For those who struggle with disordered eating or distorted body image, the winter holidays can be quite difficult. They are a time in which 1) it’s hard to avoid family (who we perhaps avoid the rest of the year); 2) there is an abundance of food every where and every place we go; and 3) gluttony and greed are not only given the “o.k.”, they are encouraged. During my eating disordered years, the holidays were a mix of joy and anguish. I loved some of the traditions (decorating the tree, listening to “John Denver and The Muppets Christmas” CD, and going to a candlelit church on Christmas Eve) but I dreaded the potential for family tension, the great mound of food that I felt was irresistible, and the possibility of disappointing someone with a not-well-thought-out gift.
I can recall one Christmas day, early in my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder, when I arrived at my parents’ house with a written list in my purse of the foods that I would “allow” myself to eat and the quantities which I thought would keep me feeling “safe” and prevent the urge to binge later. When professionals and those who are recovered say that “eating disorders are not about food”, it’s so true. Eating disorders are about our underlying fears, our discomfort with conflict, our past hurts and desire to protect ourselves from future hurts, and our unmet emotional and spiritual needs. So, going to my parents’ house with a strict meal plan was a great way to distract myself from all that underlying stuff — concentrating on what I could and couldn’t eat would keep my focus on myself instead of others. The problem is, it kept my focus on myself instead of others. I don’t recall much about that Christmas day except the barrage of negative self-talk from my inner critic: “Don’t eat THAT, it’s not on your list!” “You already had one helping of sweet potatoes, you can’t have another.” “Don’t eat any dessert. You don’t deserve it after that second helping of ham.” “You’re really gonna have to exercise a lot tomorrow to work all this off.” Sure, I can remember all of that, but can’t remember whether my brother was happy that day or whether my parents even asked for my help in the kitchen or whether my boyfriend felt a part of my family traditions.
So, as tempting as it is to set more rules for ourselves and to try to have more control over our food intake, I now think it would be better to practice letting go during the holidays. Before you go to your holiday parties, find a quiet space in which to sit still, close your eyes and reflect on what is most important to you that day. Maybe you affirm to yourself, “I am healthy, beautiful, and strong.” Or maybe you are dreading the get-together so you tell yourself, “This too shall pass.” Perhaps you repeat to yourself, “I am me and that’s good enough.” Whatever affirmation or mantra you repeat to yourself, do so in the spirit of giving — giving yourself the gift of letting go instead of clinging more tightly.
Peace, JOY, and health,