Managing the Holidays When In Recovery from an Eating Disorder

Well, it’s officially autumn and winter is fast approaching, which means that you probably will be celebrating some holidays soon! As someone who’s been there, I know how stressful and scary the holidays can be when dealing with an eating disorder.  And so, I have compiled a little list of things I have found helpful in my own recovery. Feel free to pick and choose what you feel might work for you—I know we all come from different places and have different struggles.

autumn leaves

Autumn takes pictures of Autumn!

Communicate. I can’t stress this one enough (and that’s not just because I was a comm major!). Don’t panic in secret. If you’re with a treatment team, ask them if they can help you create a plan to navigate the holiday season. If you spend a lot of time with your family on holidays, it might be good to have a talk (do it BEFORE the holiday, not on it/during it—that can be very stressful). Talk about what they can do to make you feel safe and supported. Support people can have good intentions but poor execution when they’re trying to help you. Tell them what WILL help you vs. what is triggering for you.

Have an outside support system. Ask a friend or family member (or even your therapist if possible) if you can call or text them throughout the day for support and encouragement. Sometimes a, “Hey, you can do this! I’m here for you” text can go a long way.

Remember, it’s just a meal—same as any other day. Thanksgiving dinner is really just like any other dinner; there are just more options!  If you need to bring one “safe dish” along with you to a gathering, I think that’s okay. But do challenge yourself to try some of the other foods there. You don’t have to have an entire plate of every single thing, but maybe you can sample some different foods and side dishes. Easing yourself into eating a little bit of something is a great way to overcome a fear food.

Have some coping skills in mind. If the anxiety gets to you, make sure you have a safe, healthy alternative so that you don’t get pulled into an ED behavior. Bring your journal, bring some knitting, do breathing exercises, call a friend.

Holidays are meant to be fun! Holidays are a time to visit with the ones we love. Don’t get too hung up on the food aspect of it. Sometimes we can forget all the other wonderful things that happen because we’re so blinded with fear on what will happen at mealtime. When was the last time you enjoyed holidays? Maybe it was a couple years ago or maybe it was when you were a little kid. Think about what you loved about them. Playing football in the yard with your cousins? Playing board games with your grandparents? Putting up decorations? Opening presents (hey, I’m just being honest!)? Plan a fun activity for that day or the next day to lift your spirits and give you something to look forward to, rather than dreading all of it because of the food.

Know that everything may not go according to plan—but that’s okay. My first Thanksgiving in recovery, I had done all the preparing I could: I debriefed with my therapist, went over my meal plan with my dietitian, brought a dish that was safe for me (I used to be very anxious about eating food when I didn’t know every ingredient), and had some girls from my support group to text. I was set! When I arrived at my grandma’s house, she said she had a special surprise for me: Since I was a vegetarian and couldn’t eat the turkey, she had cooked an entire pan of fettucini alfredo just for me! Fettucini alfredo was a HUGE fear food for me on so many levels at that time. I was horrified. Later, I recounted the story to my therapist. I said, “And then, she brought out this HUGE thing of fettucini alfredo, for only me to eat.” There was a moment of silence as we stared at each other, and then we both burst out laughing. My grandma had only been trying to help me feel comfortable, but it was a hilarious misfire.

It was basically my worst nightmare, but you know what? I survived. I still had a great holiday. And you can too! If it doesn’t go the way you hope, there’s always another tomorrow. You got this. I believe in you.

There are also some great tips for surviving the holidays at the following blogs:

Something Fishy-Happy Holidays

Libero Network-6 Tips for Enjoying the Holidays

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Loving Yourself Through Old Photos

This weekend, I stopped by my parents’ house and had the urge to look through some old photos. It’s always hilarious to remember your old Halloween costumes, the year you had no front teeth, or (if you’re me), the fact that you seemed to exclusively wear bicycle shorts for your entire childhood. I guess hating pants is something you’re born with.

During my little excavation, I came across a photo of my 5 year old self at gymnastics class. I am standing next to two of my kindergarten friends in nothing but our leotards. My arms and legs are entirely exposed, and yet I don’t seem uncomfortable at all.  I’m not worrying about whether or not my friends think I look fat or telling myself my thighs are too disgusting to show people.  I wasn’t a large child by any means, but my thighs were actually the largest out of all my friends. The thing is, I don’t remember ever thinking my thighs were better or worse than theirs, just different.  It makes me wonder: when did I start ranking my body with others’?  When did I decide that the body that allowed me to run and tumble and do cartwheels was worthless unless it could be thinner than others’?

