For anyone that’s ever struggled with their eating, we all know that the holidays aren’t always the happy, stress-free, jolly times we wish they could be. Along with all of the festivities come a lot of parties and family gatherings. And with these comes abundant food, and with that, a LOT of anxiety and stress.
The fear of the classic “holiday weight gain” is sharp and can be all-consuming, tainting otherwise joyful times with family and friends with poisonous thoughts, self-doubt and guilt.
Maybe you feel like every eye is on you at the party, watching what you eat. Or you restrict before the party so you can “allow” yourself to eat that piece of pie. You refuse to go back for seconds and carefully monitor just what you put on your plate. You ask the guests that made the dishes at the gathering as covertly as you can what ingredients are in them, running a constant stream of estimating how many calories are in each dish since you didn’t make them yourself. Maybe you bring your own dishes and only stick to those so that you can maintain full control of exactly what you eat.
Any of these habits sound familiar? I can honestly say that I have done every single one of these things.
It’s easy to beat yourself up, convincing yourself that you are being selfish by allowing controlling food to become the priority of the holidays. And yes, it would be easy if we could just forget our eating disorders for these few months. But an eating disorder is not you being selfish; it is real, a serious challenge. It’s crucial to recognize that this isn’t the time for your eating disorder to manipulate you into isolating yourself from the ones you love and the joy of the season. The holiday season is a time for life itself to be celebrated. So don’t go it alone.
Here are a few ways to help make sure your eating disorder doesn’t cause you unnecessary stress and anxiety this year.
Find your support.
The holidays are so much more than the food; they are about the relationships and the love that you receive. You don’t have to pretend you’re just fine if you’re struggling, and you certainly don’t need to feel afraid to be honest with those whom you love and who love you in return. Open up to someone: a friend, your family, someone that you really trust. Have an open conversation with them about what they can do to keep you accountable and how they can provide you with the emotional support you need.
Try not to restrict before a meal.
You may think that you need to save the calories for the dinner, but restricting will only reinforce the cycle of viewing food as something you need to reward yourself with, not as something that is a joyous (and delicious!) part of a celebration. Refusing to preemptively restrict will also keep you from getting too hungry, which will help you avoid even greater stress and triggering a possible binge later in the night. Remember, you don’t earn the right to eat that dessert because you cut back earlier in the day. You ALWAYS deserve to enjoy the foods you love.
Allow yourself to embrace the feeling of relinquishing control.
What can arguably be the most terrifying part of a holiday party is not having full control over what is being cooked and served. That lack of control over knowing what you will be eating, or what is in any dish, can be truly anxiety-inducing. When you feel this fear and stress creeping in, take a deep breath and remind yourself that in giving up full control over what you are going to be eating, you are actually allowing yourself freedom. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try some things that don’t make you feel comfortable. Eat mindfully, focusing on the taste of the food and how much you enjoy it, rather than what it is and what it might be in it. Allow yourself to truly savor your food for its flavor and the effort put into it by the friends and family that made it.
Give yourself the gift of self-care.
In the holiday spirit of giving, carve out time to give yourself the most important gift: the gift of some self-care. Find that extra 10 minutes to meditate, the time to take a gentle yoga class, or the time to read a good book or get a massage. Show yourself love. Remind yourself that you are valued, that you have so much worth and that so much of that lies in the beauty of your soul. You are perfect in your imperfections. Your worth and value are not based on your appearance; they are not based on how you measure up to those around you. They are only based on how you view yourself. You have the power to show yourself all the love that you want, and deserve, to be shown.
Contact Maggie Harriman at mpharrim ‘at’ stanford.edu.