5 Tips to Surviving the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

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The holidays are an exciting, beautiful time of friends, family, celebration and peace. For someone struggling with or in recovery from an eating disorder, however, it can be painful, anxious, depressing and sometimes unbearable. For 15 years, I dreaded November-January, but I’ve learned (the hard way) some things to maybe make it a little easier this year:

1.Don’t feel guilty for taking time for yourself (if it’s healthy)

If you’re like me, your family has big gatherings revolved around food, eating and drinking. More often than not, the first thing a family comments on is how you look. “OMG you’re so thin, so you look amazing!” or “You’ve put on a little weight, huh?” It can be exhausting, triggering, and reaching for ED symptoms is the easiest way out. I spent most holiday parties hiding upstairs and throwing up whatever I ate because I needed a release and some time alone.

The celebration will go on, and you’ll be ready to go again (if you want to be) whenever you recharge.

Take a moment (or an hour!) to yourself, listen to a guided meditation, take a walk (I blame it on my dog…he has to poop AGAIN!), take a little nap, just get away. 

2. Pace Yourself

The holidays seem to bring endless gatherings, family events and celebrations, all of which seem to be focused around food. It’s ok to not go to everything you’re invited to, to pick and choose the places you go, and to pace yourself in the things you do. It’s ok to pick one or two events that feel safe for you. I used to feel guilty if I didn’t spend time with both sides of the family. I was so anxious about upsetting someone, that I ran myself into the ground and exhausted myself running from place to place trying to make everyone happy. Set boundaries, be honest with yourself and your family, and choose what’s best for you.

3. Don’t give in to family pressure

Are these phrases familiar: “You lost weight, you look great!” or “Why aren’t you eating dessert”, maybe “You’re having another serving?” This is one of the most difficult boundaries to set, but it’s ok to ask family not to comment on your weight, to not comment on the food you are or aren’t eating, and to ask them to talk about things besides the way you look, like what’s happening with work or school, the last trip you went on, etc.

4. Wear something that FEELS good

This is huge for me. Squeezing into something that looks cute but is uncomfortable only fueled my ED behaviors. I would avoid eating anything so I would still “look good” in my outfit. If I did eat, I felt even more uncomfortable to the point that I would purge. Now, I wear cozy cotton dresses, and outfits that make my body feel good.

 5. Have at least one person you can call, text or meet

Having a friend or family member who knows your struggles, your triggers, or someone who you can just say anything to is an invaluable resource. Whenever I’m having a hard time, I have 3 friends I know I can immediately text whatever I want, even if it is just a giant “F*CK”. Sometimes just getting it out can get you through a tough moment. Let that person know that you might reach out to them in a difficult moment, and let them know that they don’t necessarily have to respond or help you through the moment if that’s not what you’re looking for. Sometimes just someone knowing what you’re going through is the biggest help.

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Caitlin Kelly is a Health & Physical Education, Yoga and Reiki teacher in Philadelphia PA. She is in recovery from 15 years of eating disorders, and figuring it out one day at a time. Caitlin hopes to share her experiences, stories and helpful hints with others who are struggling, to hopefully shine a little light on problems that are often hidden and surrounded by guilt.

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