How to get through the holiday season whilst in recovery

eating disorders at Christmas

Your holiday survival guide when going through recovery

 

The holiday season can be SO overwhelming. From the packed social schedule, to reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in ages, to the pressure to find the perfect gift – it’s a lot! With many of the celebrations centred around food, the anxiety that many people face is only exacerbated for those struggling with an eating disorder.

Since we know what a challenging time of year the festive season can be, we wanted to share four of our best tips and tricks to help you get through it unscathed – and maybe even with a little merriness and joy!

 

  1. Have a plan to navigate challenging conversation topics

One of the biggest anxieties for many of our clients around this time of year is seeing family and friends who may not understand their eating disorder and their challenges around food and body image. So it’s good to be prepared for the unfortunate reality that is the potential for someone to say something upsetting or triggering.

You might like to pre-plan for this before the day by sending a message to your family group chat or asking a close and trusted family member to chat to the other people on the guest list on your behalf.

However, in the situation that an uncomfortable conversation or comment is made, there are a few things you can do. But first, assess the situation – do you feel safe to speak up to this person? And if so, do you have the emotional capacity in that moment to call this person in to help them to understand your experience?

If you answered no to either of these questions, that’s okay! You can still protect yourself and your mental health by ignoring them, changing the subject or leaving the room.
If you answered yes to both of these questions, you might want to initiate a conversation around why what they’ve said has upset you, how it has made you feel, and what would be helpful in the future. It can be useful to pre-prepare a few statements to help you to get your point across with thoughtfulness and compassion.

For help with this, check out our two-part blog series about how to respond to diet talk. You can find Part 1 and Part 2.

It might be uncomfortable but it doesn’t mean you’re being rude or disrespectful by initiating these kinds of conversations! Remember that you can be kind while also setting boundaries for your own wellbeing

 

  1. Beware of holiday-focused diet culture

Despite it feeling like diet culture couldn’t get any worse, it somehow amps up around the new year. This is the most popular time for new diets and exercise resolutions, and conversations seem to revolve around “detoxing” from the indulgence of the holiday season. Ugh!

We’re here to say that the festive season is no different from any other time in that there is no place for diet culture at the table (or anywhere else really!). Regardless of what you ate yesterday, you still need to eat today and you do not need to compensate in any way.

Importantly, make sure not to fuel your eating disorder by skipping meals or snacks to “save room” for holiday meals; this is a sure-fire way to end up feeling excessively hungry, uncomfortably full, and unnecessarily stressed. Keep up your regular and adequate eating, and when in doubt, follow the lead of a family member who has a healthy relationship with food.

 

  1. Make a backup plan in case things go pear-shaped

When feeling overwhelmed, it can be near-impossible to think about what will be helpful in bringing you back down to a sense of calm. Because of this, it’s vital to make a plan about how to cope before you get to that space. As part of this, it might be helpful to answer the following questions:

Who can you call or text when things feel challenging? This list might include family members, friends, or your area’s mental health support service. For example, Beat UK have a helpline and webchat that will be operating over the holiday period, which you can access.

Where can you go to have some space? While having the support of others is invaluable, sometimes all you need is a bit of alone time to relax and regroup. Think about where you might be able to go to take a breather if you need to, such as your bedroom, the backyard, a local park, or even just sitting in the car.

What can you do to soothe yourself? This could be activities like a mindfulness or meditation practice, a gentle stroll, yoga session, reading a book, listening to music or a podcast, having a cup of tea, taking a bath and so on. Whatever helps you to feel grounded and more like yourself again!

The pessimist in you might worry that making an emergency plan means you are expecting yourself to fail; however, it actually means you are setting yourself up for success! Experiencing challenges is not a failure, but an opportunity to strengthen your recovery by learning more about your triggers and coping strategies.

 

  1. Food is important but it’s not everything

The festive season can feel like a never-ending and terrifying conveyor belt of food. However, while food is important, it’s not everything!

Instead, the holiday season is about love, connection, celebration and making memories. Try to turn your attention to what is really important to you.

And lastly, give yourself permission to eat all types of food – not because they’re off limits the rest of the year, but because they have the ability to foster these warm and fuzzy feelings.

For more tips and tricks for coping with Christmas in recovery, check out our Instagram live recording with Priya Tew (our newest EHL dietitian!).

 

Karli Battaglia, APD

EHL Team x

Why recovery isn’t just about weight restoration

eating disorder recovery

Three reasons why recovery is beyond merely physical

 

Weight restoration can be a crucial indicator of recovery on one’s healing journey from an eating disorder. When weight restored, you might feel stronger and may have reversed your symptoms related to starvation syndrome – which is already a significant and remarkable achievement!

While reaching your restored weight can positively affect your pathway to food freedom, it is also a hugely uncomfortable challenge to face eating what feels like vast amounts of food and experience rapid weight change. We empathise with you!

Studies have shown that eating disorder recovery heavily involves biological and neuropsychological factors, where those who are on the recovery journey report hope, support from others, and self-acceptance as integral in the process. (1)

Recovery is non-linear, and there is a need for more complex and flexible measures to understand the endpoints, timelines and processes of recovery. (2) It is necessary to recognise why it may not be too helpful to make weight our sole focus of recovery – and why it’s vital to think much further outside the box.

