered you.

2. Prepare Properly

Don’t starve yourself beforehand. Don’t skip meals in an attempt to make up for what you are going to eat later. If you’re eating disordered you know you’ve done it: “saved up” your calories for the inevitable splurge before, at, and after dinner. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t actually help. In fact, it has the exact opposite effect. It actually increases the likelihood that you’ll binge because by the time dinner comes around you’ll be so hungry you won’t be able to gauge properly when you’re full. Not to mention, have you ever tried depriving yourself of food? All you do is think about food. It’s completely counterproductive. So prepare the right way. Eat healthy foods for breakfast and prepare some good-for-you snacks to get you through the day until dinner.

3. Don’t Deprive Yourself Completely

As an extension to Prepare Properly, if you spend all your energy thinking about NOT eating things you crave, you’re still spending all of your energy thinking about those things. This isn’t a license to binge. Don’t take a whole plate of potatoes or half a pie, but allow yourself to try them. Maybe a small spoonful here, half a slice of pie there. That way you don’t feel like you’re missing out, but you also don’t have to spend the night obsessing about all the things you’re missing out on.

4. Accept It

            You’re not going to be perfect today.

There are going to be temptations.

 It’s also just one day out of the whole year.

Repeat: It’s just one day out of the whole year.

It's okay. Plan to squeeze in an extra work out or two. It helps alleviate the inevitable guilt that you’re bound to feel for deviating from your usual plan.

5. Have a Plan

Not depriving yourself doesn’t mean over-indulging. Decide which things are worth it to you and stick to those things.  And…

6. …Forget the “All or Nothing” Minset

I know this is difficult for us black and white thinkers, but just because you’ve had one thing doesn’t actually mean everything is ruined and you might as well eat it all now. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a little of this, a little of that, and then all of a sudden I feel like I’ve ruined it all. I’ve already failed, so I might as well fail big. This is dysfunctional thinking. What I’ve come to notice is, all the pre-dinner snacks: The hummus plates, the veggie dips, the weird cream cheese/jelly cracker dip thingy… I don’t actually like them that much (Okay, I love hummus, but that’s healthy and I eat it throughout the year so it’s not a “special” treat for the holiday).

 Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. I love veggies so I tend to hover around the veggie plate. What I don’t usually eat is all the ranch/veggie/onion dip that accompanies it. So that’s something I don’t need to bother with. Now the cranberry relish at dinner? Totally different story. The only time I get that is at Thanksgiving, so as a one-time thing, I let myself have a little scoop of that.  

So decide ahead of time what things are worth it. Decide which things you don’t really need. Prepare yourself mentally. Give yourself permission for a few things that you don’t usually have. That way you have time to accept things and alleviate some of that spontaneous guilt.

7. Don’t engage or participate in the “fat talk”.

This just isn't appetizing at all.
Everyone I know tends to overeat like it’s a competition on Thanksgiving. Then in a bizarre way to “make up” for the obvious overeating people start to talk about dieting, weight loss, how they’re going to have to starve for a week…. If that starts happening, Ignore it. Ignore it as best as possible. Engage your “safe person” and step outside for some fresh air.

Above all, do not participate. All this does is reinforce the negative self-images we already have and encourage the damaging behavior we’re trying to recover from. It’s neither an act of self-care nor is it helpful. Also, please keep in mind, that other people’s issues with food and body-image are not your issues to manage. It’s okay to be mindful of yourself and do what you need to do to keep your mind in a better place.

8. Set Limits and Know Your Boundaries

If there is a relative or two that stress you out, it’s okay to set limits on how much time to actively engage with them.  If you are feeling pressured, or if someone continues to bring up subjects that trigger your thoughts and actions, it’s okay to speak up or remove yourself. Keep it polite. But don’t let yourself be stepped on. Politely express that something makes you uncomfortable and you’d prefer not to discuss it. That you’d appreciate if they could respect that you don’t want to discuss it.  

9. Don’t Overbook Yourself   

I rarely go back home, so when I do everyone I know wants to meet up and do things with me. Doubly so on holidays. This goes right along with knowing your limits. Make the most stressful day, as minimally stressful as possible. Choose one or two important things and don’t push yourself to do more. Doing too much will cause you to be more frazzled and more likely to reach for those bad habits to help you “feel in control” of the situation. Take it easy.

10. Be Kind to You

Holidays are stressful. Holidays are hard. Don’t be harder on yourself. Take time to breathe. Take time to talk positively to yourself. Take time to take care of yourself.

11. Pick Up Where You Left Off  

Keep in mind that it’s only one day. One day won’t ruin you for the rest of your life. If we’re honest with ourselves it won’t even ruin us for the rest of our week. So when the holiday is over, get right back into your usual routine. The very next day, wake up, and get back into your healthy regime.

You can do it. It’s just one day. If you make a plan you can get through it with minimal scathing. Good luck. You’ll get through. 

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