For most people, Christmas means thrill, light, fun, nice things… but, when you’re recovering from an eating disorder, it’s one of the most dreaded times of the year. We see how we’re going to have to deal with too many things we can’t control, concentrated in very few days, and that generates anxiety. What am I going to eat? What triggering comments are people going to make? Am I going to have time to work out? What can I do if the thoughts are too strong and I panic?
Calm down. Take a deep breath. I understand those fears; just a few years ago, they got me trembling. Uncertainty made me be all day mulling over it, before and after the celebrations. In addition, the ED took advantage of that to play with my distortion and make me feel huge, so trusting was even more difficult.
We have to avoid that vicious circle of overthinking-weakening-being more prone to the thoughts-let the thoughts in-be anxious and desolated-relapse with sick behaviors. And it’s possible to do it. These last years, I’m much less nervous thanks to, on the one hand, the progress of my recovery (the mind follows the body, it’s true!) and, on the other hand, to the systems I’ve learnt to put into practice.
You can learn them too and internalize them, if you follow the tips I’m going to tell you below.
1. Challenge yourself during Advent
It’s a mistake to think that, since over Christmas time you’ll have to face many food challenges, you should save yourself for those and slacken off recovery during Advent. Don’t give in to that temptation. On the contrary, consciously set challenges, daily if possible. They don’t necessarily have to imply eating more. Some examples (it all depends on the guidelines of your treatment and the stage of recovery you’re at) could be:
- Replacing a safe snack with Christmas sweets. Bonus: adding.
- Purchasing an Advent calendar with chocolate.
- Going out to eat. Bonus: ordering a fear food.
- Letting your family cook a surprise meal without controlling how they do it. Bonus: not complaining, no matter what, when they give it to you. Don’t try to eat less of it either.
- Trying new ingredients.
- Daring to add sauces. Bonus: not light versions.
- Eating something without weighing or measuring it.
- Sitting for some time after eating. Bonus: 1 hour or more.
- Shortening even for 5 minutes your workout routine. Bonus: taking a spontaneous rest day.
- Watching a Christmas movie while sitting. Bonus: eating popcorn.
That way, you’ll be much more ready for the similar circumstances that you’re going to live during Christmas. You’ll already be accustomed to these things, and therefore they’ll be easier to manage. In addition, as you realize you don’t become fat overnight when you do those things, you’ll become more confident that you can do them and they won’t be so scary.
2. Imagine Baby Jesus smiling at you
Challenges are great, but only if they have a purpose. If you have the constant feeling that you’re doing things wrong, that in fact you don’t want to recover but it’s been a mistake, that you’re failing physically and morally… why going through all these torments?
Because of that, because you’re not always going to want recovery on its own, you need to place your why in something bigger than you. In God. He loves you infinitely, He believes in you (no matter how much you believe in Him), He’s looking forward to seeing you bloom and be the person He was thinking about when He created you, to the fullest. Therefore, He wants you to recover. He rejoices, smiles and throws a party every time you eat, every time you do the right thing despite the thoughts.
At Christmas, it’s easier than ever to bring this image to your heart. Every time you’re struggling with a challenge, imagine Baby Jesus before you. A cute baby, how could one not feel moved? And, with every bite you take, He smiles to you more and more, He applauds, He laughs, He sends kisses to you. Let His tender joy penetrate you so as to be able to keep going.
3. Set up a support system
You don’t have to do this alone. Think which people you can count on to vent and to look for support and advice when you see yourself so attacked by the thoughts or when some event is stressing you too much.
Don’t believe you’re annoying. Just the opposite, by allowing others to help you, you’re helping them to grow as humans and to develop their own vocation of service we’re all called to.
Moreover, remember that the ED thrives in secrecy, it’s where it can manipulate you the most; many times, just by taking the brave and humble step of saying out loud what it is whispering to you, the temptation disappears or pales greatly.
It would be ideal to have an accomplice in the social meetings you go to, to whom you could make a motion if you’re feeling bad about something, and therefore they could help you to get out of there, to have some alone time to calm down, or to change the subject of the conversation. But, if you can’t find someone like that (or in addition to, you can never have too much support!), look for people you can call or write to telling them openly what’s happening to you.
I myself would be so glad to help you, so don’t hesitate to contact me via instagram or this website.
4. Be rational
Truth sets us free. An eating disorder gets irrational ideas stuck into your head, that have you terrified but are totally false. By contrast, knowing the truth is very empowering because it allows you to make decisions being aware of their real consequences. Among other things:
- You know one meal doesn’t make you gain or lose weight. Not even several.
- You know that skipping exercise one day, or several, doesn’t make your body look fluffy.
- You know you don’t have to eat less the days you don’t work out, among other reasons, because you need most of the calories you eat just to keep your body alive anyway.
- You know the body always tries to maintain homeostasis, that is, basically the state of things just as they are. This affects all the previous points.
- You know you need a lot of food to repair the internal damage caused by the ED. And probably to gain weight too.
- You know there are no bad foods, even if they scare you. And that no food can ever harm you more than the ED.
- You know your body is not as you see it, but you suffer from a syndrome called body dysmorphia, that is, distortion of your body image.
You know it. All the scientific data show it. And you’ve seen it thousands of times in other people. And, if you didn’t know, now you know it, and here I am as a living proof it’s true. Remember these objective data when you have irrational fears.
5. Sign up for the Jesse Tree of Health Advent Challenge -For Spanish Speakers
The key to live Christmas well is to prepare yourself well during Advent. In order to help you with that, I’ve created this free challenge. The Jesse Tree tradition (which is very popular in the US, but you might not know if you live in other country) consist on going through the history of salvation in the Old Testament, specially through the ancestors of Jesus, to discover 1) God’s love and 2) how everything in His plan makes sense in the end.