Below are three reasons why eating disorder recovery goes beyond the return to a ‘normal’ weight and other factors to consider on your healing journey, too. 

 

ONE: Health goes beyond physical measures.

We know that our whole health, particularly in eating disorder recovery, comprises far more than just weight. Mental, social, environmental, occupational, spiritual and emotional health are all relevant and valid facets when it comes to our health, too.

For example, if someone was injured in a potentially fatal car accident, but their fractures had now recovered, we wouldn’t assume that all of the trauma and fear that may have surfaced from this singular event has magically disappeared. 

It could take this person years before they feel comfortable travelling by car again. This could cause restriction in other areas of their life – such as in their occupation or social life – perhaps even evoking feelings of guilt or isolation. From this sole experience, we can see the consequential impacts on multiple forms of our health.

In the same way, although a stable weight may be reached, this doesn’t mean that we are in the best mental or emotional state that we would be considered ‘recovered.’  The weight gain itself could stir up inner conflicts too, so it is important to learn about how to cope with this.

These additional pillars of health cannot be defined or measured by a number on a scale or a portion size. So, putting weight as the threshold by which one is recovered can be seen as reductionist – losing sight of the broader picture.

You must also consider your emotional resilience, the relationship with have with your body and how you interact with the world around you.

 

TWO: Remembering the power of cognition.

Only looking at weight restoration as a measure of healing from an eating disorder assumes that this objective measure is the only indicator of recovery – and that our personal experiences and cognition is also healed through weight restoration.

Thought and behaviour play a massive role in our recovery. Although our weight may have normalised, this doesn’t mean that our mindset is positively aligned with achieving a complete and sustainable recovery. It is also beneficial to identify and detach our recovery ‘self’ from our eating disorder ‘self.’

Reaching a place of freedom, intuitive eating, and body compassion is no easy feat, and particularly for someone with an eating disorder, this may still feel like a lifetime away. They may still experience body shame and have a massive fear of gaining weight or continue to feel extreme hunger throughout the day. All of these can be signs that they may still be a long way off recovery. (3)

Those healing from an eating disorder may feel guilt for any weight changes or uncomfortable eating large amounts of food and limiting their heavy exercise routines.

Although recovery may be visible from a weight perspective, we do not know the whole story of someone’s mental state and any silent disordered thinking that they may experience. 

A big part of healing from an eating disorder is our mental health and self-talk – so again, ignoring this misses out a significant factor of one’s recovery path.

 

THREE: There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ weight.

It is important to remember that weight is an individual and relative term and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to our bodies. 

You may have reached what is considered a ‘normal range BMI,’ but this is a social construct and one that has been criticised in the media time and time again for its potential inaccuracy. Weight is not a highly accurate measure of health – read why here.

Weight is personal to you – it goes beyond a number on a scale and involves how you feel and perceive yourself at that weight. It also doesn’t account for our unique build and other health conditions or situations that may shift our set point weight or what feels ‘normal’ for us. (4)

Focusing on weight implies that people are recovered through reaching a number on a chart and may further reinforce the visual stereotype of an eating disorder – being thin, emaciated, and usually female. 

We know this stereotype is often inaccurate, and eating disorders can manifest in any body shape, gender or race. The idea that all eating disorders look the same on the surface is simply not true. 

This may lead people to believe that they are not ‘sick enough’ due to their now-restored weight, and they may not feel an urgency to continue to recover or may feel they no longer need to. Being unwell is not a ‘look’ – and so it’s important to consider health from a more holistic viewpoint. (4)

We hope you enjoyed this article and are sending you plenty of strength and positive energy, no matter where you are right now. This kind of self-work takes immense courage, and we are here to support you along each step of the journey. 

Reach out to us at hello@embodyhealthlondon.com to chat with one of our specialist dietitians and book a discovery call today!

 

Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr

EHL Team x 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

  1. Bardone-Cone AM, Hunt RA, Watson HJ. An Overview of Conceptualisations of Eating Disorder Recovery, Recent Findings, and Future Directions. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2018 Aug 9;20(9):79. DOI: 10.1007/s11920-018-0932-9. PMID: 30094740.
  2. LaMarre A, Rice C. Recovering Uncertainty: Exploring Eating Disorder Recovery in Context. Cult Med Psychiatry. 2021 Dec;45(4):706-726. doi: 10.1007/s11013-020-09700-7. Epub 2021 Jan 2. PMID: 33389444.
  3. Bardone-Cone AM, Johnson S, Raney TJ, Zucker N, Watson HJ, Bulik CM. Eating disorder recovery in men: A pilot study. Int J Eat Disord. 2019 Dec;52(12):1370-1379. DOI: 10.1002/eat.23153. Epub 2019 Aug 16. PMID: 31418898.
  4. Hayden, M. Why ‘Weight Restoration’ Isn’t Recovery — ThoughtsbyKenz. 2021 Jan; Retrieved Nov 26 2021, from https://thoughtsbykenz.com/posts/2021/7/11/why-weight-restoration-isnt-recovery