Trigger Warning: eating disorder behaviors
This time of year can be so difficult, especially for those of us with eating disorders. From food being such a big part of the holidays to the potentially difficult times with family to the comments of “Oh next year my resolution is to lose x amount of pounds.” It’s all around us, which makes escaping it or at least coping with it really challenging.
In the past, holidays would go one of two ways for me. Either being surrounded by food would cause me so much stress that I would run into my room and hide and choose to restrict. I would lie to my family by saying, “Oh I’ve eaten enough, I was just over there so you didn’t see me.” Or if I did decide to eat to appear less suspicious, I’d end up in the bathroom purging sooner rather than later. That’s how holidays were for a couple of years for me, immense discomfort that I wanted to free myself from. But the last maybe two years, it’s been an excuse to binge. It’s been like oh well there’s all this food around, and it’s a holiday, you’re expected to eat too much. In some ways yes, it’s common people eat more than usual during holidays. However, doing it accidentally one meal is different than using the holidays as an excuse to justify an already existing eating disorder behavior.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, my eating disorder has taken the path of a pendulum. Whether it was restricting and purging, or bingeing, it was always one extreme or the other. But that pendulum didn’t reoccur this year. This holiday season, I chose to stay more in the middle, the “neutral zone” so to speak. I ate the holiday food along with the rest of my family, but I ate until I was satisfied, rather than full. That meant not eating everything on my plate just because it was there. That meant actually being mindful in the midst of a holiday meal, a task that is far from easy. But that also meant that after the meal, I didn’t want to go and purge, I wasn’t filled with an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I was content, I had just eaten a delicious meal with some of the most important people to me, and my eating disorder wasn’t an active part of it.
In the past, having so many holiday treats lingering around was really difficult for me. Again, it either went one of two ways. I either used seeing all of those sweets as examples of what I was “not allowed” to eat until I weighed x pounds, which was a form of punishing myself. The other outcome was completely overdoing it to the point of a really bad stomach ache and a huge knot in my stomach that was filled with guilt and shame. Some years it would get so bad that I would start throwing stuff away or asking my mom to take it to work because I couldn’t have it in the house. Well, this year neither of those outcomes happened. We’ve had several containers of homemade holiday cookies that I made with my mom and my niece, and I’ve been eating those moderately. I also have a stocking with quite a bit of candy in it, but again, that’s been getting eaten moderately.
Not only have I been strong enough to not let the holidays break my time of being behavior free, but I’ve also developed a lot of radical acceptance around the holidays. I feel as though I’ve been able to accept that around the holidays, I’m going to eat more cookies and chocolate and other sweet things than I typically would. But instead of realizing that and thinking okay if I do that I need to exercise for x hours and burn x amount of calories, I’ve just accepted it in the sense of this is just how this time of year goes and that’s totally fine. I’m not a bad person for eating more sweets now than I typically do, because it’s the holidays and as long as it’s not leading to eating disorder behaviors who cares!? I know I no longer do. I love eggnog, cookies, chocolate, etc. and I’ve either deprived myself of those things for many years or couldn’t really enjoy them because of the guilt and shame. I deserve to enjoy them and let myself do that, guilt-free! 🙂
A saying I’ve seen floating around all of my social media accounts goes something like – What you ate today shouldn’t dictate what you eat tomorrow. What you ate today shouldn’t dictate how much you exercise tomorrow. I wholeheartedly agree with this, and I encourage everyone to try and tell yourself that while genuinely meaning it. I promise if you eat more sweets around the holidays than the rest of the year your body will not magically balloon up overnight. But even if it did, that’s okay! While that may sometimes feel like the worst possible case scenario, it’s not. It’s the self-hatred voice you have in your head. I suggest that everyone work on silencing that voice because I can personally guarantee you that it’s one of the most incredible feelings.
The last thing I want to discuss on my “holiday post” is the anticipation of a new year. If you’re thinking about establishing a fitness goal as a resolution, I would advise you not to. If you think losing x amount of pounds will suddenly make your life perfect and will make you love everything about yourself, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but… that’s not true. That ideal number you have in your head will continue to lower, it will never be enough. While you may think that your physical appearance is the primary source of your unhappiness, I can tell you from experience that it’s not. The source of your unhappiness is mental, and the way to change that is not through dieting and setting a goal weight. The way to change that mentality is through looking at yourself in the mirror every single day and telling yourself positive aspirations such as – “You are beautiful exactly the way you are,” “You are enough,” or anything else that is fitting for you. I’ve spent the majority of my life so far at war with my body, and I’m finally trying to heal my relationship with my body. It’s the only body I’ll ever have, and it’s something I should be grateful for, especially after everything I’ve put it through.
I am trying to get a more regular exercise routine into my life, but it’s not a resolution. It’s in no way associated with looking a certain way or weighing a certain amount. It’s about not only conquering my developed fear of exercise but also getting in touch with my body, something I desperately need to do. It’s about healing my relationship with exercise and my body and continuing to create the recovery lifestyle that allows me to be the best version possible of myself. When I’m exercising, if my thoughts start to turn to “you need to keep going for x minutes” or really anything along the lines of you need to, that’s when my red flag goes up, and that’s when I stop. I’m 100% serious when that happens I step off of the treadmill or whatever it is I was doing. I drink water, I stand outside and breathe, and I remind myself why I’m exercising. I remind myself of all of the positive reasons I want to do this and canceling out the reasons telling me I need to do this in order to look a certain way. I’ve created very strict boundaries with myself so that I under no circumstances get back into the trap of overexercising, or thinking I’m moving my body just to look a certain way or because it’s only acceptable to exercise for x amount of time. I’ve made those limits to keep myself safe, to keep myself in my recovery mindset. Unfortunately, I can’t control whether or not those thoughts creep back into my head. But I can control how I react to them, and if I give them power again.
New years resolutions are overrated. If you want to make a change in your life, just do it! Whether it’s the middle of summer or the end of the year, you don’t need to wait until January 1st to start changing. Strive to be the best version of yourself, for yourself and no one else. Strive to be happy and content with your life. Strive for making positive changes to your life (if you want to or feel the need) that are not directly related to the number on the scale. At the end of the day, that’s all it is – a number. It’s not a measurement of beauty or worth, please try to remember that.
I hope this post can bring you some comfort in knowing you aren’t alone in your struggles or thoughts. While potentially also giving hope that it really can get better over the years and that the holidays are not always going to be an awful time for anyone with an eating disorder. I hope everyone has a lovely remainder of the holiday season and this year.