Tomorrow is Christmas.
The fire crackles, music plays, and family gathers around a Christmas dinner worthy of Martha Stewart. At least that’s how it looks on TV. Real-life Christmas, however…burnt turkey, argumentative in-laws, finding yet another pair of socks under the Christmas tree…can easily crash the holiday spirit.
But for someone battling an eating disorder, this time of year creates anxiety that can be unbearable. I know that when I was sick, I just wanted to go into hiding until the threat of sweet potato casserole and apple pie was gone. I wanted everyone to stop offering me hot-chocolate and sugar cookies. I wanted nothing more than to return to my usual routine.
I understand that holidays are difficult. So, from someone who has experienced the stress of Christmas with an eating disorder several times, here is your holiday survival guide!
1. Plan ahead. I’m not saying that you should know exactly what’s on the menu and calculate the calories of every dish. But knowing what time you’re going to eat, what your family’s plans are for the day, and what foods you are going to challenge yourself with, can help you cope with anxiety and ensure that you don’t restrict or binge. Prepare your mind to face new challenges. Talk through it: “I will have pie for dessert tonight. It is healthy for me. It will help me recover. Eating dessert is normal. My ED doesn’t like dessert, but I do. I’m going to listen to myself, not to ED.”
2. Don’t restrict throughout the day. Skipping your regular meals and snacks to compensate for a big dinner will entertain your eating disorder and lead to binging later in the day. Restricting doesn’t ever have a place in recovery, even on holidays.
3. Give yourself permission to eat and feel full. Christmas is one day out of the year. You know that eating one small meal won’t magically make you lose weight, so why would you expect to gain weight from one big meal? It’s okay to eat more than you would on a normal day. It’s healthy for you to go back for seconds and eat dessert.
4. Don’t isolate yourself. Being alone with your thoughts is never a good idea. Socialize. Play games. Distract yourself from any guilty or anxious thoughts instead of dwelling on them.
5. Don’t engage in fat-talk. Christmas is a prime time for family members to discuss how much weight they’ve gained and how they really shouldn’t be eating dessert. People love to talk about their diets and their New Year’s resolutions to exercise more and eat less. You can’t control what other people say, but your own words are just as powerful. If someone wants to complain about their own weight or talk about how much they’re eating, tell them they are perfect just the way they are and they should just enjoy the meal! If someone comments on your body or how much is on your plate, politely say that you prefer not to discuss it.
6. Make Christmas about more than food. Yes, traditional dinners and desserts are part of it, but it isn’t hamandpieuntilyoudie day. It’s CHRISTmas day. It’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation that He brought to mankind. It’s a reminder of the depth of God’s love for us, and an opportunity to share that love with others. Relax. Spend time with family and friends. Give generously and receive graciously. Christmas is about so much more than what’s for dinner.
My most important piece of advice is this: remember what truly matters. In five years, ten years, twenty years, are you going to care how much you ate on December 25, 2013? Are you going to wish that you had weighed 5 pounds less? Are you going to regret eating that extra roll?
No. You’re not.
You’re going to remember the people you spent the day with. The gifts given. The laughs shared. The stories exchanged.
My family and I are so grateful for this Christmas. I have no anxiety about tomorrow’s festivities. I’m looking forward to cooking and eating and spending time with people I love. Recovery IS possible. You don’t have to spend every Christmas with ED shouting in your ear. If you haven’t yet embarked on your recovery journey, don’t wait. Let tomorrow be the most joyful Christmas yet.