Family caregivers have shared often lamented how utterly painful and difficult the holidays are for their loved one with an eating disorder. Thanksgiving typically being the most difficult with so much of the focus on food for many families. This week while I’m in Portugal having a friendsgiving with an American friend who came over, I’m very grateful to Intern Anna for sharing her wisdom and for writing my newsletter for this week.
Please be gentle with yourselves and your loved ones and remember that it’s okay and often helpful to shift your expectations and your traditions to help your loved one in recovery to cope. ~ Becky
How to survive the holidays – by Intern Anna
Holidays are supposed to be a cheery time.
I know I shouldn’t be putting any expectations for the holidays and yet I know it is something almost all of us do.
Personally, Thanksgiving is still very difficult for me. Sometimes I wish that being in recovery meant being fully recovered from all the thoughts and impulses of the eating disorder. Sadly, it is not that easy. Recovery is a long process and takes time to become fully recovered.
When I was in the thick of my eating disorder, I remember Thanksgiving and (our family holiday) Christmas being hard. I would want to appreciate all my friends and family and enjoy the day without having to worry about eating disorder thoughts. What I have begun to learn now is that you can have those thoughts and still also have fun.
It really comes down to being mindful about who you are surrounded by and remembering what the holiday is all about. I think it is also about remembering that feelings of anxiety and discomfort won’t hurt you. Even though our heads like to paint catastrophic events, usually what we are worried about has such a small probability of actually happening.
For Thanksgiving, I once heard someone say that you don’t have to go all out over the food. It is just a normal day and you can eat a normal meal. I think this is a good way to look at it. We have these special dishes and you can decide whether you want to get stuffed or if you are content just being full.
Tips for Holidays:
- Have a plan of attack before going to the meal. Recognize that you will feel anxious and uncomfortable. Figure out some coping skills you could use at that moment. This way you will feel better prepared when those feelings arise because you already know what to do.
- Let someone else know to check on you after the meal. Sometimes I will ask my parents to check in with me quickly to see how I am feeling after eating. They can give me some motivation or inspiration to help me get through the day.
- Participate in mindful eating. Focus on each bite of food that you take. How does the texture feel, does it smell, and how does it taste? This way you are using mindfulness at the same time as eating and hopefully it’ll make you appreciate the food more. This is also a good way to make sure you aren’t eating too quickly.
- Plan something to look forward to after the meal. This could be a walk or catching up with family, etc. I think it is easier to get through a tough time when we know something good is just around the corner.
- Focus on your own food. When I was dealing with my ED, I know I tended to see how much everyone else was eating. This only reinforced negative thought patterns and made me feel worse about myself. We all need different amounts of fuel for our body, so try not to pay attention to what others are doing! ~Intern Anna
If you or a family you know of are having a hard time right now with holiday stresses, pleae reach out about our support services for families. As I’ve said since 2003, “No one should have to do this alone.” And I’m glad to see others saying that now and families need the support to help loved ones through this difficult time.