In the daily videos (Spanish only) I’ll upload to my YouTube channel, you’ll find the correspondent Bible verse and a short reflection that will help you apply it to your mental and physical health, so you learn to take care of yourself according to God’s love and plan for you. You can sign up HERE.
6. Prepare an internal dialogue
Many people are going to speak with you, and they aren’t always going to say the right thing. Plan your answers, maybe not to tell them directly —although it’s great if you can take advantage of any chance to educate them, after all, in general they don’t have bad intentions, only lack of knowledge and too much influence of the rampant diet culture— but to tell yourself so you can remember what’s true:
If they tell you that you look healthy:
Take it as a compliment and don’t assume you look fat. No normal person would want to look sick. And if you aren’t healthy yet, don’t assume you already look as if you were. People say that compared to how you looked before, and with the intention of encouraging you. You’re going to look even much better if you keep going until the end. If, in a tender tone, they go as far as to say you look chubbier or more well fed, remember those are only expressions (in Spain it’s very normal for people to call their friends or significant one “gordi”, with literally means “chubby”) and they don’t actually want to say what the word itself means. Although of course I don’t understand why people use these words either.
If they insist that you eat something or do something that’s uncomfortable for you::
Don’t feel bad for declining and remember you’re taking care of your mental health.
If they make comments about the way you eat:
- How little you eat: you know you’re making your best effort and at home you follow your recovery plan. Be proud of yourself for that.
- How much you eat or how you’re eating things you didn’t eat before: feel good with yourself, because that food is what’s repairing your health. You’re eating what your body needs, despite the struggle, and that’s such an achievement.
- How weird you eat, why do you have to follow certain habits or bring your own food: you don’t have to give explanations, you know why you’re doing what you’re doing and you must protect your recovery process.
If they make comments about the food:
That it was too much, that “we’ve pigged out”, that they aren’t going to eat dinner to compensate, that “now we all have to go on a diet”, that X food is super unhealthy, etc.: feel sorry that diet culture has made such an impact on most people. Fortunately, you’re breaking free and in the future you will not only have a better relationship with food than when you had the ED, but than most people.
7. Resist the urge to compensate
Neither before nor after. Before, eat your usual meals, live your life as always, don’t restrict thinking that you might eat more, don’t do more exercise just in case you can’t later. Your body isn’t a bank account in which you accumulate calorie deficits or minutes of exercise in some moments, and then you balance it out by depositing the “excess” calories (does that even exist in recovery?) of another meal or the “missing” minutes of a workout. It’s a living organism. Treat it well in each moment, focus on doing what you have to do in each moment.
After, you have to put up with the corporal discomfort and the mental torment. If you hang in there, you will have won, even though you won’t feel that way. However, if you end up compensating, the illness will have won. Obviously, if you’ve really eaten a lot or finished too late, maybe you don’t need to push yourself to eat the same the rest of the day… but 1) it’s not you who should determine that, because you’re always going to tend to overestimate what you’ve eaten and 2) listen to your body, because maybe eating a little more was just what you needed.
8. Put your blinders on
Blinders are what you put on horses’ eyes so they can only see the way before them and don’t get scared of distracted by their side vision. Put (figurative ones) on you too. Focus on your own way, on what you have to do in order to recover, that’s going to look very different from what people around you do. For example, it’s very likely that you need to eat even more than others, because you’re trying to gain weight, because you have to eat extra calories to repair the internal damages of your body, because many times your metabolism speeds up with recovery and because many people eat less when they’re with others because that’s what society teaches us.
Also, the messages that are usually promoted as things for general health, for everyone, can’t be applied to you: they’re not for everyone, but they usually take for granted that in general people need to lose weight, and that’s why the recommended intakes and portion sizes are sometimes ridiculously small amounts.
Become immune too to every conversation about nutrition that’s not evidence-based but just parrots the last news on the media. And ignore the diets other people are trying, because they can have different goals than you, or be plainly wrong. You’re doing things well… for you.
Stop staring at others’ bodies to compare. Since you can’t see your own body with objectivity, it’s impossible for you to make a true comparison. Just keep going until you reach your healthier weight, and I grant you that it will be the one in which your body looks more splendorous. Health and beauty are two good things, and therefore they can’t be contradictory, but they go hand in hand. Think that if you’re not at a healthy weight and still see other people thinner than you, they most likely aren’t, but if they are, that’s their problem. They’re sick, and you don’t want to be like that.
9. Don't be hard on yourself
One of the reasons why recovery is so hard is because, no matter what we do, we’re going to feel bad. If we do something that’s good for recovery, we’ll feel guilty, fat, dirty, lazy, greedy… But, on the other hand, if we don’t do that we’ll feel frustrated, like a failure, cowards, stupid… Stop that language. You already have enough with the insults of the illness in the first case, don’t add yours in the second one.
Try to do things as best as possible, but it’s totally normal that you get overwhelmed and end up eating less, not ordering what you really wanted because of fear, skipping a meal to compensate, having a panic attack because of a comment, being consumed by a comparison, falling into a harmful behavior, etc. Yes, all of those and more have happened to all of us. It’s fine. No step you take in recovery can be lost just because you have a slip one day. Keep going, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t turn recovery into another obsession for perfection.
I hope those tips were helpful. Follow them, trust the process, and not only will you have a Merry Christmas this year… but next year will be the year in which you recover and bloom. Let’s shine!