I would never tell that little girl that her thighs were disgusting or needed to be more toned. I would never pinch at the skin on her arms. I would never tell her to harm herself or make her skip dinner.

But I am that little girl. Those are my arms and my thighs. And I have told myself these things for years. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to envision this girl within me every time I have the urge to call myself ugly or “fat.” I want to love myself the way I love the spunky little gymnast in that photo.

Another thing that was interesting was to see that my relative build is the same as it is now. I mean, I’m an adult woman with curves and such, but you can see the same framework in my childhood pictures. It was a cool reassurance that I have always been designed this way and that this is the way my body is made to look.

If you’re ever interested, I would totally suggest looking at some pictures of yourself as a baby or toddler. Try insulting your adorable chubby cheeks or your tiny baby fingernails or your toothy smile. I bet you’ll discover a newfound compassion for yourself.

Anxiety, Blogs, and Moving Forward

honestyHey everyone! Sorry I have been away for awhile. I’ve been super busy (sometimes with real life responsibilities, other times with endlessly reading Buzzfeed and watching Netflix, let’s be honest), but I also stepped away for a bit to give myself time to process the fact that I’m sharing pieces of my story here.

I know that this blog is basically anonymous and really doesn’t say anything too outrageous, but do know that speaking my truth is a huge thing for me—even in as casual a setting as a faceless, random blog. Just creating this felt like a massive leap of faith! I have had blogs in the past, but always deleted them when the honesty got too scary.

I have spent a lot of my life lying to people or hiding the truth from them. It’s not something I’m proud of, but a lot of it has been out of fear and self-preservation. I have a massive fear of failure, so sometimes I lie about how well I’m doing to make my life seem better than it feels. I omit all the bad stuff and play up the good. I don’t tell people the whole story, and I don’t tell them when something is wrong. I’m working on this.

A piece of why I’m writing this blog is to have some record of my own progress. Like I’ve mentioned before, I have had 2 other blogs where I wrote about my life and recovery, but deleted them both out of mindless fear. In addition, I destroyed all the journals from when I was worst in my ED and when I was first going into recovery. I started worrying what would happen if someone found them and read them–not even just worrying, PANICKING. And so I ripped each page into tiny shreds, and then threw them all out in waves over the course of several weeks, out of fear that someone would find the pieces and then glue them all together to read my diary. Irrational? Yes. Have I always been this anxious and paranoid? Unfortunately, yes.

As far back as I can remember, I have struggled with a strange, overwhelming anxiety that makes me worry about every small move I make and how I will affect others in the world. As a child, I would feel tremendous guilt if I so much as thought something mean. I can remember being 8 or 9 years old and having my mother try to calm me down so I could sleep, telling me that it was okay to make mistakes and that I wasn’t bad. Fast forward to age 21 and I was still staying up til 4am, trying to find peace and remind myself that I am okay. I’d punish myself for things I did in 3rd grade. I would worry that someone was spying on me or planning to ruin my life. I’d deactivate my Facebook and withdraw from my friends.

Now I’m 23 and doing a bit better, but I have my super-anxious days. My therapist sometimes has to remind me that no one can hear my sessions and that she doesn’t tell people what I say. She also reminds me that I am a good person who makes mistakes, not a bad person who hurts other people constantly. I think that pieces of my eating disorder & other mental health issues stem from this lifelong battle. I have tried to think back on what may have caused my anxiety, but it’s possible that I was just born this way (unintentional Lady Gaga reference). Some people are born with very perfectionistic, high-anxiety personalities. Honestly, I’ve stopped caring about the Whys and am focusing more on the What Now?s. What can I do now, today, that will help me manage my anxiety and lead a meaningful life? What can I change? That’s what I care about at this point. If I find a root for my anxiety along the way, awesome. If I don’t, then at least I will still have some tools to lead me into a calmer, happier present and future.

I’m not a scientist, and I can’t see the inside of my brain. I don’t know if my anxiety was caused by an external event or if it’s in my genes. But even if I was born with anxiety, it doesn’t mean I have to live with it. I’m going to keep pushing forward and finding ways to cope–no, thrive. If I end up deleting this blog one day in a wave of fear, I will be disappointed but will keep trying. I’ll start another blog. I’ll open up to someone I trust. I’ll always take another leap of faith. I’ll always ask, “Okay, what now?”