No matter what you celebrate, the holiday season seems to be a source of conflict for most – disordered or not. While we love our families, by the time the new year begins, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably ready for a familial hiatus.
Unfortunately, for those of us that struggle with an eating disorder, the abundance of food that goes hand in hand with the holidays only adds to the stress rather than relieving it. While your parents are fighting over whether or not you’ll go to five houses on Christmas, you’re stressing about whether or not you’re going to beat yourself up for weeks if you have another slice of pie or a glass of wine.
So how have I managed to survive the holidays over the years? PLAN!
Making a plan makes the holiday season a million times easier. Don’t go to the grocery store hoping you’ll just figure out what you’re bringing to Grandma’s, don’t go Christmas shopping and have a meltdown about what you get your brother and don’t walk into Thanksgiving hoping your intuitive eating and breathing techniques will be enough to get you through. Set yourself up for success! No matter where you are in your recovery – one day or one hundred years – it’s okay to plan to avoid the holiday meltdown!
Here are the plans I ALWAYS make pre-holiday season:
- MEAL plan
When I was in treatment, we learned to make a holiday specific meal plan – find out what’s going to be there (or remember from last year) and plan in out just like any normal day. And of course, I always plan in dessert, and there’s so much less guilt when you feel like it’s built into your day. Having a set plan lets the panic subside and allows me to forget about the food a little and enjoy the company. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re in a place where you can do the “normal” holiday thing and genuinely enjoy what you’re eating, go for it. But if the anxiety and obsessive thoughts are going to keep you from enjoying the company, it’s not worth the risk of restricting, binging or purging. Treat it just like any other day. Make a plan, and plan to eat the things you enjoy!
- FAMILY plan
Family can be stressful. Although we love them, sometimes, they don’t know the right thing to say. They may make a comment about your weight or what you’re putting on your plate. Have a plan! In treatment, a friend of mine made a plan with her mother so that if anything made her uncomfortable during the day, the code phrase would be “Mom, I think I lost my bracelet.” That would be the red flag to tell her Mom “Hey, I need to talk” without having to alert the entire family. If you don’t have a family member you feel comfortable confiding in, I’ve also made sure I have an “emergency list” of people that agreed before-hand that I can call or text when things get difficult. Remember, though, you aren’t texting them to complain about how much you ate or how fat you feel, but to distract you from those feelings. Maybe play a game over text (A is for ACDC, B is for Bon Iver…) to keep your mind occupied and off those pesky thoughts trying to ruin your holiday!
- DESTRESSING plan
Chances are, after a stressful day, the last thing you want to do is go home and sit by yourself and think. So don’t! I always plan on pulling out my guitar or coloring after family holidays to kind of recalibrate my mind and calm myself down. Maybe you know someone else that’s not a fan of family gatherings – invite them over to watch a funny movie. No matter what you do, don’t let the negative thoughts be the only thing keeping you company.
- Plan B
Maybe you tried your best, but weren’t “perfect.” I’ll let you in on a secret – no one is. After 10 years of attempts in recovery, I’ve had my relapses and I still have my bad days. The most important part is your “morning after” plan. This plan is the simplest but sometimes the most difficult: unconditionally forgive yourself and start over. You had a bad night or a bad weekend or a bad week because of the holidays? Now it’s time to start over. Take a deep breath, pick yourself up out of that hole you’ve dug yourself and make some breakfast. Recovery is a journey of progress, not perfection. As you pick yourself up, don’t forget to continue to reach out for help and be honest with the people who are there for you. Whether it’s your blood relatives or the friends that have become your chosen family, they’re there for you because they love and care about you.
The new year can be about more than your eating disorder.
Set yourself up as best as you can for success so that, even if you do falter, the fall is a little less painful. Don’t forget that the holiday is a season of giving, but it’s okay to take care of yourself first. You’ve got to help yourself before you can give back to anyone else!
Meghan Leonhardt’s blog Gray Matters aims to educate people about the biology of mental illness to decrease the stigma and foster awareness and acceptance. You can also subscribe to her SoundCloud here.
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