to you, from ED: Christmas with an eating disorder

I’m a Christmas junkie. I still relish this time of year even if it has some downsides thrown in.

This time of year just isn’t easy for a lot of us. There are so many added pressures and worries that make their way into the hubbub.

The holidays bring about new expectations and doubts running through the minds of those who struggle with food. I consider myself always in recovery, but I’ve lived long enough to know the kinds of situations we’re bound to face: lots of goodies and desserts to tempt us, traditions centered on family but lots of big meals, the general consensus to “let ourselves go” for this month but once it hits the new year, it turns into a plethora of diets and workouts.

Knowing how to feel somewhat normal around food is still a foreign concept to me. I still get uneasy being the only one eating with others around, I still always need a distraction with me at meals (like YouTube or a crossword puzzle), and I still don’t ever rush myself, even if that means I’m the last one at the table.

The holidays are a whole other ball game. Or a snowball game maybe. While others look forward to a month of rich foods and social gatherings, I’m far more…hesitant. Just because it’s coming onto be Christmas doesn’t mean my normal anxieties magically turn off so I can enjoy myself.

I am a million times better than I once was at handling my disorder and accompanying thoughts, but now they just subtly creep in. The pestering questions of what you’re eating, how much, my digestion, if I’ve moved/exercised today, if my body changes even over the course of the day. It’s a hyper-awareness that turns my vision into a magnifying glass, inspecting every little detail to feel a false sense of security.

The woes of disordered eating don’t just affect the one with the racing mind, but everyone around them, too. The holidays are about getting together with friends and family and celebrating, and knowing someone is struggling or is obviously uncomfortable really dampens morale.

And when you have an ED, you learn to put a mask on. To hide your fears, to nonchalantly not eat certain foods over others. I know often times people think about restricting before the holidays to prepare for certain meals, and let me tell you, it’s completely counterproductive.

How to enjoy the holidays with an ED.

When in doubt, always put your own health first. You cannot expect to drain yourself of sustenance and still be able to appreciate the moment.

Make that sustenance food you look forward to, that you can enjoy with less guilt. For me, I’m a broken record saying that truly, veganism has made a world of difference in this regard. Thanksgiving has always been a mental battleground for me, but for this year and last year, my mom’s made me a FAB meatless loaf that is divine.

Your environment is also important, who you’re around and where you’re at. Inevitably you cannot always (and shouldn’t) avoid the situations that scare you because that’s how you grow, but especially during the holidays, make sure you have a support system backing you up if you need help. And if you need to leave from somewhere or not be around certain people, that’s okay. Back to my Thanksgiving, I was just with my parents and just being around them put me at ease, with no pressure to overeat or feel guilty.

When in doubt, self-care.

Also, don’t forget to keep up with your self-care routine and any form of stress relief that help. The holidays are wonderful, but they’re frankly just days. If you’re going into an uncomfortable scenario, first off, kudos to you for being a true warrior, but before anything, mentally prepare yourself to stay calm. Focus on the people. Don’t push yourself too far. Have a plan if you need to.

For the family and friends who may not understand the inner ordeal I’m describing, I have suggestions for you, too. Don’t focus too much on what someone might be eating, but simply offer encouragement and empathy for the anxiety at play. Be flexible and comfortable with how someone feels about food-filled situations and allow them to express what would help them. Be patient and compassionate. Avoid staring at someone and bringing attention to food, body and dieting. We may not acknowledge it as often as we should, but thoughtful acts and words of love and kindness mean the world.

There are so many more things to celebrate in December than food. Believe in your strength and resilience. Take care of every aspect of your wellness. And whatever definition you best see fit, I hope this holiday season is merry, healthy, and bright.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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