Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and right around the next corner are other festive holidays that involve some pretty important meals. The holidays resemble a time for family gatherings, love, and laughter, around a table full of ridiculously good food—and for those of us who are in recovery or struggle with an eating disorder, self-loathing, panic, anxiety, impulse, and fear are the main entrée.
Despite common myth, no food is a bad food. Looking at the mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole can be overwhelming. Do I eat it? Is it worth it? Do I eat all of it? Do I avoid it? Is what I eat later dependent on what I eat now? If I do eat it, how much should I have? Should I check the calories? If I open the door to a “bad food” will this determine if I am impulsive for the rest of the meal? For the rest of week? Am I in full blown relapse? Which food is the safest? There are five million questions that may be going on in your mind before, during, and after the meal, that it is difficult to engage in conversation about your little cousins first year in college and how your Aunt Lynda is doing after her knee surgery. We attach feelings and meaning to food instead of using it as it is intended…which is to nourish our bodies. If possible, reach out for support before, during, and after the meal.
Identify and Refute Irrational Thoughts
We all have experienced the super ultra-fast rapid, noticeable weight gain that will occur from one single meal. Fact check: is it scientifically impossible for someone the gain significant weight from one meal. I won’t go into the boring details about why it’s impossible, just trust the experience of professionals who study these things for a living. Plus, numbers are NOT someone with an eating disorders best friend, so we won’t even go there—just trust the fact. It is an irrational thought. What do we do with irrational thoughts? We refute them. We squash them. We ground ourselves in the midst of the anxiety they cause. We recognize them for what they are—and move on. We stick to our recovery the best we know how and talk about the lingering feelings with a trusted, experienced, professional. Irrational fears and thoughts are exactly where our negative behaviors stem from. They’re the culprit. Whether you struggle with overeating, restricting, binging and purging, or any other form of disordered eating, irrational thoughts and fears can trap us, and if we are not prepared to go to battle when that time comes, we could find ourselves in trouble.
We all know the tale as old as time that preparation is the key to success—like Benjamin Franklin said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Well, maybe Ben’s view is a little too harsh, but there is some truth in that. Being prepared during the holidays for when ED rears its ugly head, you are less likely to go down a road you wish you hadn’t. Being prepared does not mean it will all be easy, but it does mean you have a fighting chance. Having a game plan before sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner can look something like having a safe person to talk to during the meal, being able to check in with someone when you feel trapped, alone, or triggered, or planning out your meal with an experienced professional and sticking to that meal plan. Sometimes it’s all just too much for us to handle, so handing over the responsibility to another human being can be freeing and a super safe option. Imagine not having to decide between the 15 sides, portion sizes, number of servings, etc.? Wow. That’s a pretty amazing thought not to have that weighing you down. Fidget spinners or fidget cubes are also useful tools when anxiety is kicking in, and there is no one to talk to. Click the buttons, roll the ball, or feel the smooth side to take your energy from an emotionally challenging focus to a calmer, relaxing one. Also, if the conversation with certain family members is triggering, it can be helpful to come with a list of topics to choose from for redirecting a conversation. You can even bring your own topic cube, so everyone can get in on the game. https://bit.ly/2DDt4ZN If there is time, practice this through role play with an experienced professional, or even with a trusted friend who knows how to challenge you. Practice makes progress!
When it comes down to it, we all know it’s not about the meal. Let’s remember that we struggle with food on many different levels because of something underlying. Hopefully, you are working on these issues with a trusted, experienced, professional and you are able to use their support to navigate your way through the holidays. We all hear it; balance is the key to a happy, healthy life. It sounds great, but what does that mean? For some of us, balance occurs at the dinner table when we are choosing what foods to eat. It can also mean taking care of yourself in many ways during the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Having the proper preparation take place, setting up the right support system throughout the meal, moving your body outside to soak in the beautiful trees and crisp air, and also doing something that has absolutely nothing to do with recovery, like painting your nails or organizing your bedroom, are all a part of the bigger picture of balance. Finding balance is super important to calm your anxiety which may lead to a less threatening holiday.
Suffering from an active eating disorder or being in recovery from an eating disorder makes the holidays stressful. Just remember, it’s not about the food. The more prepared you are going into the holiday, the less terrifying it will be.
Thank you Laurie Lawhorn, LMSW for contributing this blog.