Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Q&A with Amy!: Dealing with the Holiday Stress

Q:    Hi Amy.  So, the holidays are coming up and I’m kind of nervous about all the food that’s going to be around and comments from family.  Do you have any advice?     
A:    I completely understand where you’re coming from! I don’t think I have met anyone with an eating disorder that really looks forward to the holidays! My entire family (and yes, that includes my aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, their dogs etc.) knew I was in treatment for an eating disorder. This made me incredibly anxious about our family gatherings: Will they be watching what I eat the entire time? Will they think I’ve lost weight? Will they think I’ve gained weight? What if I cave in and eat some of those tempting ‘forbidden’ foods? What if I eat too much? What if I eat too little and someone comments? What if I can’t exercise because of the snow outside! What if I start to eat and can’t stop!  …and this list goes on. 

Christmas was the most feared time of year for me. I had to face two of my worst fears: food and people. And, more importantly, I felt guilty for not being happy during this ‘happy’ time. I felt unworthy to be happy. Now looking back, it’s completely understandable, with the huge emphasis placed on food throughout the holiday season! When I had an eating disorder, I remember this made sticking to a meal plan much more challenging! And to add to everything, my therapist I was seeing was off for the month of December, which left me feeling stranded on my own trying to remain relapse-free. The one thing my therapist told me to do was plan, plan, and PLAN! I also got my mom on board with the plan, which gave me the support I needed and accountability. 

Here is a list of a few ideas that may help you during the holidays:

•Plan ahead. Think of a friend or family member who you can call when you are feeling stressed, having negative thoughts, or difficult emotions. We have feelings and emotions that resurface during the holiday season and it is important to have a plan for when those feelings arise so that we don’t behave in a self-destructive way.  Call them ahead of time and let them know of your concerns, needs, and the possibility of them receiving a call from you.

•Take time for yourself!  Plan to spend some time everyday—even if it is only 10 minutes—to take a walk, write, or just, be. Try to think about what is truly important in your life.

•Be curious. If you find that you are punishing yourself for over-indulging or eating foods you normally would not eat, try not to be judgmental about those feelings. Write in a journal, call a friend, or talk about it with your therapist. Remember, you deserve nourishment

•Focus on the holiday aspects unrelated to food and weight (ie. Decorations! The snow! Family)! 

•Talk with loved ones about important issues to you: decisions, victories, challenges, fears, concerns, goals, special moments, relationships, and your feelings about them. Make agreements with how your family can best support you (ie. don’t make food the focus during the holidays).

•Consider choosing a loved one (for me, it was my mom) to be your "reality check" with food, to either help plate up food for you, or to give you a reality check on the food portions which you dish up for yourself.

•If you feel you need to, set some boundaries for yourself by telling people ahead of time that you do not want anyone to comment on your appearance or your eating. This is a reasonable request. You matter.

•If you have to be at a function with certain people who make you feel uncomfortable, plan ways to excuse yourself from their immediate presence.

•Write down your goal of where you want to be after the holidays are over. Take time once a day to find a quiet place to become in tune again with your goal, to remember, to nurture, and to center yourself into those thoughts and feelings. Make your goals about "doing something" rather than about trying to prevent something.  If you have food goals, consider adding personal, emotional, spiritual, and relationship goals as well.

•Strive to be flexible in what you eat and guidelines during the holidays, and take a break from that self-imposed criticism, rigidity, and perfectionism.

•Make a list of things you can do to help relax and distract yourself from the feelings of fullness after a meal (ie. go for a walk, talk to a family member, go for a drive, etc.).

•If you have a period where you end up bingeing or purging, do not beat yourself up over it. Write it down, talk it through with someone you trust, and move forward. Nobody is perfect.

Try not to avoid social situations where there will be loads of food. Have you ever turned down an invitation only to end up bingeing by yourself? I certainly have, and it's very depressing. Get dressed, get out, engage in conversation and try not to focus on what is being served. Give yourself permission to eat if you're hungry, and don't if you're not. 

•If you feel yourself starting to panic because you are feeling too full or if you allowed yourself to eat foods that you consider to be forbidden, remind yourself it is okay to eat what you did, that food will not make you fat, and it is okay to eat more during the holidays. 

•Prepare responses to make to people who may say something to you that would make you uncomfortable. I always hated it when people mentioned, “oh Amy, you look good,” because I interpreted ‘good’ as being ‘fat’! This is not the case at all! I realize now that they really meant it--I actually looked good! Stop your eating disorder voice in its track! You do look good and are proud of the hard work you’ve accomplished!! So say in response, “thank-you! I think so too!”  

•Know your triggers – take steps to avoid getting pushed off track.

•It might be helpful to talk with your parents and ask them to make it clear with your aunts, uncles, etc. not to comment on your appearance.

•Be honest with yourself and to others who support you. The eating disorder is very conniving, and even the littlest lie hurts a lot. Keep no secrets. 

•At the dinner table, sit next to someone who understands your recovery, if possible (for me it was my cousin!).

Allow yourself to have fun rather than rigidly focusing on food or body concerns.  Give yourself permission! 

•Enjoy yourself!  Make sure you take time to enjoy the people around you and the essence of the holiday season!  You deserve it!!


…So thankfully I no longer get stressed out during the holidays (except of course for the last minute rush of holiday shoppers!), and I dont experience anxiety about the meals anymore. Recovery took time and enjoying holidays didn’t come easy, but as long as you keep fighting and never give up, food will no longer prevent you from enjoying the holidays. You will be able to think of them as a time to gather with loved ones and start looking forward to them as I do!
Wishing everyone a minimally stressful, maximally happy and healthy holiday season!!!


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