The holidays mean family, fun, gift exchanges, music, and food. Lots of food. And, if you suffer from an eating disorder, the pressure to partake in gingerbread cookies, turkey, pumpkin pie, and everything else can turn what should be a festive time of year into an absolute nightmare.
I remember when I suffered from anorexia, I was offered a chocolate chip cookie that my niece had made. It was the first batch of cookies she had ever made, and she’d made it for me for Christmas. How could I say no?
I took one bite and thanked her, then quickly excused myself from the room so that she wouldn’t see me cry. I was so angry with myself for feeling like one bite of a cookie made me a “failure” or a “bad person.” The mania of my disorder had gotten bigger than the joy I should have felt from this simple and heartfelt gift from my niece.
The anxiety of the possibility of moments like this can paralyze you if you suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Here are a few tips to help you navigate this holiday season:
Have a Plan
If you have a plan ahead of time, you have a sense of control. Not control over the situation, but over your reaction to situations. For example, if I’d told myself ahead of time that a situation such as the cookie incident could arise, I would have been less panicked and put on the spot. I would have prepared myself for the prospect that I might have to eat something that would “make me feel bad,” then remind myself that “feeling bad” for taking a bit of a cookie was unreasonable. If I’d considered this possibility outside of the actual situation, my reaction in the moment might have been less extreme.
Be Aware of Your Triggers
Does being around a certain person spark your insecurities? For me, it was my ultra-thin stepsister. I could generally keep it together until she showed up and made what felt like (but probably weren’t) intentionally critical statements about my appearance or my life in general. If you are aware of your eating disorder triggers, you can either avoid them or steel yourself when they make an appearance. Being aware is half the battle.
Do you have a friend or a family member who you can talk to if you’re feeling backed into a corner? If there is someone you can turn to in a moment of anxiety, it can help to take them aside and have them talk you through it. If you have a friend who won’t be present, maybe talk to that person ahead of time and ask them if it’s okay for you to call them during the day if needed for a pep-talk or just so you can vent. Having an outlet, someone to listen to you without judgment and help you focus, can be helpful. Sometimes just knowing that the person is available can be enough to help you cope with your eating disorder during the holidays.
When kids get crazy, their parents often will give them a time out. This is a handy trick you can use on yourself, too. If you feel yourself getting riled up, it’s a good idea to excuse yourself to take some deep breaths and center yourself. Even better, if you can give yourself some alone time before your anxieties begin to arise, this can be a preventative measure. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the non-stop activity and over-stimulation of the holidays that anxiety can sneak up on you before you know it. Bring a book or even a journal or sketchbook along with you and make a point to excuse yourself from the holiday chaos for moments of self-focus.
The moment with the cookie was, for me, a wake-up call. After that, I sought help for my anorexia. There are many options for eating disorder treatment. You can find eating disorder treatment centers that will help you move toward recovery and assist you in developing a healthy relationship between your mind, your body, your emotions, and food.
In the meantime, don’t forget, the holidays can drive anyone insane. You’re not alone in feeling the pressure of the holidays. If you can work on some of the tips above — mainly to have a plan and try to relax — you should be able to find some of the happy in the holidays.